“My voice when I couldn’t use mine.” The spiracular art and visual language of Danilo R Reyes

Moving to New Zealand from Colombia at the age of 16, Danilo R Reyes couldn’t speak a word of English. Struggling to communicate with his peers through language, he found familiarity, communication, and connection in art, igniting a passion for drawing and printmaking. He draws inspiration for his mesmerising artworks from his experiences as a refugee, his culture, and Pre-Columbian art.

Danilo R Reyes, danilorreyesart.felt.co.nz
 
What do you make?
My trademark is my spiracular drawings and linocut prints. I love experimenting with multiple art mediums and can’t wait to explore screen printing later this year.

How did you get into fine arts and crafts?
Everyone has that teacher who leaves a lasting impression and sees your potential before you even knew it existed. For me, that was my high school art teacher Lisa, who encouraged me to give art a go. Without her guidance in the beginning, I would not be achieving the success I am now.

In 2013, after arriving in New Zealand from Colombia under the refugee quota, my passion for drawing began. I was only 16 years of age, and I couldn’t speak a word of English. Along with my siblings, my dad enrolled us at the local secondary school, Bishop Viard College in Porirua, Wellington. Whilst the college community was warm and welcoming, I struggled to communicate with others. It therefore became challenging to forge friendships. Plunged into an unfamiliar environment, my art classes at Bishop Viard became one of the few spaces where I felt a sense of familiarity. Producing artwork became my primary form of communication; it felt like my voice when I couldn’t use mine. Despite being miles from home and socially isolated, my drawings made me feel connected and grounded. My passion and artistic flair have continued to flourish since, as has my support network and English proficiency!


 

 
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
Yes, I do! I recently graduated from Massey University in April 2022 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts with Honours. I started in 2017, and after four years of balancing my studies and working in a factory to fund my education I can proudly say “I did it!”. It wasn’t an easy journey, but it has been rewarding. Completing my degree has provided me with the confidence I needed to showcase and sell my art.

Your favourite tools, materials and processes?
Although the creative world provides us with the most incredible selection of materials, I like to keep my tools simple. My ‘go to’ is always a very fine pen, felt tip markers and pencils on paper. On my cherished Woodzilla linocut printing press I create my designs onto soft lino plates and ink these with water-based inks – my favourite printmaking paper is Fabriano mixed media as it holds the ink so beautifully.

I am methodical in the process of printmaking; this is a requirement to keep the final paper clean. But for the conceptual and drawing process I adopt an organic approach; I start drawing or carving and allow the piece to naturally unfold as I go – I am an intuitive art maker. I love how printmaking and drawing processes use different materials and these processes are what underpin most of my work. Right now, I am enjoying working with some beautiful Japanese rice paper that I got from Gordon Harris. I love experimenting with different types of paper. In what is fast becoming a paperless world I know I will never give up on paper, it’s an essential ingredient to my daily life.


 
Danilo R Reyes, danilorreyesart.felt.co.nz
 
One of my latest artworks was a collaborative piece that I did with my mother who lives in Colombia. It’s a very fine drawing and was a meaningful way to connect on a creative level, bridging the gap from here to there. I created this work on an A1 Fabriano Mixed Media paper with a free sustainable cardboard cased biro I got from MacDonald’s!

What inspires you?
I find inspiration for my work in many different places, often in the most unexpected ones. I think one of the most random things was my cane laundry hamper, the woven pattern providing intrigue! I am passionate about pre-Columbian art and have often used these as inspiration for making work. The main thing which inspires me, and underpins the vast majority of my work, is that of my experiences as a former refugee. I’ve seen a growing number of articles and social media posts recently with strong anti-refugee sentiments. I think of the struggles that myself and my family went through on our journey to New Zealand, constantly living in fear, the overwhelming feeling of desperation and helplessness, simply so we could live in safety. Views like these inspire me to keep producing my work so that I can raise awareness around the importance of countries like New Zealand accepting refugees, and to connect with others that have shared similar experiences to mine.

