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May 19 - June 10, 2007 at Black Maria Gallery, Northeast Los Angeles

by Roberta Carasso

"Cross Section--Female,"
2006, oil on canvas, 24 x 20".

"Cross Section--Female,"
2006, oil on canvas, 24 x 20".".

"Entrance," 2006, oil on canvas, 24 x 20".

"Entrance," 2006, oil on canvas, 24 x 20

Billy Reynolds’s paintings are a reminder that art is not to be taken literally. Upon seeing a grotesque figure whose body is cut open and styrofoam popcorn about to fall out, initially we are either disgusted or realize that there is more here than meets the eye. With Reynolds, the latter requires our investigation because that is what this perceptive artist is all about. Three series compose “Peristalsis:” earlier deformed, cartoon-like characters; the current series of dissected human physiology; and the seeds of a new series in which Reynolds uses himself to portray layers of his own body, as artist uncovered.

Before Reynolds begins, he makes three-dimensional models using different types of clay and wax, building each figure, working out the details and complexities in-the-round to provide the viewer with the familiar and the odd, the exquisite and the perverse. Then Reynolds works from his own model, his own work of art, creating another form in two-dimensions. The cartoon characters are, as is all of Reynolds’ work, an intense dichotomy. The quirky dolls, which emerged from his childhood experience with the Flintstones, are a decomposition and rearrangement of the physical body. Each figure, painted in lively colors, retains a familiar cuteness, with large pop eyes, playful grin, and recognizable body parts, albeit in impossible places. For Reynolds, dichotomy comes from the idea that nothing is all one way, but everything--people, the body, and experiences--are always a mixture of what could become the best or the worst. The human condition is such that the balance of choice varies in all areas of our lives, in each situation, and with each relationship. Therefore, Reynolds paints these disjointed, repulsive figures with luscious realistic oil paint and meticulous care, applying traditional layers of underpaint and overpaint, rendering perfect artistic execution as counterfoil to the potential for imperfection.

Reynolds continues his search for truth in the second series through the physical body, in female figures, who like the cartoon characters, are decomposed and disfigured. He creates them in odd angles and positions, impossible distortions with areas cut away as if rendering a dissection illustration for a medical journal. Reynolds challenges the viewer even further. In the tradition of the surrealists, but not in a surreal manner, he begins to look deeper, opening up the body, not as an act of violence, but as a metaphor for seeking to expose what we hide physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It is through dissection and an investigation into what lies beneath the skin that Reynolds discovers the magnificence of the human body and its source for endless artistic investigations and possibilities of expression.

The last series, which the other two have been leading to, is a further investigation, using himself as the model. In his self-portraits, Reynolds cuts away parts of his face, exposing the flesh around his eye, half his nose, exposing his skull, and finding humor in digging so deeply into himself. The shift in the work comes from less a reliance on distortion, rather more on a search to discover the artist beneath the surface of his physical body.

“Peristalsis” is Reynolds’ first solo exhibition.  The three types of art displayed are not only a narrative of the characters he has created, but of his artistic maturation and profound search to expose the human condition by metaphorically revealing the constant dichotomies with which we exist.