In Don’t cross streams while trading horses, Reames dismantles symbols associated with American economic and political power. Referencing Abraham Lincoln’s acceptance speech for a second-term nomination in which he modestly stated that it was best not to “swap horses while crossing the river,” Reames inverts the sentiment to draw focus to the transactional nature of the expression while using humor to editorialize business as usual. Reames usurps emotion-saturated metaphors and codified visual signs—logos, mottos, anthems, seals—everything that stabilizes status quo is placed on the chopping block. Brooms sweep up dirt. Snakes lose their heads. Cars drive off cliffs. Painting is protest and Reames’ paintings are akin to burning flags that illuminate the dusk by setting fire to the establishment. The paintings in Don’t cross streams while trading horsesdepict symbols perforated by tromp l’oeil singes and torch-burned holes. Metaphoric destruction can be as revelatory as the real thing.
In the spirit of Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter’s Capitalist Realism, Reames appropriates ideas that stand-in for American identity, using the familiar and abstractions of the familiar as an apparatus to
critique. Reames channels his training as a printmaker and his knowledge of the history of printed matter, highlighting the notion of the free press as a vehicle for mass dissemination of revolutionary ideas. Reames proves that the graphic language of political satire and visualizations of the American dream are elastic and emotional, their meanings easily manipulated by those in power—sentiments echoed in a grand gesture in which he manipulates a trampoline to display a painting of an American flag. The works in Don’t cross streams while trading horsesdemonstrate an attempt to portray a new reality while disrupting the traditional functions of formal space, content, and narrative. Don’t cross streams while trading horsesreflects on a new age of violence and turmoil with constant reminders of the role that image creation plays within it.