Upcoming: April 20, 2023/ February 25, 2024- “Biological Regionalism: Niagara River, Western New York, USA / Canada”, Castellani Art Museum (CAM), Niagara University, NY. Biological Regionalism: Niagara River, Western New York by Alberto Rey explores the complexities of the Niagara River’s past and present. “It is crucial to inform the public on the importance of our region in America's cultural and natural heritage and the challenges that the Niagara River faces.” –Alberto Rey. Utilizing lushly illustrated narratives, Rey capitalizes on his unique visual language to speak to the cultural importance of the Niagara in American popular culture and how that has changed over time. These large-scale paintings reflect on the river’s historical significance to the Underground Railroad, importance to Native American culture, and the pollution of the river and the communities along its banks. Rey’s Biological Regionalism is representative of his 40-year artistic journey documenting human relationships to natural waterways and how these relationships have a direct effect on the flora and fauna of regions across the globe. Building on past, present, and future, this work is guided through what he has termed, “a devotional painting approach.” For this large-scale installation in the CAM’s Main Gallery, Rey turns his attention to the Niagara River and the unique attributes of the Niagara Gorge. Each bespoke painting explores facets of the Niagara River’s rich history and challenges it faces, past and present. See more about the exhibition here and at the Castellani Art Museum website.
Alberto Rey (Cuban-American, 1960- ) is a painter, illustrator, filmmaker, educator and writer. Born in Havana, Cuba in 1960, Alberto Rey received his political asylum through Mexico in 1963 and moved to Miami, Florida in 1965. In 1967, his family relocated to Barnesboro, Pennsylvania (now called Northern Cambria). He lived in this small coal-mining town until 1982 when he finished his B.F.A from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (2008 recipient of IUP’s Distinguished Alumni Award) after attending the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. After graduation, he lived in Boston, Massachusetts for a short period before heading to Miami to work on Christo’s Surrounded Islands Project. He then moved to Hollywood, Florida where he worked at Joan of Arts Studio. He returned north to begin his graduate studies at the University at Buffalo, New York. In 1987, he received his M.F.A. in Drawing and Painting and began traveling throughout Spain, Italy, Morocco and Mexico. The following year while teaching in Lincoln-Sudbury High School, The Art Institute of Boston, New England School of Art and Design, and the Museum of Fine Arts, he enrolled in courses at Harvard University in contemporary art and environmental studies. That same year, he had his first solo exhibition in New York City at the Museum of Contemporary Hispanic Art (MoCHA) and was selected into the permanent collection of El Museo del Barrio in New York City.
In 1989, he moved to Dunkirk, New York to accept a teaching position at the State University of New York at Fredonia and married Janeil Strong of Gloucester, Massachusetts. In 1994, Rey received the Hagan Young Scholar/Artist Award for distinguished research/creative activity as a junior faculty and the Minority Visiting Scholar’s Award from Central Missouri State University. In 1996, while at SUNY Fredonia, Rey accepted a position as the Director/Curator at the Chautauqua Center of the Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution. Soon afterwards he was appointed to the New York State Council on the Arts and to the Artist’s Advisory Panel of the New York Foundation for the Arts.
In 1998, Rey returned to Cuba for the first time in 36 years and later created his first film, “Seeing in the Dark,” a black and white 16mm film about the trip. In 2001, he received the Kasling Lecturer Award for distinguished research/creative activity as a senior faculty member and in 2003 was awarded the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activity. In 2007, the State University of New York’s Board of Trustees promoted Rey to SUNY Distinguished Professor for Research and Creative Activity, the state university’s highest rank.
Since 1986, his artwork has been influenced by his Cuban lineage and his attempt to find a sense of identity in a complex contemporary environment. His abstract work from 1982 through 1992 dealt with issues related to layered memories of Cuban iconography and his American experiences. After 1992, his drawings and paintings incorporated realistic imagery as an attempt to make clear connections between his past concerns and art history, regionalism, and his bi-cultural concerns.
Since his relocation to western New York in 1989, he also performed extensive research on local entomology and on the migratory and biological sensibilities of the regional steelhead. In 2000, his reflections on contemporary society started to incorporate environmental issues, perspectives in contemporary art theory and art history, biology and society’s disconnections with nature. At that point, he also began to work in film and video. His research took him throughout the United States, Wales, England, Isle de Saintes (Antiqua), Aruba, Mexico, Spain, Cuba, Iceland and Italy.
His work has been featured in over 200 exhibitions and screenings and has been included in the permanent collections of twenty museums including: The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, the Brooklyn Museum, the Burchfield Penney Art Center, El Museo del Barrio, Extremaduran and Latin American Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, Museum of Latin American Art, and the Peabody Essex Museum. In 2012 he was inducted into the Burchfield Penney Art Center's Living Legacy Project, and in 2019, he was inducted into the Northern Cambria Community Hall of Fame, Northern Cambria, PA. Rey is currently a distinguished professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia, NY.
Select Local WNY Exhibitions & Projects:
August 2009/ March-May 2010- “Biological Regionalism: Ellicott Creek, Amherst, New York, USA”, Lightwell Gallery, Center for the Arts, University of Buffalo, NY. This solo exhibition at The University of Buffalo is a continuation of his Biological Regionalism series in which he attempts to re-establish a connection to local landscapes and wildlife by documenting fish species found in bodies of water near the exhibition venue through video and traditional piscatorial painting. This exhibition examines Ellicott Creek located on the edge of UB’s north campus. The underwater source material for the paintings and large-scale projections captures the opalescent colors and balletic movements of largemouth bass during their annual migration and the constantly moving and changing environment where they are found. The three videos document the environment above the water, in the stream and the stream bed below the migrating largemouth bass. A publication of process and artwork was published. View videos here.
