Born Valle Hermoso, Tamaulipas, Mexico 1985 / BA, College for Creative Studies / Lives in Detroit
“Functional art” generally describes objects of everyday life, such as furniture or tableware, that are fashioned in a fine art or high-concept style. Dalia Reyes flips that definition—crafting paintings and mixed-media works that function as tools to open up a space within the viewer for contemplation and reflection.
Some of the most stunning of Reyes’ works, the ones that pour forth an energy felt even through a computer screen, have a deceptively simple geometry. On square or rounded supports, multicolored circles and rings interspersed with glowing gold leaf hover, as in Rainbow Body Portal (2018) or Sound Portal (2019). These works are often reminiscent of targets, but the goal is within; classified by the artist as portals, they are purposely constructed as doorways to a meditative state.
Currently Director of Contemporary Art at Galerie Camille, Reyes is a multidisciplinary artist whose work echoes the diverse roles she fills, including DJ and leader of guided meditations. The metaphysics that are as much an ingredient in Reyes’ artwork as paint and metallic leaf is family tradition. The artist’s childhood home in Southwest Detroit was filled with art made by her late grandfather as well as images influenced by her mother’s investigations into so-called “New Age-y” concepts. Her mother’s mother before her was into metaphysical teachings, energy, and yoga. Tragically, Reyes’ grandmother and grandfather died together in a car accident before Dalia was born, but she still feels a deep connection to them. “I think my grandparents work through me energetically,” the artist says. Recently, as Reyes worked on shaping wooden panels for new paintings, her mother told her, as she often has throughout her life, “Te pareces a tu abuelito, como un carpintero.” (“You remind me of your grandfather, like a carpenter.”) Building her own supports and cutting wood into circles with a jigsaw is a way for the artist to integrate her energy and intention into every step of creating a work of art.
Reyes’ focus on channeling wellness and meditation into her artwork results in diagrammatic explorations of energy itself: sound waves and spectrums, light, and the dark matter of space. The artist has explored sound as a healing mechanism. The practice of “sound baths” immerses participants in particular frequencies created by gongs, chimes or the singing bowls of the Tibetan tradition in order to relieve pain throughout the body and impart beneficial effects at the cellular level. The body of work featured in her exhibition Venus in Transit (2017) evokes images of sound waves translated into a visual form and reflects her experience as a DJ. Circular forms such as Frequency Found and Vibrations (both 2017) centered on 12-inch and 7-inch square panels, recall the way a disc presses its form through the cardboard covers of records carted to one too many gigs.
The psychedelic album covers of her father’s record collection is another part of Reyes’ childhood that has had a lasting influence on her artwork. In particular, the cover of Santana’s Abraxas, featuring a painting by Mati Klarwein, showcased a dream-state aesthetic that is evident in figurative work Venus Lands (2018) and the surreal take on natural history illustration in Common Crystal Plant (2014).
After graduating in 2010 from College for Creative Studies, where Lester Johnson (Essay’d #141) was her beloved mentor, Reyes traveled to New York City. There, she says, although she didn’t have a particularly religious background, she had something of a spiritual experience at a Guggenheim exhibition called The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia 1860-1989, where she encountered a room covered entirely in gold leaf and felt suffused in radiance as the light reflected and refracted around her.
Golden Rainbow Portal (2018) is an attempt to bring such an experience to her audience. At four feet square, it is a very large piece that allows viewers to fully fill their field of vision with luminous light. Stepping back reveals the rainbow rim between the gold and an expanse of deep blue the shade of an almost-nighttime sky. The piece was part of a larger installation called Rainbow Body, which refers to a religious experience of Tibetan Buddhist monks, who through deep meditation practice are said to elevate their minds to the extent that their physical bodies dissolve into a rainbow of light and disappear.
Reyes’ work is part of a long tradition of geometric shapes used as focal points of meditation, such as mandalas or the abstract tantric art of Rajasthan. Not just art, these are objects of reflection, shifting color from every angle as gold reflects the ever-changing light.
Mariwyn Curtin, August 2020