A Talk with Dan’s Papers Cover Artist Doug Reina

Detail of Dan's Papers cover, "Self Portrait with Sharks," by Doug Reina
Detail of Dan's Papers cover, "Self Portrait with Sharks," by Doug Reina

Forget that hat—the face, in profile, is not that of the eponymous president and editor-in-chief of this magazine, Dan Rattiner, but is rather that of the artist himself, Doug Reina, whose 60” x 37” surreal but realistically painted oil on canvas “Self Portrait With Sharks” may well start the kind of conversation Reina likes his works to elicit. He wants viewers to feel that they’re always looking at something new—which indeed they are in this week’s cover art. The brim of the man’s hat is fin-like, and his jacket matches the skin of the shark he’s holding like a weapon.

Although his expression seems neutral enough, the dark green woods in the prominent background prompt even Reina to wonder what “vibes” about shark-like behavior might have been stirring in him.

The word “shark” comes from German schurke, meaning greedy and parasitic, a metaphor for predatory behavior, but it’s hardly descriptive of Reina’s paintings, the full range of which evince an affectionate regard for his subjects—whether barns, trucks, figures (portraits or full), realistic or abstract. A beautifully painted cherry tree engages him as well as Eric Fischl-like scenes, or outlined figure abstracts done in acrylic on paper. He likes to experiment, arguably more in his abstracts, some produced with digital images over or under paint. But as this week’s cover shows, Reina also enjoys linking plein air representation and offbeat contemporary.

Is there a backstory to “Self Portrait With Sharks?”
I made “Self Portrait” in 2013, using a mounted mako that I had caught many years ago. I’ve always admired the shark’s colors and dangerous expression. I thought a man walking around with a shark was funny and unusual while at the same time it had this weird, threatening edge.

After you received a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, you wrote that it allowed you to move into a new studio, in Setauket, a move that would enable you to take “some creative leaps and bounds” to keep evolving. So, what have you been doing, in and out of the studio?
Ahh…the studio. I love that place, thank you Pollock-Krasner Foundation. And thank you luck, for a large commission last year to do a painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware, and while this was a little out of my wheelhouse, I accepted the challenge, listening to several GW biographies as I painted. After several months, George made it across the river, and I was able to sign on again to lease my studio. The GW project also sharpened my painting skills and charged me up for some looser, creative work, which I’m now doing.

Your sense of humor, seen in “Self-Portrait With Sharks” can also be seen in “Hamming It Up” (oil, wood, plastic and coffee grounds), a painting of a man playing a guitar with a pig nearby. Would you say that your abstracts and playful mixed media work reflect some new directions?
Years ago I was a pretty serious cartoonist, with work published in The New Yorker and with King Features Syndicate. Combining odd random things is how my mind works, so it’s natural that that mindset makes its way into my paintings. I do see some changes, though. Whatever I do now I want the strokes to carry a life force that represents my presence and excitement in a work. I also think I need to improvise much, much more, get away from the script of trying to make perfect pictures and start to let the feelings really flow into the brushwork.

Doug Reina will be soloing at the RIPE Art Gallery in Huntington from June 6–27, where “Self Portrait” can be seen. A piece he entered in the Long Island Museum exhibit in Stony Brook, “Landscapes: Wish You Were Here” won second place there and will be on display through June 21. On Thursdays Reina can be found teaching classes on landscape painting at the Art League of Long Island in Dix Hills.

Dan's Papers cover, "Self Portrait with Sharks," by Doug Reina
Dan’s Papers cover, “Self Portrait with Sharks,” by Doug Reina

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