The Artist's Gaze: Reuben Negron
What compels you to the specific women you choose to paint?
Many of my models come to me as volunteers. Most have seen my watercolors online or in various galleries and are compelled for reasons entirely their own to be a part of the work. The majority have never even posed nude before. My work investigates the relationship between what we project in public and how we live in private. Much of the subject matter deals with body politics, sexuality, and identity. It’s all very personal and requires a level of involvement from the models that goes beyond posing - it asks that they share a part of their own story in addition to their likeness.
It’s not easy to open up like that, especially to a stranger, so I find that all of my models, regardless of gender and age, possess a level of bravery that I admire and am immediately drawn to. In many ways I don’t choose them, they choose me.
When do you know you have made a significant connection to your subject and what does that feel or look like from your perspective?
Since I work with people who aren’t professional models there is an understandable awkwardness when we begin to work on a painting. Much of what I do as the artist actually revolves about establishing a safe, trusting environment where my models feel comfortable enough to drop their guard and allow their true nature to come through. With every model I’ve ever worked with there’s a very palpable moment when that tipping point is reached and we are no longer strangers but collaborators. It’s a transformative moment where we both slip into a groove and feed off of each other’s energy. Ninety percent of all my art comes from that exchange.
Tell us about a strong reaction you have received to your work and the impact you sense it has made on the subject, viewer or the greater cultural landscape.
Most recently I was showing a small watercolor at Claudine Maidique Gallery at Select Fair in Miami when a woman remarked how she was so moved by seeing herself - or rather a woman with her same body type - represented amongst the high glamour and polish of Art Basel. Much of the correspondence I get about my work is from people who see themselves reflected in the faces and stories I paint. Complete strangers have opened up to me about illnesses, past traumas, personal conflicts and a bevy of other empathetic reactions. It touches me - it’s the best proof I could receive that what I’m doing matters and is successful in some degree. I make it a point to write back to every person that reaches out to me and thank them for sharing a piece of their story with me. It’s the most rewarding part of what I do.
What is it about your personal journey that has brought your gaze to focus so deeply on women.
In an ideal world I would paint men and women in equal frequency - but because I rely on volunteers rather than professional models I am beholden to those who wish to be a part of what I do. For whatever reason, women tend to be more apt to collaborate on pieces together.
Perhaps it’s that women and men are raised to think and feel differently about our bodies - especially in relation to another male… Or maybe it has to do with the ability to share openly what most men deem private. In truth, the fact that women are drawn to my work draws me to them.
Why this visual dialogue? What do you hope to accomplish through your work?
I began dealing with sexuality as a way to promote considerate dialog about taboo subjects. From there the content has grown but the goal has remained the same - dialog. I firmly believe that images can have the power to affect real change and by presenting sexuality, gender, and age in a thoughtful manner my hope is to be a spring board for that conversation to begin.
How does your subject make a change in your artist's gaze?
Each person I work with opens my eyes to a new perspective. Part of the reason I started working with personal narratives was to challenge my own views by exploring and adopting another person’s frame of reference. Since the early days of Dirty Dirty Love and later with This House of Glass, I’ve evolved and matured as a person and artist because of this. Above all it’s taught me compassion.
Tell us about your current series or work and how it may be different from the work submitted for the show.
I am still continuing my exploration of personal narratives, however, lately I’ve become very interested in the concept of fantasy and how it plays into our perception of self. I’m still trying to figure out how this will be incorporated into my work so I don’t want to say too much… But I am pretty sure I’ll have something to show by late 2015.