The Pandemic Did Not Stop Artist Danny Reyes to Paint Full Time


June 26th, 2020

Danny Reyes, celebrating Junetheen with an art show (Photo: Gabriel Escalera)

OMAHA – Covid-19 put Danny Reyes in the hospital for about a week, Reyes 36, was born in El Salvador. 36 years ago, in the middle of a war. He is a full-time artist and is artwork has a singular influence, from his cultural background and childhood to his African American wife.

“A lot of my paintings, they have F on their faces but is for faith, for me to keep the faith in what I’m doing,” Reyes, says.

His single mother raised Reyes and his sister, fled the civil war in El Salvador that lasted from 1961 to 1989. They arrived undocumented to Los Angeles, CA when Reyes was only four years old.

Long before the commissions poured in and his life was at risk because of Covid-19,  Reyes was a shy kid in first grade. He drew his first sketches to make friends, but he soon discovered other reasons to continue painting, one of them, the lack of toys as a child.

“Growing up, we didn’t have much money, so what I would do I was fascinated by the ninja turtles, we couldn’t afford, you know, I just know to ask for that toy because it was going to be a no, so I would draw the ninja turtles just to have them as toys,” Reyes says. 

When Reyes’ mother moved to Omaha, he and his sister stayed in California left to the care of their maternal grandparents in LA. Later Reyes and his sister joined their mom here, a culturally shocking experience that added influence on his artwork.  

Danny Reyes, house artist at Elva’s Gallery in South Omaha. Photo: (Gabriel Escalera)

“It was a whole different history; you know almost like school in the movies Wow! Cool there are school libraries and people are walking around with letterman jackets here, the LA school system is slightly different,” Reyes, says.

As when child Reyes learned to paint by himself but in high school, he took art classes all four years. His teachers asked him to take it to the next level, but he did not believe it was the best idea, because of his immigration status. After high school, he mostly worked as a laborer.

“I did have hope for my future. I just didn’t know what going on with my future. We still had immigration problems at the time. I was like are we going to end up, having to leave this country, am I going to stay here?” Reyes, says.

Only a few years back, Reyes could apply for political asylum. Through his marriage, he became a legal permanent resident and, then his luck had a positive twist.

His friends and wife persuaded him to pursue his art carrier. So late 2018 he left his job as a crane operator for a steel company and started painting full time. In the meantime, he was doing some deejay work to stay afloat financially.

Last March Reyes was working as a deejay in Grand Island, Nebraska. Little he did know he got  Covid-19. He struggled at home for about three weeks and then spent about a week at the hospital, with what he described as “horrible” symptoms of the virus.

Every other Friday, Reyes has a showing of his work Photo: (Gabriel Escalera)

“I don’t really pray either, but I talk to God I’m just saying God give me strength for just today and we’ll see about tomorrow,” Reyes says.  

After leaving the hospital he painted a nurse dressed in a superman costume, with a mask and her fist up in the air as a sign of power, and he donated it to the Nebraska Medicine Family Medicine at Belleview,  where he recovered from Covid-19.

A few days later that painting went viral in social media, the painting and the story behind amazed people at the hospital. It was then when commission poured in for Reyes. 

Reyes grew up in LA, surrounded by different ethnicities, and his multicultural background influences his artwork. Reyes married an African American woman and they are raising four children.

“I met my wife, and I fell in love with her and I was always, you know, friends with African Americans, my neighbors living in LA, I was never strange to their culture,” Reyes, says.

Reyes prepared an art show to commemorate Juneteenth. He painted several famous black people, and that is how I met him, at Elva’s gallery in south Omaha, where he is now the house artist.

Early 2020 was not promising for Reyes. After fighting for his life against the pandemic and winning, his luck is turning better.

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