Jacoub Reyes’ punk-influenced woodcuts are sharper than a serpent’s tooth

Cuts like a knife


Everyone's spiritual journey is unique, often complicated, sometimes even convoluted. Jacoub Reyes' is downright labyrinthine. Despite his relatively young age, the Orlando visual artist has explored Catholicism, evangelical Protestantism and Islam. His latest solo exhibition, Beyond Good & Evil, charts these religious peregrinations in a series of epic woodcut prints. It's a stark black-and-white celebration of life's infinite shades of gray.

The exhibition is curated by Kyle Eagle, who locates Reyes at the cutting edge of American art.

"Everything about Jacoub's P.O.V. reflects America before, now, and yet to come," Eagle says. "He certainly has a voice that resonates deeply, and his work will grow and become the stuff of greatness."

Reyes met with Orlando Weekly in an OBT pawn shop to discuss that work. As he thumbs through scratched Chuck Mangione CDs, Reyes explains how his roots in the Puerto Rican, Cuban and Pakistani communities brought him into contact with different belief systems – and how punk rock gave him the critical tools to think through them.

"My art is about questioning my journey right now, trying to figure out what makes sense to me," says Reyes.

Reyes' approach to religion is not, however, about cherry-picking aphorisms that reinforce some vague "golden rule." The artist rejects the à la carte attitude to spirituality so prevalent since the 1960s. Reyes takes each of his religions as a historical fact, a package of not just philosophical doctrines but concrete interventions shot through with both beauty and contradictions.

"I don't pick and choose what I like," he explains. "I embrace the limits of each religion as a whole. That's what I do with my art, too. It's all black and white. It's all about restrictions. As an artist, I want to see how far I can take each line within those restrictions."

That austerity has resonated especially with Orlando's punk and DIY community, to which Reyes himself belongs. His maze-like prints contain the same measure of lucid concentration and lo-fi angst as a hardcore punk recording.

"Some people say my art is angry and dark," he says, "but others, especially people who share the punk aesthetic, really get what I'm doing. It's a grass-roots kind of art. I dumpster-dive to find wood for carving. It's ultimately anti-establishment, even anti-capitalist."

The Art Gallery at Mills Park, situated inside a sleek – and thoroughly bourgeois – apartment building, seems at first glance an odd fit for the iconoclast. As it turns out, gallery curator Boris Garbe was looking to buck expectations.

"His aim is very true," Eagle says of Garbe. "He really 'gets it' in the big picture of things and was chomping at the bit, as have scores of devotees that frequent the city's cultural spots, to see something meaty and hard-hitting. Boris offered the venue, and Jacoub was the first person who came to mind."

For Reyes, it's an opportunity to reach a new audience and perhaps turn a few heads.

"I've showed at nearly every gallery in town already," says Reyes. "As an artist, you always want to expand the demographic that is attracted to your work. Whether it makes them mad or confused, they're feeling something. In my case, the works are so large and the topics so heavy that you can't ignore them. This will be an interesting experiment."