Bruce Riley
At Packer Schopf Gallery, Chicago (

reviewed by Felissia Cappelletti (January 2015)

Vertical Labyrinth Chakra (mixed media on panel, 2013), Bruce Riley


What do you get when you take Alex Grey minus humans, plus neon, swap the geometric fractals for organic ones, give it the imagination of zentangle, the detail of Haeckle, and throw it all under a microscope? Maybe something as striking and unimaginable as Bruce Riley's enticing resin entities.

Writhing with absurdity. Pulsating with vibrant color. Alien, frightening, candy-like.

Riley's panels contain the monstrous, the bacterial, the elemental concoctions of pure psychedelic imaginings. The palette alone is enough to draw a crowd to the window. The shapes and movement of his spots of color sometimes resemble traditional henna designs, and sometimes a mold colony on a DMT trip. The closer in you go, the more worlds are revealed. In the nature of fractals, Riley's patterns are layered and interposed. Patterns repeat and wander, warp and stretch. Patterns interlocking patterns. One gets the sense that these are naturally occurring patterns. Not the kind ever touched by ruler or compass, but rather, exhumed by some mysterious chemical process, or by lively dance parties among the cohabiting colors.

Magnetic Crisis (mixed media on panel, 2011), Bruce Riley

Some images resemble scenes that seem vaguely familiar, like a deep-sea coral colony in Ibarra, an adorable bacterium, such as Vertical Labyrinth Chakra, or the face of the devil in Magnetic Crisis. But mostly, these abstract pieces rejoice in being utterly unfamiliar. Since one doesn't often see something that is utterly unfamiliar - even in the world of abstract art - they are compelling and fresh.

One of my favorite aspects of the work is in the close-up detail. The intimate way the colors nudge up against each other. Free to be themselves, the paint and resin outline each other in fuzzy, approximate boundaries, mirroring the wabi-sabi stylings of nature.

Giraffe's hyde, peacock's feather, irises, and cracked dirt.

Vertical Detail & Magnetic Crisis
(detail), Bruce Riley

These delicate fingerings and swirlings inside the world of the pieces give them motion and life. They are so alive, in fact, some of the even have a sense of humor. In pieces like Triptych and Magnetic Crisis, one can find ridiculous bulge-eyed, tongue-waggling faces staring out, so innocent of their own bizarrity that they evoke amusement.


Tripytic Triptych (mixed media on panel, 2013), Bruce Riley

Handling of the materials by the artist I can only imagine is some combination of expert knowledge and precision delivery of the media, compulsive repetition, endless patience, natural flow, and a powerful utilization of organic forces and chance.

I asked Riley how it was done. He told me he applies a clear resin to the panel, which is laid flat as he works. Then he uses separate binders, pigments, and powders, combined as needed, to create the images, then sandwiches the paint between another layer of resin. Allowing the wet ingredients to fall, move, and combine in different ways allows the natural-looking shapes and textures to arise.

Intention towards overall composition is present, even as complicated and meandering as some of the compositions are. Shapes balance roughly from top to bottom during their scraggly journeyings across the landscape of the panel. Some creatures, like in Mile Low and Headlong, ensnare the viewer in a visual maze, leading the eye around and around into deeper and deeper chambers of color. The interplay of foreground and background hues, so jarring as to have the potential of garishness, here are correctly matched and juxtaposed, creating instead examples of how color theory can work for you.

If you want to have a face to face conversation with some of Riley's work, you can visit the Packer Schopf Gallery in Chicago.
To see more of Bruce Riley's work from wherever you're sitting right now, you can take a look at his website: And I highly recommend that you do.

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