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  • Source: Art in America
  • Author: Brian Droitcour
  • Date: JUNE 23, 2016
  • Format: ONLINE

Raul de Nieves

Raul de Nieves’s “El Rio” is a raucous sanctuary gathering new works and old ones dating back to 2007—drawings and paintings, two- and three-dimensional assemblages, beaded ceremonial robes, and rock gardens where colorful, artificial geodes grow from the gravel. One of the saints or lesser deities venerated in this church is Diligence, who appears as a purple-haired figure pushing a red and yellow disk over a hill as the sky flares pink: Diligence makes the sun come up. Like many works in “El Rio,” this image of Diligence is a mosaic of beads, rhinestones, shiny buttons, and other craft-store treasures. Making it was surely hard work, but you can imagine how the hypnotic repetitiveness of laying each piece might have been a devotional meditation for the artist. And like Diligence, whose face is animated by laughter, De Nieves fills his work with joy. In the rear gallery—surprisingly white after the main one, where the walls and floor are painted black and sunlight is colored by plastic approximations of stained-glass windows—even a funeral scene feels merry. In Celebration (2008–16), fragments of a head and limbs suggest a corpse lying faceup in an open grave, strewn with an abundance of rainbow-colored coins and gems (more buttons and plastic). “El Rio” is a river of life and death that takes fungal, carnal, and floral forms, evoking a vital spiritual force that flows from the natural world to the craft store and back again.