The Robin Rice Gallery announces the seventh solo exhibition of photography by José Picayo. The show of new work opens September 19 and runs through October 28. This photo exploration of exquisite, 100-plus-year-old specimens of trees found in a New Jersey public arboretum is a follow-up study of the artist’s 2004 exhibition of Florida palms. Intended to isolate and showcase trees, the exhibit presents José’s interpretation of what is simple and uncomplicated about his subjects while also revealing them swathed in stand-alone beauty alongside a tangle of roots and branches.
Similar to his 2008 Mugshots exhibition, José used his 8” x 10” Deardorff camera, and his 8” x 10” Polaroid film for a portion of the photographs. The result is pure, one-of-a-kind, black and white images created without the use of digital technology or alteration. While he was happy to “find the right subject” for his coveted Polaroid film, the full collection will feature a mix of processes and prints.
José discovered his muse off of an unassuming highway just east of U.S. Route 1 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Tucked amid Rutgers University is Rutgers Gardens – a 50-acre utopia of trees that are irresistible to even those who feign the slightest interest in the natural world. For José, the stately trees pulled him in, tempting him to explore, discover and create.
Admitting a fascination with the understated yet complex nature of trees, he hopes the collection of compelling images will move the viewer just as he was moved throughout the duration of his study. Over a six-month period, José spent much of his time just sitting in the gardens observing his subjects. This contemplation of a singular specimen would then reveal its outer beauty and delicate intricacies. A single branch twisting upward for a taste of sunlight, or a system of roots gnarled around one another became the focal point of José’s obsession.
A giant magnolia tree specifically took him, so grand and immense he describes it as “a big mushroom” when viewed from the outside. José reflects on truly experiencing this tree, “when you walk inside, under the lush canopy, it’s just branches coming out at you. What I loved were the two very different views: beautiful shapes and an intricate root system.” José took aim and will present those juxtaposed views as part of this collection of images while featuring the magnolia as the exhibit’s focal point. He plans to feature this magnificent subject in an oversized format to reveal its majestic aura to the gallery viewer. Invitations to the gallery’s opening reception will showcase the magnolia, giving recipients a taste of what to expect on opening night.
To isolate the trees, José plans to display the full collection of images in a range of sizes pinned directly to painted black walls throughout the gallery. This presentation allows the viewer to see the trees as José did when he was shooting: simple yet dramatic. The result is an exhibition of photographs that provides a stunning glimpse into the wonder of nature that surrounds us all but is seldom truly seen.
Born in Havana, Cuba in 1959, José Picayo left his homeland in 1966 and moved to Puerto Rico, where he lived for 10 years. By 1975 José was in Kent, Ohio completing his high school studies, and in 1981, he settled in New York City, where he received a BFA from Parson’s School of Design in 1983. José began his professional career in 1987, working for such magazines as Vanity (Italian), Sassy, Taxi, and Connoisseur. His work has appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, L.A. Style, New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, NY Magazine, Elle Decor, HG, and Martha Stewart Living as well as other U.S. and European publications. José has been a part of many group shows in New York, and has had six solo exhibitions at the Robin Rice Gallery. In 1993, José returned to Cuba after 28 years to photograph in his hometown. During the 1990s he also taught photography at Parson’s School of Design and at the International Center of Photography in New York City. José lives in New York City with his wife and three children.