Born in Havana, Cuba in 1960, Alberto Rey received his political asylum through Mexico in 1963 and moved to Miami, Florida in 1965. In 1967, his family relocated to Barnesboro, Pennsylvania. He lived in this small coal-mining town during the school year but the summers were spent with his extended family in Miami. After high school, he received an appointment to West point where he stayed briefly before started his studies in Biology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. After taking some art classes, he was encouraged by a professor to continue he work the visual arts. In1982, he finished his B.F.A from I.U.P. after attending a year the Art Institute of Pittsburgh as part of his degree.
After graduation, he worked in Boston, Massachusetts for a short period before heading to Miami to work on Christo's Surrounded Islands Project. He then moved to Hollywood, FL where he worked at Joan of Arts Studio. He returned north to begin his graduate studies at the University at Buffalo, NY. While in graduate school, his grandmother dies on a raft trying to escape from Cuba. With her death, he realizes that years of trying to assimilate to American culture have separated him from his Cuban heritage. He starts to create artwork that investigates his bicultural identity through realistic layered drawings and paintings. In 1987, he received his M.F.A. in Painting and traveled throughout Spain, Italy, Morocco and Mexico investigated the artwork he studies in graduate school. After returning from his travels, he taught Spanish in an inner-city school in Buffalo until he accepted a teaching position as an art instructor the following year in Lincoln-Sudbury High School. While teaching full-time he also taught various courses at The Art Institute of Boston, New England School of Art and Design, and the Museum of Fine Arts and attended courses at Harvard University in contemporary art and environmental studies. He artwork becomes more abstract as he uses metaphors and symbols to reflect references to Cuban culture and elements of American popular culture. That same year, he is picked up by Stavardis Gallery in Boston, has his first solo exhibition in New York City at the Museum of Contemporary Hispanic Art (MoCHA) and has his artwork selected into the permanent collection of El Museo del Barrio in New York City.
In 1989, he moves to Dunkirk, New York to accept a teaching position at the State University of New York at Fredonia. At this point, he is invigorated by the rural setting, its location to the Great Lakes and migration patterns of fish and birds. His interest in biology is rekindled and he begins his research into local floral and fauna while he is still working abstract paintings of bicultural investigations. In 1992, his works were selected into the permanent collections of the Albright-Knox Museum, Brooklyn Museum of Art and Bronx Museum of Art. In 1994, Alberto receives the Hagan Young Scholar/Artist Award for distinguished research/creative activity as a junior faculty and the Minority Visiting Scholar's Award from Central Missouri State University. The following year, he has his first solo museum exhibition at the Castellani Museum, Niagara University, NY, where he exhibits around 70 of his past paintings and drawings.
In1994, Alberto creates an entire body of work about Cuban rafts and the items found inside the abandoned rafts. As soon as the series is finished, it is exhibited by the Bronx Museum. In 1996, while at SUNY Fredonia, Rey accepts a position as the Director/Curator at the Chautauqua Center of the Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution. The art center is only opened during the summer. Soon afterwards he was appointed to the New York State Council on the Arts and to the Artist's Advisory Panel of the New York Foundation for the Arts. In 1998, Alberto extends his research into local flora and fauna and after realizing the importance of community interaction in conservation efforts, he starts a youth fly fishing program for inner-city youth in Dunkirk. That same year, Alberto returned to Cuba for the first time in 36 years. After returning from Cuba, Rey creates his first documentary on 16mm film that is transferred to video for editing. He finishes his last series related to Cuban-American culture and society, Cuban Portrait Series, and shift gears to his Biological Regionalism Series. His new work continues to investigate contemporary society but concentrates on issues related to urban migration and its affects over the perception of nature, environmental issues related to this migration, perceptions of nature in art history, and social disconnections with nature. In 2001, Rey received the Kasling Lecturer Award for distinguished research/creative activity as a senior faculty member and in 2003 was awarded the Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activity. In 2002, Rey becomes an Orvis Endorsed Guide as a way become fluent in commercial aspect of society's interactions with nature, expand his social perspective by interacting with nonacademics and nonartists and to add another layer of commitment to his research into the local flora and fauna. At this point, all elements of his life seem to be coming together. His teaching, community work, guiding and artwork seem to be feeding off each other while creating a cohesive way of life that seems to have many interesting divergent directions of investigations. Throughout the next decade as part of his Biological Regionalism Series, he also travels extensively throughout the United States, Iceland, and Europe investigating bodies of work, collecting water and insect samples, shooting video footage and documenting native fish species.
In 2003, Alberto is awarded the Chancellor's Award for Excellence In Scholarship and creative Activities. In 2004, his sister dies of pancreatic cancer at the age of 47 and the next few years are marked with few more family illnesses and deaths. Alberto starts the Aesthetics of Death Series as a way to find a perspective on his life. The series is presented as part of his residency at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. In 2007, the State University of New York's Board of Trustees promoted Professor Alberto Rey to SUNY Distinguished Professor for Research and Creative Activity, the state university's highest rank. After this period, Rey is invited by museums and alternatives spaces to create ambitious site- specific installation that examine their "regional" bodies of water and put their environments in a global context. His installations have continued to become more complex and ambitious as he combines video projections of underwater fauna and floral with large scale paintings reminiscent of the Hudson River School, sketchbooks outlining the research process, large painted wall maps of bodies of waters being investigated, water samples with scientific data about their chemical breakdown and pollutants and informational plaques outlining the history of the region and its affects on the bodies of water. The installations are presented in a way that seduces the viewer into investigating the artwork while providing layers of information provided in an aesthetic accessible manner that allows the viewer to fully participate in the project. In 2010, he is invited by the Burchfield Penney Art Center to create an installation investigating the polluted waters of the Scajaquada Creek that flows through and under the city of Buffalo. The project takes almost four year to create and it is installed in February of 2014. A comprehensive 260 page publication is printed to mark the opening of the installation and the to document the past bodies of work that led up to that project. As part of the installation, the museum presented a symposium on Alberto Rey's work. The city's Board of health also requested a private viewing and presentation outlining his research.
In 2012, while working on the Scajaquada Creek project, he was also is invited by the Masur Museum in Monroe, Louisiana to participate in a residency and create artwork investigating the Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Ouachita River. The installation was presented the following year and the museum acquired the entire exhibition for their permanent collection.
In 2013, Rey has his first solo European museum exhibition at the Museo Extremeño e Iberoamericano de Arte Contemporáneo (Extremaduran and Latin American Museum of Contemporary Art - MEIAC) in Badajoz, Spain. The exhibition is entirely made of his past documentary videos, videos from past installations and five new site-specific videos created for the exhibition.
Due to the exposure created by Scajaquada Creek project at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, I was invited to created a similar project investigating the Bagmati River in Kathmandu, Nepal.