I first met Fernando Reyes at the Bay Printmakers Open Studios in October. Last week, I ventured out to Jingletown, in Oakland, where Reyes has a studio. I was already intrigued by his background in financial services, but learned much more about the fruits of his artistic labors.
In a family of eight struggling to make ends meet in Fresno, Fernando Reyes didn't grow up with much exposure to art. Nonetheless, by junior high his interest in art had begun to develop:
"I would draw caricatures of my brothers and sisters- those were my really first models [...] My experience with art back them was pretty minimal outside of what I was learning in [...] high school"
To earn extra money for the family, Reyes and his siblings would pick grapes in the summer. As necessity is the mother of invention, Reyes' fruit-picking labor fed his artistic inclinations:
"One of the ways I got my drawing paper was by actually getting it from farming [...] When you pick grapes for raisins you pick them, put them in a box, and then when the box was fully you would lay down this sort of craft paper sheet [...] I would see these huge packages of this large craft paper [...] so, I would just take rolls of it home with me and that's what I would use to draw"
A couple years after high school, Reyes got a job at Bank of America and two years later transferred to the North Beach branch in San Francisco. Over the next fifteen years, Reyes would advance in the bank, ultimately Senior Operations Manager:
"I virtually stopped doing art probably at the time I started working at the bank"
Reyes' re-entry into art came only after his parter, Daniel, excavated the remains of his youthful endeavors:
"He saw some old drawings of mine and he saw some talent there. So, one christmas he bought me a pad of paper and drawing pencils and charcoal"
Daniel's encouragement went far beyond supplies as his own life decisions provided a model for Reyes to make a career transition. After seventeen years at Bank of America, Reyes left in 1991:
"I saw that he had quit his corporate job and decided to go back to school to pursue the career he wanted [...] I decided that really I wanted to pursue finding my career in art [... Leaving the bank] really impacted my life at the time because that meant that I am actually free now and I can actually do what I was meant to do in life"
Reyes started taking figure drawing classes at City College of San Francisco, sticking to familiar drawing mediums. When Daniel was accepted into graduate school in Chicago, Reyes joined him:
"It was probably the best move I could make [...] I went to this portfolio day at the [Chicago] Art Institute, and there was every kid in the world there - it was packed [...] All I was thinking was I could really improve by doing this"
Reyes was accepted and focused on painting and printmaking. He also gained the broad exposure to the art world that was never available in Fresno:
"My interest while going to the Art Institute was always the figure [...] Throughout the entire time I was going to school [...] I was given so much opportunity to explore different artists from different periods [...] Michaelangelo [...] Raphael, Tiepolo, Titian - people like that were my first inspirations because I was so enamored with the figure"
Reyes and his partner returned to California and while Daniel interned for a year at Davis, Reyes worked out of the university's printmaking workshop and broadened his painting horizens:
"I discovered that I enjoyed doing landscapes which is something that I had never, ever done before [...] I didn't have access to a model to work from, so I kind of went to a second choice and really, really enjoyed that a lot"
Back in the Bay Area, Reyes diligently pursued his craft, inspired more by modern figurative painters like Paul Cadmus:
"My drawing has just improved throughout the years because of the amount of drawing that I do [...] once I moved into this studio, one of the first things that I did is I started drawing sessions here in my studio every week. I would have other come artists draw with me, so I would draw continuously"
These early years were still lean, as Reyes hadn't established himself as an artist. Reyes' resourcefulness was again applied, but this time with unexpected results:
"When I was really, really poor [...] after graduating art school and I would go to theses classes or sessions, so I wouldn't waste so much paper, I would draw more than one figure on one sheet [...] I realized I had something here I should investigate"
This discovery led to a painting series of overlapping figures, Body Language, and later a print series. Meanwhile, Reyes' style had begun to emerge:
"That's really what [my work] is about - it's about the figure and the line [...] - it's about the unspoken word"
See Fernando Reyes' work at Alta Galleria in Berkeley through November 25 or in the Reflections of the Bay juried exhibit at the California Modern Art Gallery through December 2. He is also showing at the Falkirk Cultural Center through the end of the year with fellow Bay Printmakers, Javier Chalini and Mike Kimball. Reyes will be participating in the Jingletown Holiday Art Walk from December 5-7.