Interview with Reen Barrera for “Cluster Fudge”

Thinkspace Projects is honored to present Reen Barrera’s newest solo exhibition “Cluster Fudge.”

Barrera has taken the idiom “it’s written all over your face” to heart and beyond, crafting his work around a central character he created early on in his career as an artist. Ohlala embodies Barrera’s thoughts, displaying them through a variety of colors painted on the being’s face. This serves as a mechanism to silently communicate, focusing on the unspoken rather than what is loud and clear.

In anticipation of “Cluster Fudge,” our interview with Reen Barrera discusses the symbolism in his work, toys, and the defining moment that has led to where he is now.

For those unfamiliar with your work, can you tell us a little about your background and how you came to work with Thinkspace Projects?

Hi, my name is Reen Barrera, I’m a sculptor and a painter from the Philippines, I was known in our local art scene for creating Ohlala dolls which became a staple in my art. I luckily got noticed by Thinkspace Projects when I did a show in Moniker Artfair with Vinyl on Vinyl Gallery.

What is the inspiration behind this latest body of work? What themes or techniques were you exploring?

The title of the show is “Cluster Fudge”, in my definition it is a situation of surprisingly having things done, despite the amount of hardships that we are facing right now in this pandemic, to overcome and survive our daily battles within ourselves and outside. In this collection of work I try to show a glimpse of my daily experiences and thoughts throughout this times.

What do you find to be the most challenging and yet most rewarding part of the creative process?

I use wood, resin and cloth in my sculptures, having a small space to work with this materials can be difficult and messy, I’m not that good at cleaning after I work because it’s either I’m too tired or too lazy. But all things are worth it when I sit down and stare at the works I’ve done.

Can you walk us through what a day in the studio looks like?

I borrowed two bedrooms from my Aunt’s house to use as an art studio, the other one is for wood works, and the other one is for painting and sewing, the painting room have a pink wall that annoys me but realized it’s not mine so I submit to it. Every afternoon my cat Miwmiw visits me to check on me (for food). During busy times I sleep beside my artworks so that when I wake up I can quickly work on it. I don’t have the typical “art studio” because the house that I’m in, there’s people in it, so I adjust depending on the project, sometimes I work outside.

Much of your work has been inspired by the idiom “Written all over your face,” with the colors and patterns representing the emotions or ideas we might not freely express. Are there repeating symbols within your work that would allow the viewer to read what’s being expressed?

It has evolved into “Impression at first sight”, as we all have different upbringing and experiences, each piece evokes a different effect on the viewer. I do use a lot of symbols such as arrows, x, teardrops, ladder, and parallel lines combined with abstract colors, together they create a visual narrative that sums up life.

The blank canvas wrapped around Ohlala’s head denotes choosing your own destiny. What is a moment or choice that you can point to that has directly influenced turning you down that path you are on right now?

For me, it was when I quit all my day job in one day, having nothing but the love for creating for myself and not for others, giving myself the freedom to do what I want and to be where I wanted to be. And also that is the period where I am in the process of creating Ohlala, I knew I have something good in my hands so I dropped everything and focus on creating.

What led to creating the dolls and their playful mechanics like the swing? What materials did you experiment with along the way?

Since I’m working with wood, I searched and study what can I do to up my wooden doll game, I stumble upon automata sculptures by Paul Spooner and I’ve never been so excited to see Ohlala move and come to life. I use a 3d printer for some small parts, a motor in some pieces, and mostly wood even for the gears.

You’ve shared you didn’t have a lot of toys growing up and thus made your own which has influenced your artistic development. Are there any toys you wanted as a kid that you’ve treated yourself to now as an adult?

A lego set would be nice to have as a kid, I still don’t have it now but maybe in the future, main reason is that I don’t have any display cabinet, my cabinets are filled with tools and dust. I now enjoy artist’s toys, I just recently owned a Kaws sculpture from a trade which is nice.

Where did the name “Ohlala” come from?

I was born in Paris, France and was raised in the Philippines by my grandma, my parents are both overseas Filipino workers. Whenever my father go to the Philippines for vacation, I always hear him say “Ohlala” whenever he is mad at something. We all know that the term is an exclamation of surprise, sometimes with very strong sexual connotations, but my father use it as an expression of disappointment mostly directed at me, maybe that’s why it has been embedded in my mind.

What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

I look into gallery shows online and observe, watch films, and experience life.

 If your work inspired an ice cream flavor, what would be the ingredients and name of the pint?

The Ohlala Ice cream flavor, it’s pistachio, mango and cheese with almond nuts, like Ohlala it’s weirdly cute.

Interview with Reen Barrera for Nexus III at the Brand Library & Art Center

Reen Barrera explores the idea that regardless of what we say, our true feelings can still be emancipated by our facial expressions. The mix medium artist utilizes Acrylic, oil, and aerosol paint in his work as he interprets the silent way we communicate with symbols and patterns in his compositions. Starting with a loose abstract figure, he often lets accidental drips, smudges and splatter guide him as his stares down the empty canvas.

What was the inspiration behind the body of work that will be showing at the Brand Library & Art Center?

At the beginning of my journey as an artist, I was lucky enough to have this idea of a character that will embody my thoughts, thus giving life to this character Ohlala. Ohlala is a being whose face is painted with colors representing its current mood/situation, and covered with symbols which summarizes our life, the idea comes from the saying “its written all over your face”.

Do you have any pre-studio rituals that help you get into a creative flow?

I bore myself doing nothing for days and then come to the realization that I’m wasting my short time here on earth, that keeps me motivated all the time.

When you were working on this body of work, what were you listening to in the background? Do you have a different soundtrack for the various stages of the creative process? 

I recently bought a vintage turntable, I got addicted to its sound, it has definitely influenced my current state. I started the process with the classics like Etta James, and finish it up with Up Dharma Down, an amazing Filipino band. I discovered the I work easily with slow jams in the background.

Is there an artist or piece of work that has made a significant impact on you? Has that work influenced your own artistic voice/style? 

Jean-Michel Basquiat, David Choe, and Cecile Perra discovering and studying them religiously has impacted me a lot as an artist. The strengths of their works and the bravery of their ideas freed me from my comforts. 

What piece challenged you most in this body of work, and why?

Technically it’s the dolls that really challenged me, the amount of sewing that I did for the dolls are challenging, considering having no background in Tailoring. And the needle pokes really hurt.

What do you think will be said about the New Contemporary Art Movement in 100 years?

I’m fortunate as an artist to be alive at this era, because I’ve experienced the birth of the internet and I have benefited a lot from it, the possibilities are endless because it opens the world for you, learning a new skill has never been so easy. With that comes the endless possibilities for artist and their processes, Inspiration can come with just a click of a button. This era has been a mixture of experimental influences from the past and comfort zones has been broken a lot of times by artists, because they are backed up with the knowledge that inspires. This era has seen a lot of “First” like the Internet and it made us pioneers of the connected world. With that, knowing art as an evolving creature that follows and breaks the rules, I’m sure the future will find this era influential the same as we are influenced by the past.

For now, the Brand Library and Arts Center are unfortunately not welcoming visitors. This Saturday, November 7 at 1 pm we will go live on our Instagram to tour the show and we will also be sharing a professionally filmed video tour of the exhibitions on our Instagram and Facebook around that same time. A self-guided virtual tour will be shared shortly as well.