René Treviño and his work are very much at home in Baltimore. Since finishing his masters studies at Maryland College of Art, René is currently Exhibitions Coordinator at School 33 Art Center and is an Adjunct Professor at MICA and Towson University. As a result, I first heard about the artist through one of my colleagues, who like René is employed by Towson University as an art instructor. René is in the process of fixing up a Victorian townhouse in lower Charles Village, where he has been residing with his partner, Paul, and using a studio space on the second floor for the last year and a half. This is where I met him for a studio visit, on the front steps to his townhouse.
Beyond the cream-colored linen hanging in the doorway to René’s workspace, I received an immediate sense of peaceful order. On each wall hung a work drawn more-or-less from each body of work over the past four or five years. Besides those on the walls, there was not a lot of finished work to be found; the majority of his oeuvre seemed to be elsewhere.
René employs an unwavering painting technique that he developed using acrylic paint on Mylar surfaces. Upon my close inspection of his paintings on the wall, the visceral buildup of material (done all by hand) brought me into sensual kind of abstraction, a world alternating in turn with the work’s representation and my conceptual response to it. The larger the scale of the piece, the more this is evident. A good example of that is the painting of a horse by 19th century French sculptor Antoine Louis Barye, which captivated me and prompted my compliments to the artist.
“I like for there to be a dual experience to the work. From far away it looks really graphic and precise, but then you get up close and I think there’s a lot of looseness; there’s opportunity for gesture, mark making and the specificity of my hand on a particular day to be discovered,” René says.
René’s process involves constant research. Filling about one third of the artist’s space was an assortment of reference material, ranging from 18th & 19th c. French Toile patterns and Greek pottery to round-shaped Aztec bar relief carvings. René uses books, magazines and the internet to conduct research that gets him stimulated. Having once majored in theatre and costume design, he has a way for finding images and objects that are charged and inspire him.
“Sometimes it’s the power (of an object) that compels me to make the image; other times I get some idea in my head and then I have to systematically find the images that I want to appropriate or incorporate into the work”. One of the artist’s intentions in particular is to highlight and question iconic archetypes that cross over with his identity as a Mexican American and a gay man. Nevertheless, he also keeps things personal. The Aztec Calendar found its way into René’s imagery not just for its many aspects of power, but because he saw it symbolized almost everywhere he looked, growing up in Texas.
Speaking of his work broadly, René states “I like the idea of being able to make art, it’s the thing that fills me with the most joy. I want all the work to come from the place of the exuberance of (it’s own) making.”
I found René to be a warm and gentle person with sharp sense (and a quick, amiable laugh). With the accomplishments that keep mounting in his career, René’s horizons can’t be that slim. However, he does like where he is. “I love it,” he says of his studio situation. He says he’s here to stay, yet maybe “not forever”.
What’s next? His first visit to Spain; a two person exhibit at Loyola College; proposals for some large scale public work, and – given his mention of the townhouse renovation being near completion -some house-warming entertainment as well.