Initial and continuing thoughts on Michael Rey’s show at Young Art

Michael Rey, Everyword (Hors Corps), (detail) 2011

When I first saw Michael Rey’s work, at JB Jurve last year, my thought was, “Wow, I know these shapes from somewhere,” and as I continued to look, especially at a candy orange leaning columnar sculpture and a giant carved raw wood ball sac that was suspended from the ceiling, I began to feel like it did not matter when or whether I had any past experience with these actual shapes – the objects that Michael Rey made fit right into holes in my brain and stayed there. (My reference here seems to be Weemawee High School and the tv show Square Pegs. Good art fits in these awkward holes in my mind.)

Dracula Plus Plus installation view, showing Night Rabbit - (PB), 2011 oil on plasticine clay on panel 58.75 x 34 inches and HUTTE - Life’s a Beach, 2011 oil on plasticine clay on panel 56 x 39.5 inches

As time went by I lost track of Rey’s hanging nutsack, but the orange sculpture has lived on in my thoughts. Which brings me to Dracula Plus Plus, Rey’s current exhibition at Young Art.

Rey is able to craft objects that make reference to many different cultural icons and signifiers without appearing to only serve as shorthand quotes. His shapes insist on their own presence in the world and so I must acknowledge their – hmm, I want to say ‘autonomy,’ but this term raises the backs of so many in our world and it does bring along with it so many presently useless arguments. And anyway, what I’m saying lacks any humor and drains the delight out of this artist’s work. Onward.

Michael Rey, Dum-Dum, 2011 oil on plasticine clay on panel 50 x 40 inches

Michael Rey, A/C Soul - Frisky in the Neon, 2011 oil on plasticine clay on panel 36.25 x 36.25 inches

I walked into a carefully programmed explosion of color and shape: I saw beguiling multi-tonal advertisements, quirky takes on fine Modernist works of art, a blue mirror that might have not shown Dracula’s reflection, a grey pointy-roof row house; looking down, I noticed a meticulously handcrafted plateau or low stage that serves as a base for two sculptures – it appeared to me like an emperor’s barge in a concrete harbor and it bore treasures for worthies to admire.

When I set to counting, this cheerful riot comprised fewer than a dozen elements, and I was struck by the elegance of Rey’s decision making. The slightest means for the greatest effect – to me Rey’s work has the minimal/spiritual Japanese ethos of John McLaughlin filtered through the cartoon fun of comix.

Michael Rey, Everyword (Hors Corps), (detail) 2011

Dracula Plus Plus, installation view w/iPhone

As Rey discusses in his press release, his paintings do have a flesh-like presence. The surfaces are smoothly textured almost like ceramic, unlike ceramic though, they seem less brittle and more pliable. At the sides of his wall-works Rey has slathered on a smooth layer of the grey plasticine and this sucks up light and draws my attention to the objects’ drum-like construction: they stand an inch or two out from the wall, the surface is less than half an inch thick – I know this from peering into the holes with which Rey marks the fronts of his paintings. (Hmm, I wonder if they might sound like drums and if the skin comparison is related to their construction?)

James Hayward came to mind while I was talking with Kate Hillseth and looking at the show – I have had the good fortune to twice see early examples of Hayward’s paintings. At the old Kiyo Higashi Gallery on Beverly I several times visited just to see a pale blue example from 1977 that (I think) was made from hundreds of layers of rubbed oil and encaustic and it glowed and occupied space like nothing that I had ever seen. (Eek – for those of you who never visited Kiyo’s space, the interior was designed by Larry Bell and Higashi showed a generation of LA monochrome/minimal painters. Indeed, a fabulous survey of this practice, Kiyo showed over the years. Yay.) I saw a second example of this work from the 1970’s in a collectors home. Lucky and smart them.

Michael Rey, Val - Kilmer, 2011 oil on plasticine clay on panel 22 x 22 inches

Dracula Plus Plus, installation view taken w iPhone

A few random observations,

As good as the sculptures and paintings are at a distance, they pay back with interesting details one’s close observation. Rey’s large cut steel panels (in Everyword (Hors Corps)) are studio volunteers left from a past project, the colorful fruit are indeed refrigerator magnets and are vintage; these are figured in a way that such modest objects never are anymore: a watermelon has visible and touchable seeds, the jalapeno is smiling and has feet, garlic shows cloves; all this detail,  like the thoughtfully crafted nature of the paintings, matters to the outcome.

Michael Rey makes objects that delight from afar and that continue to fascinate at close range. His aforementioned orange and black column sculpture has colonized my aesthetic  thinking for most of a year, and now I get to more deeply consider what the artist is doing. I’m meeting with Rey next week – life is indeed good.



Young Art website:

Michael Rey website:

JB Jurve website:

P.S. Yeah, I wrote this all without mentioning Brancusi. Shoot me. Endless Column seems too obvious to mention and probably not very helpful to a discussion.

But wait! Is Rey intending to ‘prop up’ Modernism with his clever orange stand? Is he making a cartoon of a revered figure? Is reverence appropriate at this time? Is it okay to have fun? Dunno. What do you think?


  1. Michael, Thank you for sharing your wonderful art work. You make an old grandma proud to know what a talented young man you are. Keep up the good work.
    with love
    Grandma Edith

    PS I will share this with as many relatives as I can.

  2. Congratulations to you, Michael! It’s wonderful to see your work and realize what a talented young man you are. You make your whole family proud!
    Love, Aunt Margie

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