Niels Reyes: It is not a portrait what you see


Return to Nowhere is a story, perhaps a poem, that speaks of this moment in which we live and questions what it will be like afterwards. It is the synthesis of the work of Niels Reyes, after about two years without displaying his exhibitions, in apparent isolation. And I say “apparent”, because he took advantage of every moment to study and paint with the rush that came after Happy End (2008) and the Recharge (2009) exhibition.

Niels has far exceeded the opinions of authorized voices; which, when he was recently graduated from the University of the Arts of Cuba (ISA, 2006), envisioned his current maturity. Among them, Rufo Caballero (Cárdenas, 1966-Havana, 2011) stands out, who in his essay for the Recharge exhibition, understood that: “(…) it was not a simple comma in the syntax of the Cuban pictorial scene: It is a full stop”[1]. And certainly, Niels is already part of the creators who bring different colors to the national visual arts scene, attending to his discursive line and the unorthodox means on which he relies to say.

In the fullness of his fourth decade of life, Return to Nowhere will be a sort of distancing, re-encounter or perhaps variations on some of the themes on which he persisted during the last decade. We only think of the short period between January 2019 and March 2020, when he presented his individual exhibitions Oils, at the Artis 718 gallery, on the occasion of the XIII Havana Biennial, and Overwitten, at the NG Art gallery in Panama, both in 2019; in addition to Distance (2020), at the Servando Cabrera Moreno gallery. Reviewing his catalog of Stories, tales, portraits, faces and other topics is realizing that his adolescence legends persist in memory; the memories of his childhood; his recognition of relevant figures in the history of culture; philosophical debates around issues such as the fall of the Berlin Wall; usually expressed at the intertextual level. Naturally, we will continue to miss his bathers in the rivers, his disoriented girls; topic, by the way, bravely faced by him. We think of his versions of José Martí, in The young Karpov, in his perception of pregnancy and childbirth, in the presence of the family, in his love for Karolina and in his anthological children.

This time, Niels returns to the Maxima Gallery with a new repertoire; it would be nice to say the latter, but its productivity does not admit such time constraints. Barely ten canvases re-confirm him among those convinced of expressionism as poetics. It doesn't matter how hard we try to be precise about whether he is Neo-expressionist or Contemporary Expressionist; the truth is that in his painting the basic principles of the German masters, those of the USA, something or a lot of the Cobra Group are perceived, but from his own and well-settled style.

In love with medium and large format, with oil on canvas, the winner of the Grand Prize of the First Edition of the Post-it Contemporary Art Contest (2014), revalidates man as the center of the universe and of his creation. His characters have the gift of omnipresence; they come from their environment and from everywhere at the same time and each one of them is based on a profound thought about the present, such as migrations, movements of departure and return, of human displacement throughout the geography. It is like trying to convince us of that idea of ​​leaving, imagining that we settle in a foreign place and return, at least to visit our origins.

In Maxima, Niels puts us in front of a conjunction where it’s notorious its inclination towards the primitive, the indigenist, sometimes towards the naive. This is how it begins, with the canvas that gives the exhibition its title, in a story that radiates other ways of describing reality and the socio-political context that surrounds the subject, in the style of Max Beckmann (Leipzig, 1884-New York, 1950) or perhaps with airs of Sosabravo. Inevitably, it is like the news of these months, of these days, of these hours..., but the characters are not real figurations, they look like wooden dolls, as if this reduced the value of the form, of the compositional structure in order to exalt the basic idea, the metaphor of what is certain. It is a polysemic speech, decoded in subtexts or subplots; the family leaves and with it goes the artist's perceptions in the face of recurrent estrangements and separations from the essential core of society. Everyone directs their eyes to a different place; the child walks in the opposite direction, the dog is a symbol that recalls the bronze statuettes of the Etruscan culture. A super-objective suggests thinking about the problems that lie in the periphery, in the residues of colonization that are not finished or perhaps a new redirection of the center-city correlation is being proposed; first and third world.

A young man protected by a red cape is the emblem and protagonist of Oak and Laurel; a gesture, the idea of ​​the national coat of arms, where the title is related to the tenant, made up of an oak branch on one side and a laurel branch on the other, thus elevating strength and victory. The cape is joined with the crest, described as a frigid cap, turned to the left, which represents emancipation. The sky is an abstraction to emphasize the idea of ​​the future to conquer; at the same time that the birds allude to the tocororo.

Without simulations, Niels delves into the theme of identity, as The boy who left and came back says in his first and second versions. Meanwhile, an eloquent approach to the tender and mystical is Mother of waters, the result of an aesthetic that mediates between figuration and abstraction, which recalls the girls of Servando Cabrera. Another group of young faces, some called Sea, Summer Face, Girl in Blue and a few without titles, are perceived as introspections about what happens and complement their discursive proposal, when they put the nation at the center.

So, it is understood that Return to Nowhere is consolidation and continuity of Niels Reyes; the conviction that he is an individuality within the national plastic panorama, as other great and memorable ones were. The technical mastery, his sense of matter and the universality of his poetry certify him as an invaluable narrator of history, sociology and the political framework of his time. If Rufo Caballero were alive, if he wrote this text, perhaps he would agree with me in affirming that once again the protagonist of Recharge reinvents himself, surprises as the best poet, as the essayist, who in his exercise of daily thought pronounces his speech honest and transparent, taking care to his homeland, which is equal to the universe. Niels assumes such a responsibility, he knows that he is leaving us for posterity the testimony of the youth of the Third Millennium, at the precise moment when there will be much to say and to write, even from painting.

MSc. Teresa Toranzo Castillo

[1] Caballero, Rufo. (La Habana, January 2009). Voltaje de Niels vira La Habana al revés, in: Recharge (Catalog), p. 3.



By: MSc. Teresa Toranzo Castillo