Summer is finally here. Dominican artist Gustavo Peña captures the spirit of summer perfectly in expressionistic, quirky portraits of himself and close friends. His scenes are candid and not at all flattering, focused more on plays of light and the emotional intensity of his subjects. His tone alternates between dark and humorous, depicting subjects playing with Star Wars toys and ray guns in superhero masks. Peña labels his work as “realistic”, but upon close inspection thickly layered strokes of paint are revealed. Also a photographer, one can see the close connection between Peña’s painted work and harshly lit editorial photographs.
Peña credits cartoonist Saul Steimberg, and contemporary painters David Hockney and Lucian Freud among others as his artistic inspirations. His use of line and color also recalls painters like Alice Neel, who glorified local characters in her whimsical depictions of subversion and sexuality. Peña’s work can be unapologetically sexual and awkward, as in his ongoing ‘swimming’ series of naked young couples in pools and mountain lakes. “I enjoy painting people in water because of the challenge of illustrating the water’s diffraction and reflections. I stopped doing it for a while, but I currently have two new paintings in the making,” he shared with Hi-Fructose. To follow Peña’s self-described “in progress” work, you can find him on instagram and Lyle O’Rietzel Gallery online.