with Reen Barrera
Chaotic Facial Markings Express the Wildly Varied Emotions of Reen Barrera’s Imaginative Ohala Dolls
Growing up in the Phillipines in the 90’s, Reen Barrera would often repurpose scraps of fabric and wood into imaginative figures that became central to his play. The constructions were stand-ins for what the Filipino artist considers a “toy-deprived” childhood, and today, Barrera continues the visual language of those early sculptures in his recurring Ohala characters.
Often dressed in stripes and animalistic patchwork hoods, the wildly expressive figures are covered in a chaotic mishmash of symbols and patterns. Barrera likens these markings to the idiom “it’s written all over your face,” a concept that, similar to his earlier figures, continues to ground his practice. “Regardless of what we say, our true feelings can still be emancipated by our facial expressions,” the artist says. “For me, it’s a silent way of communicating something without noise.”
Barrera pairs this concern with fleeting emotion and more personal experience with larger themes about class and social standing. While some of the wooden figures are rich with colorful fabrics and splotches of acrylic, oil, and aerosol paints, others are more minimal. “One thing that I want to emphasize is the amount of detail each Ohlala artwork has. Like humans, some have little while some have more,” he shares, explaining further:
Some people are born rich, some are born middle class, some are born poor. But the common ground for everyone is, we all have to deal with it… I cover all the Ohlala dolls heads with canvas cloth to give a freedom to paint their own symbols on their heads, as if they are designing their own fate. I guess that’s what we all have in common; the power to make things happen for ourselves.
In a collaboration with Thinkspace Projects, Barrera’s solo show Children of Divorce is on view through January 15, 2023, at Mesa Contemporary Art Museum. For more of the artist’s works, visit his site and Instagram.
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Thinkspace Presents ‘Cluster Fudge’: A New Body of Paintings and Articulated Figures by Reen Barrera
Candid, passionate, and uninhibited, Ohlala is the character at the center of Reen Barrera’s practice. The recurring figure functions as a vessel for the artist’s own experiences and emotions, which culminate in portraits rendered in acrylic, oil, aerosol and wooden figurines that stand a few inches tall or stretch to imposing heights. “There is this idiom that says ‘it’s written all over your face,’ which gave me an idea that regardless of what we say, our true feelings can still be emancipated by our facial expressions,” the Paris-born artist says in a statement. “For me, it’s a silent way of communicating something without noise.”
To convey the characters’ wildly varied emotions, Barrera subtly shifts the form, materials, and colorful motifs: Ohlala often wears hoods with animal ears and patchwork clothing with chunky, uneven seams; an amalgam of abstract patterns and small botanics coat the figure’s face; and oversized hands display unambiguous gestures. The artist leaves drips, splashes, and other mistakes visible, too, adding to the unmediated theme of his works.
If you’re in Los Angeles, you can see Ohlala’s many moods as part of a sold-out show titled Cluster Fudge on view at Thinkspace Projects through June 26—the gallery spoke with Barrera at length about the works in a recent interview. You can also watch the studio tour below, and check out his site and follow him on Instagram.
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Highlights below. For the full collection click here.