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Fishing and Painting with Devin Reynolds

Catching up with New Orleans-based artist Devin Reynolds about his work, his move from the west coast, and his other passion - fishing.

Photo: Michael Tucker

Catching up with New Orleans-based artist Devin Reynolds about his work, his move from the west coast, and his other passion - fishing.

From Venice Beach to Swamp City – artist Devin Reynolds packed up his surf boards for New Orleans and has been here ever since. In between fishing trips, he can be found painting on plywood, cardboard, and the occasional surfboard in a warehouse studio, preparing work for current and upcoming shows.

How did your art evolve to where it’s at today?

Honestly, I was always doodling and in high school we used to paint graphics on our surfboards. I was always trying to imitate this guy Drew Brophy’s work; he was one of the resident artists for Lost Surfboards. It wasn't anything serious though, we were just making stencils and shit – ripping off shit we saw in surf magazines. I never really did anything that was worth any investing in as far as taking art serious, and then I took some print making classes and a sign painting class in college. That was around the time art came back into my life. I was super over architecture school and not lost but was definitely tryna find myself or something. I went from surfing, skating and working on a fishing boat in high school (pretty regular shit on the westside in LA) – jump to college and I was trying to fit in and kind of lost who I was bit. Long story short, I ended up painting some really bad murals with my homie who moved out here from LA. At the same time I had just started to really get into painting graffiti. As far as my style though, I wasn’t even making paintings until 2015 when my friend/mentor Jackie Summel talked me into to doing a show with her at UNO gallery. It's crazy too, because I didn’t really want to do it and was going to pull out of the show but she pushed me to make some shit, and a few things that worked in that show ended up informing the body of work I'm moving through right now. Formally though, Margarett Kilgallen, old hand painted signs, and mid-century packaging are pretty huge in my work's genetic make up.

“It wasn't anything serious though, we were just making stencils and shit - ripping off shit we saw in surf magazines.”

What informs and inspires your subject matter?

Honestly, Michael Ray Charles and Kerry James Marshall were two of the first Art21 videos I watched and they had a huge impact on how I've viewed the subject matter in my paintings. Both of them in their own right made decisions to use their painting as a means to speak about their ties to ideas of blackness in America. Respectively, I jockey between just painting to paint and feeling this self imposed obligation to use my art as a point of access to speak on history and current socio-political themes in the same way Michael Ray Charles and Kerry James Marshall do. I try and keep most of the work personal, so even if a word or image in a painting touches broader subject matter, chances are I've lived it or been affected by it.

Your work makes strong social statements - is that your primary concern? Or does that form from something else?

I'll put it like this – when I first started fishing, my dad's homie David Cooper took me and my boy Jake out on this boat ‘the Spitfire’ out of Redondo beach. After a couple trips, Mr. Cooper was like, “y'all can't come fishing with me if you don't learn how to tie your own knots.” Long story short, we didn't learn our knots and my dad jumped in and was like, “Fuck it, I'm taking you fishing then.” We go out on the boat and I swear to god, my dad grabs some hooks and says, “We finna tie us up some nigga rigs.” That's one of the only fishing memories I have with my dad. If I made a painting series about nigga riggs and nigga knots, some one would make it political. It just so happens that that's a story close to my heart – and at the same time, myself, my dad, Jake, and David Cooper are all black. You make a painting with four black dudes fishing on a boat, it's political. But yeah, I like making paintings how I want to experience art, and I'm rarely moved by the usual confederate flag themed, fourth generation, abstract expressionist, artist-statement driven work.

“I jockey between just painting to paint and feeling this self imposed obligation to use my art as a point of access to speak on history and current socio-political themes...”

What is inspiring you lately?

Fishing. I just spent this last season in San Diego fishing tuna. It's the shit. Even when it gets hard, it's still sick. Everything from the Southern California coastline, Channel Islands, the color of the water, the smells, the people – I'm just madly in love with Southern California sport-fishing. Those days when 2 hours go by and the last fish is in the hold, you look around at the boat splattered with blood, the deck sloshing back and forth with a pool of blood a couple inches deep, and you look at the homie next too you like ‘what the fuck just happened’ — that's what I'm living for. The last few years especially, I've just gotten more and more obsessed. I'm gonna start dating my filet knife. Ross, thanks for believing in me and getting me on the endeavor this year, and to Devin, Jimbo, _____ and Andy – in the wise words of James Granoff, “How about you get a hot cuppa shut the fuck up!” In hardened fisherman, that means ‘y'all my dudes.’

If not New Orleans or California, where would you be? Surely where the fish are, right?

Probably somewhere between the Channel Islands and Mexico killing yellowtail and tuna. Probably out on deck at 3am asking myself why I'm doing this too myself, staring off into the darkness waiting for the sun to come up.

What are you working on right now?

Living life. Fishing wherever I go. And I just fell back into skating, so I'm trying desperately not to look like an almost-30-year-old kook who maybe in his teens could kinda skate. And honestly just tryna live it up for my dad – him and my mom sacrificed a lot for me and my sister – so that everyday I might not cry about him being gone. I try and go harder to do right by him. I'm also working on a piece for the Newcomb Museum and a group show in New York.

“Those days when 2 hours go by and the last fish is in the hold, you look around at the boat splattered with blood, the deck sloshing back and forth with a pool of blood a couple inches deep, and you look at the homie next too you like ‘what the fuck just happened’ - that's what I'm living for.”
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