Ruben Nieto: Paintings

A-a-a-a are you just going to stand there, 2010, oil on canvas, 48”x72” Clifford had a Campbell’s for dinner, 2010, oil on canvas, 48”x72”

Friday, October 24, 2014 – Friday, December 12, 2014,
Venue: Edith O’Donnell Arts & Technology Building, first floor gallery
Admission: Free
Season: 2014-15

Opening reception: October 24, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.


Ruben Nieto’s exposure to comic books in his youth has left an indelible impression on him and, by proxy, on everyone who views his current paintings. His work has an impact greater than the sum of its fragmented, reconstituted parts, including the unorthodox process by which the paintings are made. Nieto digitally “shreds” and reassembles images taken from comic books, then sends the electronic files to academically trained artists at the Beijing Academy in China, who paint the images on canvas. The paintings are returned to the United States, where Nieto applies the finishing touches. If this sounds like a solution for art making particular to the climate of late post modernist irony in the early twenty-first century, it is worth noting that Baroque artists working in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries such as Peter Paul Rubens had legions of studio assistants painting major and minor figures and background details for their huge paintings of battle and hunting scenes. 

Nieto’s work is influenced by all the Pop Art antecedents one would expect, the most obvious being Roy Lichtenstein. But, in a way that could only be done by an individual looking at American popular culture from the vantage point of growing up in another country, Nieto places his fragmented comic book–derived imagery in compositions influenced by Abstract Expressionism. The result resembles comic book tableau homages to major mid-twentieth century artists like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, and Clyfford Still. The titles of Neito’s work humorously reflect these influences, sometimes slyly referencing pictorial problems faced by members of the aforementioned group. By contrast, twentieth-century Italian artist and poet Domenico “Mimmo” Rotella is not usually mentioned in conjunction with Nieto’s work. But Rotella physically fragmented and collaged posters and the paper from billboards, resulting in images similar to Nieto’s work. By the time Pop Art was beginning to be embraced in the United States in the early- to mid-1960s, Rotella was already deconstructing similar imagery. 

Although Nieto’s paintings only hint at narrative, he refuses to eschew it entirely. As viewers attempt to find it, however, they realize that by simply prompting them to engage in this activity, the painting is already accomplishing what good paintings do. 

© Eugene Binder 2014 


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