December 2009/ July 25–September 26, 2010- “Biological Regionalism: Lower Falls, Genesee River, Rochester, New York, USA”, Fourth Rochester Biennial Invitational
Grand Gallery, Rochester, NY. This exhibition includes a site-specific installation of two paintings and a video from the Biological Regionalism Series and three paintings from the Aesthetics of Death Series. These works from the Biological Regionalism Series investigate the historically-significant section of the Genesee River above Seth Green Island and the migrating steelhead trout species from Lake Ontario. View video here.
May 26th – July 15th, 2013- “Biological Regionalism: Lake Erie Tributary, Sheridan, New York, USA”, Extremaduran and Latin American Museum of Contemporary Art (MEIAC) Badajoz, Spain. This solo museum video exhibition included 5 videos from past projects plus a new site-specific video representing a 180-degree view of a unique scene in a rural part of the United States. This panoramic view was created with five videos. This installation of five videos was entitled “Moments of Wonder” (Mementos de Asombro). These short videos were synchronized to start on top of the water and go down into the water together. Then it would come back out of the water at the same time. The footage was edited in slow motion to force the viewer to slow down in their movements as they walked around the installation while allowing them to view specific elements in regions that would not be available in real-time. The abstractions that occurred during the projections provided an additional aesthetic element to the documentation. Maps were also presented alongside each of the videos in the exhibition to note their locations around the world. The installation provided a link to historical investigations in art, the attention given to the environmentalism in society and art and created a connection between the viewer and environments from around the world. View video here.
February 14 to May 18, 2014- “Biological Regionalism: Scajaquada Creek, Erie County, New York, USA”, Burchfield-Penney Art Center, Buffalo, New York. The solo museum exhibition includes a series of large paintings, water samples, and related data, historical information, ecological research, large maps, video projections, process work samples, related programming and presentations and a selection of Alberto’s past works. The installation explores the history and the present condition of the Scajaquada Creek that flows through three municipalities before it is diverted through a three-mile tunnel underneath the city of Buffalo. “The objective of the exhibition is to bring the language of both art and science to bear upon a complex of cultural, social, economic, technological, and geopolitical issues,” said Anthony Bannon, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Burchfield Penney and research professor at SUNY Buffalo State. See videos here and here.
2015-2019- “Extinct Birds Project”, On the morning of June 30 in 2015, Jane Johnson, the Director of Exhibits & Special Collections at Roger Tory Peterson Institute in Jamestown, New York, began her tour of the museum’s archive. After walking into one of the several climate-controlled rooms in the museum, Jane started pulling out long deep shelves from the metal cabinet. I was unprepared for what I was about to experience. On the clean white paper that covers the drawer were the bodies of seven extinct birds and around a dozen other threatened species. I was transfixed by the skins. A tremendous veil of sadness laced every one of the specimens and countless questions immediately ran through my mind: How did these get here? How did they get the birds? I guess I’m glad they were collected, so I could experience this. Should they have been collected if they went extinct? Where were these birds collected? What were their lives like? Who collected them and how? What were the collectors thinking when they collected them? Have the bodies been gutted and filled with cotton? How do they do that? Why am I not as moved by the other birds in the other drawers? The following three years were spent creating the paintings for the series, writing and illustrating the book and designing the website, Extinct Birds Project, which archives the entire project.
2019-Present- “Lost Beauty Parts I and II”, was a two-part collaboration project between the Anderson Gallery at the University of Buffalo (Buffalo, NY) and the Buffalo Museum of Science (Buffalo, NY). Lost Beauty: Part I exhibition which included the Extinct Birds Project was presented at the Anderson Gallery at the University of Buffalo (Buffalo, NY) in the summer of 2019 with the support of the Buffalo Museum of Science (Buffalo, NY), the Roger Tory Institute of Natural History (Jamestown, NY), Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University (Boston, MA) and the Stanley Museum (the State University of New York at Fredonia (Fredonia, NY) and the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (Ithaca, NY). Lost Beauty: Part II, The Art of Museum Stories was presented in the fall of 2021 at the Buffalo Museum of Science. Lost Beauty: Part I featured paintings, audio files, videos, specimens from the Extinct Birds Project, and informational plaques documenting the history and extinction of 17 extinct bird species. The Extinct Birds Project also included a book and website detailing the lives and history of seventeen extinct bird species, collection methods, politics of extinction classification, and biographical information on the collectors who acquired the extinct specimens. Lost Beauty: Part II – The Art of the Museum Stories features very small but significant artifacts and specimens that might otherwise be overlooked in the museum’s extensive collection. The large paintings and accompanying book outline the importance of these diminutive objects and the process in creating the exhibition.
Rey has written several books corresponding to series of his work: Candaway Creek - Western New York (2021), Lost Beauty: Icebergs (2021), Lost Beauty: Part II - The Art of Museum Stories (2021), Extinct Birds Project (2018), and Complexities of Water - Biological Regionalism: Bagmati River, Kathmandu Valley, Nepal (2016) about the holiest and most polluted river, the Bagmati River in Kathmandu, Nepal. He has also had many articles and illustrations published in several magazines including the Buffalo Spree, Gray’s Sporting Journal, Art of Angling Journal, Fish and Fly Magazine, American Angler, and Saltwater Fisherman. Art historians and curators have also written one book and several essays about his work. Rey was selected as an international finalist for the 2020 Orvis Freshwater Guide of the Year and the winner of the 2021 Orvis Fly Fishing Guide of the Year.
For more information, please visit the Artist’s Website: albertorey.com
Alberto Rey is part of the Living Legacy Project at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. Click here to listen to his artist interview.
(Sources: The artist’s website; Wikipedia.com, “Alberto Rey”; Burchfield Penney Art Center, burchfieldpenney.org, "Alberto Rey".)