By Irene Ruddock
‘I paint Modified-Realism by altering and enhancing colors, using more abstract compositions, and leaving large areas of the painting an ambiguous black.’
Doug Reina, a well-known Long Island artist, is currently preparing for his first solo exhibit at Gallery North in Setauket. Titled Prolonged Perceptions: Recent Paintings by Doug Reina, the exhibit will run from April 7 to May 22 with an opening reception on April 7 from 6 to 8 p.m. and an ArTalk on April 9 at 6 p.m.
I had a chance to dig deeper into the artistic vision of this prestigious artist when I visited his studio located at 290 Main Street, Setauket where he gives lessons every Thursday. Be sure to view his website dougreina.com for additional information about his distinguished career.
When did you first realize your interest and talent in art?
Ever since I was a small child, I had an interest in making art that expressed my feelings. I sensed that I had talent for art based on the reaction my work was getting from my art teachers and classmates.
Do you remember the first piece of art that you created?
When I was four or so, I decided to run away by doing a self-portrait showing me running away, which I slipped under my folk’s bedroom door. As I recall it got a really big, affectionate reaction from my mom!
Your parents are involved in the art world. Can you tell us about them and how they influenced you?
My dad is a sculptor who made large public bronze works. He also taught art at Nassau Community College, where he was the director of the Art department. My mom was also an artist and had a gallery of contemporary crafts in Cold Spring Harbor. The home was full of original, contemporary art. I think having all that work to soak in over the years helped me to develop my own sense of aesthetics.
Who else was instrumental in encouraging you to pursue your art?
Stan Brodsky, a Long Island painter, became a mentor to me when I was a student in his Advanced Painting class. Stan opened my eyes about how much more a painting could express. I know I was very lucky to have those classes in that stage of my artistic development. I had the privilege of interviewing Stan about his artistic life at the Reboli Center which you can view on YouTube.
Can you name another artist whose work you admired and gave you inspiration?
When I first saw Richard Diebenkorn’s loose, gestural, figurative paintings I was blown off my feet. I see that he’s choosing colors because that’s what he feels the painting needs, rather than what reality says it’s supposed to be. But the thing that always gets me is the way he’ll paint something that’s loosely realistic but arrange the composition in such a way that the painting also feels somehow abstract.
Your latest works are going to be shown at Gallery North in a solo show titled Prolonged Perception. How would you describe these pieces?
They are paintings of the things I am attracted to — obscure, ordinary spaces of contemporary life that are often overlooked. I paint over a blackened canvas, which makes the colors really pop. It also allows for some interesting effects when the black shows through the thin sections of color. But most importantly, I can leave large areas to remain black. This changes the paintings, as they are no longer “normal” fully rendered scenes. The black creates both a powerful design element as well as an equally powerful psychological quality in the work.
What feelings would you like the viewer to come away with?
I’d like them to feel they are seeing something new and fresh with beautiful color and compositions that have an abstract painting quality to them. I’d like them to take in a view of something often overlooked, yet possess some interesting emotional vibe that is worth slowing down for and considering.
Your recently published book, Under the Covers, showcases your cartoon work which has been described as ‘absurd, hilarious, and surprisingly touching.’ How did you become interested in cartooning?
My first love as a child artist was drawing cartoons. I continued through my adult life and had some luck getting them published with The New Yorker magazine as well as with King Features Syndicate. I have a love for vintage fountain pens and always have a sketchbook on hand to amuse myself. A few years ago, I had started posting my little doodles from my sketchbook onto Instagram, where they amused my friends and like-minded strangers. I was advised to put them into a book which has been very well-received and can be purchased on Amazon.
Your immensely popular paintings on cigar boxes are another unique way you express your art. How did that come about?
There is another Richard Diebenkorn influence. I had read that he would take the lids off cigar boxes, paint directly onto them and give them as gifts to his friends. I do it a little differently though, in that, I like the paper border around the cigar boxes and use that as a “frame” for my paintings. l also left the lid on the box. In fact, I glue them to the box which allows the entire box to be hung on a wall to be presented just like a regular painting.
You have many facets to your creativity, but many still admire your Long Island landscapes. How do you perceive these paintings?
I think my plein air paintings have a freshness to them that I find often hard to replicate when working in the studio. I can always tell the difference between the two types of paintings. Whenever I paint outdoors, I feel a sense of urgency, as the weather is changing and the sun is on the move — so, there’s no time wasted. I begin to paint ahead of my mind, and I paint more with my heart. That puts an energy into the brushstrokes and that gives the paintings a nice sense of life to them.
Your figurative work encompasses a plethora of interesting characters. What is it about a person that intrigues you to paint them?
People have so much character that they can add a powerful mood to a painting quite nicely. Plus, they can be a “stand in” for the viewer or me and help tell a type of story in the painting that we all share and feel as humans.
The prestigious Pollack-Krasner award was given to you twice. What did receiving that award mean to you and how did you utilize it?
I was honored to have received those grants from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation. As an artist, it made me feel like my work had merit and I was on the right track. The grant money has enabled me to open and maintain my studio, which has been here on Main Street in Setauket since 2014.
Your work is in many private collections. Is there one that brought you the most fulfillment?
Yes, I was commissioned to paint a copy of Washington Crossing the Delaware. This was a complicated painting that took many months to complete. When it was completed, I felt that I had become a stronger, more confident painter. It’s on my website under the Commissions section if you’d like to see it. (www.dougreina.com)
What is your lifetime goal as an artist?
To have a long and healthy life where I can continue to make art that means something to me and to the people who exhibit it and collect it.