October 21, 2014

Reading RAMBO


One morning, about a year ago, I looked out the window of my apartment in the Wallabout neighborhood in Brooklyn near the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Just visible above the roofline of the row houses across the street, against the clear blue sky, the billboard that had been blank and blank now proclaimed a message across the very top and bottom. “BROTHERS AND SISTERS, DUE THE IMPOSSIBLE / MASTER YOUR HEART.”

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A few months later, I was unlocking my bike in Williamsburg when I noticed another billboard in the same unmistakable style — white letters made of straight lines, presumably painted with a paint roller, against the black background of an unused billboard. This time, it said: “KNOW GODS JUST WORK” and “JULIAN SCHNABEL” across the top.

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I meditated on these cryptic messages, thinking about the multiple meanings and turning them over in my mind, debating them with friends and family. And suddenly — I saw RAMBO everywhere.


On a ride home from the airport on the BQE, I looked out the taxi cab widow at more billboards all along the highway. Many of them were tagged RAMBO, and I started to look for the name, wondering who this person could be. I imagined how terrifying it must be to climb to the top of these signs in the middle of the night, cars whizzing below.

Then one afternoon, in Chinatown, after coming off the Manhattan bridge, I was biking along 2nd Avenue and suddenly saw a truck with RAMBO across the top. I stopped short and took a picture, my heart beating fast. Was I hot on his trail? Or was he following me?

Wanting more answers, I searched online for RAMBO, and found a BBC article featuring artists “Beyond Banksy” but not too much else.

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It wasn’t until I was driving home with friends from a camping trip last weekend and I was telling them about my search for RAMBO that we made a breakthrough. I saw a side of a wall tagged RAMBO and PIXOTE. “Do you think they’re two separate people?” I said. My friend Greta looked up PIXOTE on her phone and found an interview.

At the bottom of the interview, was PIXOTE’s Instagram handle @themrpix. Skimming through photos, I saw another collaboration with RAMBO. Tagged in the post was @ldlr33.

Lance de los Reyes is an artist from Texas who studied painting, performance, sculpture, and video at the San Francisco Art Institute. His first solo show, Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, opened on October 3 at The Hole on the Bowery. Go see it before it closes on November 2.

I went to see the show one night last week, and wandered around the gallery, looking for clues in his beautiful and bold paintings. The assistant director of the gallery was in her office, and the intern at the front desk let me speak to her. “I’d love to interview Lance,” I said. “Can you put us in touch?”

“He’s around,” she said. “Let me see if I can get a hold of him.” Had I found him?

The gallery was about to close, and he didn’t answer the message. “You’ll have to come back,” she told me.

I’m not sure if LDLR/RAMBO will even be willing to answer my questions. I’d want to know about his concepts of mastering one’s mind or body, his faith and spirituality in his work, and the demons too. I’d ask why he’s apparently willing for his identity to be public and why he’s not afraid to show his face in photographs. I’m curious about the philosophy of his street art collective “Till We Die” and I want to find out more about his collaborations with other artists. And now that he has launched a solo career in painting, what are his inspirations and hopes for his art?

In the meantime, I’ll be admiring his work, and thinking about their mysteries. And I’ll be looking for clues for what’s to come.


Claire Kelley is a the former Director of Library and Academic Marketing.