Review: Tony de los Reyes travels the border

Tony de los Reyes' "rio bravo/el paradero" (2013), part of "Border Theory"; dye and oil on linen
(Angles Gallery)

Something like the border between the United States and Mexico doesn’t ordinarily come to mind when considering abstract paintings. Yet for the last two years, Tony de los Reyes has been developing a quirky group of abstractions with exactly that distinctive -- and distinctly political -- edge. Color and line articulating space on canvas bumps up against their contentious counterpart in the North American landscape.

Eight large, lush abstractions at Angles Gallery are joined with five smaller studies, plus a suite of eight lithographs. The large works (the largest being nearly 7 feet by 10 feet) in “Border Theory,” as the group is titled, employ colored dyes that are poured and stained into raw linen. A meandering line divides each canvas into upper and lower zones, and the stained color shifts from one zone to the other.

The contour of each dividing line line follows a section of the natural border drawn by the Rio Grande (or, as it’s called in Mexico, the Rio Bravo) as the river flows from Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico. De los Reyes’ liquid paint plays on the river’s fluidity, while his soft, blurred colors are like raking light moving across a desert plain.

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Over this permeable chromatic cloud, a precise line describes the actual border. It cannot fully contain the stained color, which frequently bleeds beneath it to the other side. The color shift from top to bottom is like light as it bends through a prism. De los Reyes collides organic movement with the precision of the surveyor’s compass, creating a path of visual tension.

“Border Theory” revives painting techniques pioneered by Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis and other Color Field painters in the 1950s and 1960s. Ironically, those earlier works were theorized as embodying pure painting, supposedly stripped of extraneous worldly concerns. De los Reyes’ seductive and savvy “Border Theory,” leavened with a dose of sly wit, insists that no such thing is possible.

Angles Gallery, 2754 S. La Cienega Blvd., Culver City, (310) 396-5019, through Feb. 22. Closed Sundays and Mondays.