‘Life in Color’: The watercolor works of Yolie Reyes


Photo by Jolie Asuncion.

Yolie Reyes‘ artwork is best described in three words: alluring, captivating and colorful. “Life in Color,” a new exhibit on the third level of the Bell Memorial Union, is showcasing their work.

Reyes, a Chico State computer science major, takes visitors on a therapeutic trip with 20 works of finely detailed watercolor illustrations. “Life in Color” depicts moments in Reyes’ life when they were homeless due to a disability.

Originally from East Los Angeles, their art can be described as “processing of life,” using emotions as a way to reflect on past experiences which included housing, medical and food insecurity. Reyes’ focus was to create work and let past situations simmer. 

“That situation, that mindset, that depression, is living in those paintings,” Reyes said. 

A piece they admire is “Spiropride,” a spirograph that includes bursts of rainbows to represent the LGBTQ+ co/mmunity. Reyes’ works contain saturated shapes with symbolic meanings that illustrate their struggles.

“SpiroPride” by artist Yolie Reyes. Photo by Jolie Asuncion.

Making art helped them survive, but they now describe how it feels to be on the other side, having healed from their ordeal.

“I love the paintings that deal with homelessness, but it is such a sad period in my life,”  Reyes said. “No matter how beautiful the paintings are, it’s like that one artist who has that one song that everyone expects to hear.” 

Some of their art in the exhibit is more design and patterned-based rather than illustration. This serves as an ode to their transition of gender. 

Their gallery has a long green painting titled “Contradiction/Transition” that represents their transition from opioids, to exercising and to alternative medicines for managing pain — one side of the character has long, feminine hair with short and masculine hair on the other. Reyes wanted to convey what it’s like coming to terms with how they wanted to be perceived in the world. 

“When I came out into the real world, the transition from me focusing on this disability and how I’m going to survive to I realized there are other emotions to manage,” Reyes said.

Reyes was injured at the age of 22 and is now 38. After long sessions of physical therapy and detoxing from pain-relief opiods, they attended college in their 30s. Due of their inability to walk, they had to postpone the process of becoming a student.

Creating appealing artwork comes with the reward of being able to show it off. Reyes said it’s a dream come true since anticipating their art would help them to move from homelessness to selling and exhibiting their work as a full time college student.

  • “Ahuiateteo-y-Achtli” by artist Yolie Reyes. Photo by Jolie Asuncion.
  • “Las-Chingonas” by artist Yolie Reyes. Photo by Jolie Asuncion.
  • “The Bibulous Unification of 2015” by artist Yolie Reyes. Photo by Jolie Asuncion.
  • “NSEW” by artist Yolie Reyes. Photo by Jolie Asuncion.

Reyes’ ancestors are Yaqui Native Americans, who are distant relatives of the Aztecs. Reyes used their Tonalpohualli, a cosmic spiritual calendar, to help them create theart. They would seek up various personifications of objects in the universe that symbolize gods, based on the calendar day. This was not only a method for them to create, but it was also a way for them to heal.

Another one of their favorite works, “Sacramento_2015” displays a depiction of what looks to be a hand puppet surrounded by different forms of water. It was meant to be a map of our light rail system, railroads, freeways and the Sacramento River. A near death experience inspired Reye’s to create this piece.

“Sacramento_2015” by artist Yolie Reyes. Photo by Jolie Asuncion.

Reyes originally aspired to sell this painting to help them pay for surgery to transition. Now, they hope to donate the proceeds to those who cannot afford transition surgery. 

“I would love to see my art in a museum,” Reyes said. “My biggest goal is to be featured in the American Indian Museum and American Latino Museum on the National Mall in Washington D.C.”

The gallery was organized by Associated Students Projects Coordinator Eliza Miller with Rachel Middleman, Josh Funk and Trevor Lalaguna serving as the BMU Advisory Committee.

“Students submit proposals for exhibitions and the committee selects which will be included each semester,” said Josh Funk, Chico State Digital Media instructor on behalf of the committee.

AS staff, student representatives and teachers from the department of art & art history make up the Gallery’s Selection Committee. The Selection Committee looks for a diverse range of high-quality material that contributes to the show’s overarching concept or topic while examining entries. 

“We accept proposals from Chico State student artists of all majors, as well as from groups of students or clubs,” said projects coordinator, Eliza Miller. 

“Life in Color” will be on display until Feb. 16, located on the third floor of the BMU. Additionally, there will be a reception held on Feb. 10, from 5-7 p.m.

Jolie Asuncion can be reached out at [email protected].