whitehot | February 2008, Studio Visit with Roland Reiss
1225 Hermosa Ave
Hermosa Beach, CA 90254
(November 15, 2007 – January 5, 2008)
The Brewery Art Colony
Los Angeles, CA
Studio Visit February 2, 2008
By Sandra Vista, WM LA
Aren’t Our Perceptions Abstractions Too?
Towards the end of our visit at Mr. Reiss's studio, I stated that I always listen for a particular word or phrase that will be the springboard for my essay. I told him that the word abstraction seemed to be a word he frequently repeated. He responded by paraphrasing H.W. Janson’s (The History of Art) definition of abstract art with three words: intensify, clarify, and extension. These passwords facilitated portions of the Roland Reiss Experience.
Roland Reiss has been an artist since the l950’s. He is the recipient of various awards and has shown at Documenta. Roland mentioned that he was in the Army during the Korean War but that he spent his time stateside making art (posters) along with Robert Irwin. This interview was subsequently sprinkled with anecdotes about famous artists he knew before and after their notoriety. Judy Chicago wanted to exclude all the men at an artist fest because of their lack of sensitivity. Roland’s response was that sensitive males are often found in the art world and that she might have been excluding a built in cooperative group of guys.
My initial studio visit was in response to the recent exhibit Roland had at Gallery C in Hermosa Beach, entitled ONSHORE
FLOW. This exhibit consisted of (16) acrylic on Mylar collages ranging from 10”x121/2”-19”x24” in scale. The Mylar is generously painted on both sides. Intensify - these other worldly landscapes become multi-dimensional while making contact with the gallery walls. The space of each work ebbs and flows. There are as Roland said, levels of perception, in these collages that take the viewer beyond the two dimensional wall. Because many of the collages have the appearance of landscapes, they help to create an understanding about the nature of our present existence-clarify.
Many of the collages from the C Gallery exhibit have titles identifying with nature. The collages are reflective of the four elements of earth, water, fire and air-extension. Some of the titles of the works are Nature’s Way, Sunshine Mused, In the Woods and First Learning. An example is the seismic patterned collage entitled Fresh Water. At first glance, the collage appears to be recording an earthquake or a cross section of geological land mass. However, a lace-like pattern, rhythmically traveling along the foreground waves, displays another element of motion and speed. As things in nature are often paralleling each other at different speeds, bringing time and space closer together, these collages contribute to this concept.
Roland also discussed how he had eyes peering out from some of the collages. As seen in In the Woods and Nature’s Way, there are interlopers disguised as sequined dots among the reed-like lines. Roland pointed out that the eyes were influenced by Henri Rousseau’s Sleeping Gypsy and jungle paintings. The eyes are not a pun on perception but a way to keep the viewer continually aware of his/her environment.
The influence of Clifford Still on Roland was also an integral part of the interview. Roland met Clifford Still early in his teaching career in Colorado. The plexi-glass pieces in Roland’s studio reflected the ongoing inspiration Still has had on his work. Falling Waters 2007 (52”x40, acrylic on plexi-glass) and Over Evident Falls 2007 (52”x40”, acrylic on plexi-glass) are clear gel medium paintings that are comprised of optical illusions with small pentagon-prisms that are created with dollops of gel medium and bold jagged flashes of gel reminiscent of Still’s torn off shapes. The jagged shapes still have Roland’s trademark of buoyancy and dimensionality as they cast shadows against the wall.
As an artist who has been working for over half a century, Roland frequently spoke of having freedom to make the art he wants to make without apologies. The feeling of peace is reflective in the abstract quality of his work. He is able to communicate through his work in a sparing way and concentrate on his own voice, spirituality, and nature’s dance. He spoke of a former art student, who added his name to the dedication of a book he had written. The art student, turned writer, did not have Roland as a teacher, but he told him that he was impressed by the time that Roland sat next to him in a drawing class and drew along with the class. Roland’s willingness to be part of the class always remained with the student/writer. Throughout the years of various group exhibits in Los Angeles County and beyond, Roland continues to be supportive of his former students by exhibiting shoulder to shoulder with them.
Noah Becker: Editor-in-Chief