Is there a philosophy behind your work?
When I am creating art I am thinking about the connections and threads from Colombia to New Zealand. The family journey to be in New Zealand with other members of the family in different places of the world – the conversational threads that keep us connected make important entries into my art work. Depending on how I’m feeling or what I’ve got on my mind dictates what the finish product will look like and where the next work starts. My lived experiences in Colombia and the current social issues that impacted on our living situations, friends, neighbours and family often provide subject matter and motivation to create. What’s on my mind literally comes out onto the paper: my work is a visual diary and each work is a moment in time.


 

 
What has been a highlight of your maker journey so far?
I would say having my art recognised. I’ve had really positive feedback about my work, and it’s felt incredible. I would have never imagined that I might be financially rewarded through the creative process. This would not have been an option living in Colombia. For me though, it’s not about the money but the appreciation that people have for my work and my story.

Also graduating – being able to have a job in my area of expertise – working with refugee students.

Describe your workspace:
My workspace consists of two desks, one for drawing and a much smaller one for printmaking. An embarrassing amount of different pens and inks that I keep convincing myself I’m going to use eventually, with some of my working drawings and ideas and finished prints hanging on the walls.


 
Danilo R Reyes, danilorreyes.felt.co.nz
 
Words that describe your mind:
Chaotic/methodical, curious, eager, open minded.

Your favourite feedback from a customer:
It was from the first customer who purchased something from my Felt shop! It was so nerve-racking when I made my Felt account, and I honestly thought that I wouldn’t sell anything. I was so excited when I saw the email pop up saying that I’d sold my first print. I almost couldn’t believe it! They ended up sharing it on their Instagram page saying how happy they were with their purchase. It was one of those proud ‘pinch me’ moments.

What are you currently listening to?
Happier than ever – Billie Eilish.

What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
I don’t have a favourite childhood book per se, but more of a fond memory. When I was little back in Colombia, when it got close to Christmas people used to give out miniature books to all the children, and my siblings and I used to compete to see who could collect the most.

Who is your hero/heroine? Why?
The members of the refugee community, not only the people who have experienced it directly, but also the people who have helped them, giving so much of themselves to help others.


 

 

 
A favourite quote:
A quote from my favourite movie Ratatouille: “Your only limit is your soul. What I say is true – anyone can cook … but only the fearless can be great.” – Chef Gusteau. I think you can apply this to anything in life.

Tell us about your pets:
Does my boyfriend count? We live in a tiny apartment and he never complains about the ink plates on the hamper. But in fact he is my biggest supporter.

What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
It would be not to compare yourselves to others, everyone is at a different point in their journey and that’s important to remember.

Why do you think it’s important to buy handmade and/or locally made goods?
Because you’re buying something that holds personal value. Apart from the skills, time and dedication that the artist put into the piece which makes it unique in its own way.

What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
An absolutely stunning painting of a Monstera leaf by Ana Burne. The details in the piece are insane and what really attracted me to it was the textures in the background. I’d encourage you to all check out her Felt shop!


 

What’s in store for the rest of 2022?
Lots and lots of art, so look out for new pieces as I add them to my Felt shop. My job as an art tutor here in Wellington – I just started and to be working with creative people and helping students is so cool. Plus I’m fortunate enough that my workplace offers flexible working days, which means that for the first time in my life I can dedicate a decent amount of my week to creating more art. I will continue to experiment with different art mediums, and look into more collaborations with other artists. I’d also really like to put myself out there and get involved in more exhibitions. Aside from art, I want to see more of the South Island and spend a few weeks camping, and exploring the beautiful scenery down there.

Special offer for Felt readers!
Danilo has kindly offered Felt readers 10% off any of the stunning artworks in his Felt shop when you enter the voucher code JUNE22 in the voucher code field at checkout. And he’ll include a free postcard of his work with your purchase too – just let him know in the notes field during checkout which colour you’d like from the selection below.

This offer is valid throughout the month of June 2022. Thanks so much Danilo!

 

See more from Danilo R. Reyes Art here »

 

danilorreyesart.felt.co.nz

3 thoughts on ““My voice when I couldn’t use mine.” The spiracular art and visual language of Danilo R Reyes

  1. What a journey thus far Danilo…with so much more to come!

    Good luck in all your future ventures, your work is amazing and the potential endless – keep it up.

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