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Spotlight on Local Artist Trey Reis

Interview by Francess Dunbar

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Trey Reis, A Study in Disrupting Old Patterns: Red, 2018.

Though your association with the word collage may be cutting and pasting magazines with a glue stick in high school, technology has opened many doors in this medium, expanding the definition to include many other interpretive works that combine several pieces. Local artist Trey Reis creates his collages both in the conventional paper-and-glue style and with sound fragments.

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Deb Anders-Bond Collage Workshop, 2014 Roach Motel Zinefest

Trey was influenced by another local artist: Deborah Anders-Bond. Anders Bond chooses her images from used books and magazines, an environmentally friendly practice that recycles paper & ink which would otherwise be burned or buried in a landfill. It also ensures that her work is full of unique and interesting imagery centered around a color scheme though she was careful to specify that the collages “build themselves” rather than having a unifying theme or idea behind them. When asked about her impact on Trey’s work, she was modest, saying that she thinks he has surpassed her influence. “Trey’s work becomes more and more abstract, although the separate images are visible upon close inspection,” said Anders-Bond. “I think we both tend to use a certain color or color range and stay within it as we build our collages. In comparison, I might say my collages are personally symbolic, although that might not translate to viewers.”

Read our interview with Trey below and be sure to check out Deborah Anders-Bond’s collage booth as well as Reis’s new exhibition at the Art Terrarium Pop-Up Market on Saturday, June 23.

As an artist, you work in many mediums to create collages, including sound. How do these different mediums affect your work and its meaning?

For me, the collage medium is all about deconstruction and recontextualization. It’s analyzing the content and form of objects removed from their intended framework. I think this is what St. Thomas Aquinas was getting at with his writings on essence and existence. It became the main process behind my “Piece” exhibit on display at the Art Terrarium this month.

The sound collages begin with that same process but the end result is quite a bit different. After I’ve found and isolated my individual sounds, I work them into repeating loops of varying lengths and that’s what forms the layers of my sound collages. The application of effects to these loops is how I dissect them. Different filters allow me to draw forth sounds that can oftentimes be hidden by the mixing process, and that’s how familiar noises are turned into rhythms and melodies that reveal themselves in different ways as they repeat.

I don’t put much thought into meaning. If I work with something long enough, it always gains meaning to me through connotations or repeated thoughts I have when working on it. If these ever become complete concepts or ideas, it’s often long after the work has been finished, and is usually connected to something I may have watched or read or heard that otherwise felt entirely unrelated to what I was working on.

Do you feel you’re pushing the boundary of what can be called a collage?

No, but I do try and approach collage with techniques from other mediums. People often look at collages as puzzles, which is appropriate, but I find them to be more like paintings. Aside from associations we may have with color or texture, paint has no context until applied to the canvas. This is how I feel when I’ve cut out all of my pieces and am beginning the gluing process for a collage.

Oftentimes, specific colors can take on musical qualities in any given piece. How darker colors can serve percussive or rhythmic purposes, or how a hint of a bright color somewhere can feel like a melodic embellishment.

What local artists have influenced and inspired you? What about artists from other places?

Iowa State University professor, Alex Braidwood, designs these listening tools that invite listeners to question how and why we hear the things we do. I think this is a useful study for all of our senses. It helped me learn to perceive things beyond their intrinsic meaning or purpose, instead focusing on secondary qualities, which I believe is where a lot of the connectivity between our sensory experiences exists.

Bruce James Bales, my studio mate and local filmmaker, has this ability to deconstruct a location down into its unique details and then build up a narrative that weaves these details into the framework. I’ve always found similarities between that approach and the way I will flip through books looking for materials for a new collage. It’s a way of removing the context from things and instead focusing on their sensory values. I think it’s important to watch films with your senses instead of your brain, and I think that method can be applied to a lot of different artistic mediums.

Looking at Deb Anders-Bond’s collages throughout the years taught me to break down what I see into texture, form, and color, which was a very important starting point for much of the work I’ve done in Des Moines. I used to find the individual pieces in collage work that I saw. The way Deb blends her pieces together really helped me see how collage pieces can forgo their intended purpose in favor of something with larger capacity for connectivity.

Jordan Zantow’s paintings bridged the gap for me between psychedelia and punk, blending maximalism with messiness. He was one of the first great local artists I knew, and I met him when I was much younger, long before I ever thought I was going to be an artist.

Field recordings and sound collage techniques have been used more and more in contemporary electronic music, and I draw more inspiration from music than anything else. Musicians like Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Arca, and Onehotrix Point Never are among some of my lasting favorites. I really enjoy some of the older weirdos like Lonnie Holley and Laraaji, who were even too out there for much of the New Age crowd at the time.

I read something recently on this meditative/healing music from Morocco called Gnawa and I’ve been listening to a lot of that lately. It’s very rhythmic and repetitive and the details are subtle, so it feels very familiar with regard to my own collage work.

What are you doing for Art Week 2018?

After nearly two years of assembly, I am finally exhibiting my visual collage work at the Art Terrarium during Art Week. The exhibit is called “Piece: A Study in Disrupting Old Patterns” and will be on display during the Art Terrarium’s open hours throughout the week, as well as during their Local Art Pop Up Market on Saturday, June 23. The exhibit will run through the end of July.