Gore and Folklore in Bushwick: Lenny Reibstein at English Kills


English Kills is one of many DIY galleries in Bushwick. Enter through a patio alleyway lined with potted plants and homemade benches from re-claimed, rusty chair frames and slide open the set of thick, glass doors. Right now two separate exhibitions are on view. Sarah H. Paulson, Holly Faurot, and Peter Dobill share the entry gallery. Walk past all this and you will enter a larger gallery with ten paintings and three drawings by the twenty-eight-year-old Lenny Reibstein.

Lenny Reibstein, Untitled, Oil on Canvas
Lenny Reibstein, TRNTY, Oil on Canvas

Reibstein’s paintings—all oil on canvas or on pieced-together panel in a palette of maroon, pink, orange, brown, gray, and red—follow in the legacy of Francisco de Goya, Leon Golub, Phillip Guston, and Francis Bacon. They share the angst and dark mystery of these masters, and an affinity for symbolic animals and tangled body innards. Reibstein’s animals of choice are wolves, sheep, wolves in sheep’s clothing, pigs, and various human parts. The animals interact in an allegorical way similar to the characters in Animal Farm.


Lenny Reibstein, Untitled, All Oil on Canvas
Lenny Reibstein, From left to right: GNSS, Oil on Panel, HNGR, Oil on Canvas, Moon, Oil on Canvas

Reibstein’s drawings provide clarity (relatively speaking) that his paintings neglect. All are black ink (marker) on sketch paper. One untitled piece depicts a bizarre scene of misbehaving animals under a dark sky. Centrally located is what appears to be a dog in sheep’s clothing with a wolf mask tied loosely around his neck. He’s howling at the moon. Beside the dog is a vomiting sheep and a spilled bottle of booze. Two wolves boogie in the foreground, while another stares crossly at a hog. In the distance, two more creatures dance on a hill. There is no sense of order; instead, anarchy rules.

Lenny Reibstein, Untitled, Marker and Pen on Paper
Lenny Reibstein, Untitled, Marker and Pen on Paper

The narrative throughout is of the end of the world, post-civilization. One painting of an open gate retains a sense of hope and sympathy, while all the others fall into indifferent lawlessness. The gate painting can be read as the opening into the police-less world of the others. A flurry of grey brushstrokes gives the impression of an impending storm—like Dorothy’s tornado in The Wizard of Oz. Big change is coming. Two sides of an open gate let out a creature reminiscent of the baboon turned inside-out in David Cronenberg’s version of The Fly. Hope comes from the suggestion that the creature might escape, but other, darker interpretations are also possible.

Lenny Reibstein, Untitled, Oil on Panel
Lenny Reibstein, GNSS, Oil on Panel

It is a strange internal narrative that drives Reibstein’s paintings. They get their punch from being emotionally raw and acerbic and their allure from the suggested mysteries.

Lenny Reibstein, HL, Oil on Panel
Lenny Reibstein, HL, Oil on Panel

The first painting in the show — a globby, black square centered on a gessoed panel — is a key for the rest of the paintings. Or it’s a warning. The artist here seems to suggest that all the angst of the world exists within this dark rectangle, and surrounding it is everything separate and mundane. More than a conscious act, however, the agitated, scrawled paint of the black box is a mark of fear and uncertainty. Reibstein’s other paintings are also made up of uncertain smears that attempt to provide structure to anxiety, but the unconcerned articulation of the works delivers neither passion about the subject nor irony.

In the front gallery, the group exhibit with a heavy dose of paganism contains six video monitors documenting human figures performing repetitive actions and interacting with organic matter. Costumes made of twigs and casts of human limbs on the wall round out the picture of ritual-fueled back-to-nature-ism. It’s hard to say if this display is meant ironically or seriously, but there’s dread without passion in this group of works as well.

Lenny Reibstein and the group show will be on view at English Kills until November 28th. The gallery is located on Forrest St. in Bushwick and is open Saturday and Sunday 1-7pm.


brooklyn, english kills, holly faurot, lenny reibstein, peter dobill, sarah h paulson



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