I met Austrian artist Thomas Reinhold via social media. He’s a fantastic master painter http://www.kunstnet.at/thomasreinhold with a great track record and he’s still going strong. I enjoyed chatting with him as much as I love his work.
MICHAEL: Hello Thomas, I am very pleased to be chatting with you. Your work is incredible. It affects me at the same time on three levels: emotional, intellectual and spiritual. Are these your motivations while you're painting?
THOMAS: Hello Michael ... Not at all! While I am painting, I don't have any motivation. Brushes are just used for mixing certain colours and tones are a kind of physical necessity. I am working on the floor. Colour is used very thin and it is poured onto the canvas. Then I begin to watch the fluid's nature. By moving the canvas, I provoke communication and sometimes I accentuate it by hand. A recent series is called "Textonics of Poise". The subject of this group of works reflects on their own creation. Liquid paint coalesces around a dead centre, permitting, for a few moments, a process of ordered decision making. The painting procedure, in which the allocation of the centre of gravity is such an essential element, actually provokes this fleeting state where indeterminacy gives way to form. It is this point of transition that attracts attention and produces shapes seemingly suspended between rivulets. It's the perfect spectator, who is emotional, intellectual and spiritual at the same time.
MICHAEL: Hmm. I'm seeing a metaphor for life here. As I get older, I see that the better way to live is by giving up control over the outcome of things. Despite our best diligence, we can't control everything, if anything. Just initiate and watch the show. Just try to avoid disaster?
THOMAS: I'll give you an extreme example. In 1996, there was a fire in my studio. The evening before the fire, which started during my absence in the early morning, I had been working on several paintings, which I left lying on the floor to dry. When I returned to the smoking rubble of my studio the next day (the blaze had been put out by the fire department that morning), I was despite my state of shock, impressed with the transformation of the room and of the paintings lying on the floor. The colours reminded me of thickened lava, complete with craters. The ceiling-mounted neon tubes had fallen onto the paintings below and been fused by the tremendous heat. Fragments, ash debris, the molten plastic of the lamp-bases had all merged, turning the paintings into a kind of record of what had taken place, and the arrangement of these relics was distinguished by a fascinating perfection. I kept one of these paintings, which I later came to call "La Visitation" and just added some layers of colour.
MICHAEL: Wow. Well, hopefully that's the last time you'll go through something like that. We all know that other great painter who also painted with canvases on the floor. How does this approach help you? This doesn't cause back problems does it?
THOMAS: This approach helps me allocating the centre of gravity by moving the canvas. That way, also the communication with the painting has a more constitutional aspect; my body in relation to the painting. The dimension of the painting is determining my doing. A small canvas is very far from me and will demand a more intellectual process, whereas the large canvas provokes more corporeality. Many artists from Leonardo to Corbusier did reflect on that.
MICHAEL: While you're engaged in the actual painting process, what's going through your mind? Your work almost looks like it's the result of something meditative. Is your mind empty or full and concentrated?
THOMAS: My mind is empty, but concentrated. Maybe you can compare it with a somnambulist's state. There are short, but intensive phases of work and long and contemplative phases of watching and judging the steps I have already done. Painting is an empirical science; the painter learns from experience. As a consequence, theories of colour, harmony or form are only truly comprehensible if they are authored by artists, irrespective of the resulting margin of error on the level of pure physics. I do a lot of reflections on this medium, but not during work.
MICHAEL: I'm sitting here looking your website right now. These paintings are NOT dark and gloomy. To me, they're very architectural, layered and hopeful, no?
THOMAS: I am not a colour symbolist. When my palette was reduced in the late 1990s, the different shades of grey were full of colour. I am always searching for unusual tones and combinations of those. One colour contains all other colours and sometimes a portion of a certain colour can be much more important than the "main" and obvious colour and phenomena like that will also depend on all other colours used in that painting. All that has to do with our ability of perception. In 2006, a series of works has emerged with the very significant title "Stäbchen und Zapfen" ("Rods and Cones"), which immediately reflects a physiological awareness of the eye. Their principle is layering, superimposition, and thus a reflection or engagement with the act of seeing. In this series, I am generating something like a grid, but if you look more closely, you can see that it’s structured like a web or net, with something in front and behind. My paintings are hopeful, because they are reflective and sensuous at the same time.
MICHAEL: Are you now doing what you dreamed of doing as a child? What was your first exposure to art? Do you come from an artistic family?
THOMAS: I am still dreaming. Painting has become a possibility to "salvage" those dreams' material. As a child, I moved my tea in the cup by a spoon or by my fingers. There was a lamp over the table, which then produced dancing, lighted figures on the fluid. I could watch those moving reflexes for hours, that was my first exposure to art. My father was an architect and my mother, who had studied painting, made illustrations for different magazines. But both did not want me to become an artist, to spare myself troubles.
MICHAEL: You, troubles? No! Of course, we all have troubles, but judging by your work, it looks like all smooth sailing. What difficulties have you had as an artist? Have they been inner struggles or troubles in the art world?
THOMAS: There are the same troubles like in other métiers: envy, intrigue, mobbing, fraud. You have to become thick-skinned on the one hand and keep your sensitivity on the other. Here in Austria, I have been collected by nearly all important public collections like Belvedere or MUMOK Foundation Ludwig Vienna. Some private museums have been established in the last years. The most important of them is Museum Liaunig, which also does possess some of my works. Located in Neuhaus, not far from the border with Slovenia, its building embodies the brilliant design of "querkraft" architects in Vienna. Compared to America or China, Austria is not as motivated to export its contemporary visual arts. So, in the world, my country is more famous for classical music, to the disadvantage of all the other contemporary arts.
MICHAEL: Contemporary art today seems to be moving toward more conceptual things like gatherings and events. Where does this leave painters like you?
THOMAS: My painting has become reflexive and discursive, centrally focusing on itself as an object. I described my "Rods and Cones" and the principle of layering and superimposition in my paintings, which refer to a reflection or engagement with the act of seeing. I want to say, painting does not automatically exclude conceptual things and the opening of an exhibition of painting also is a gathering or event. I also like well-curated installations of different mediums. My next exhibition "Tectonics of Poise" at kunsthaus muerz (www.kunsthausmuerz.at) will include painting, photography and an animation movie.
MICHAEL: Does the exhibition include hybrids of these genres or do they all stand alone as separate entities within the exhibition?
THOMAS: The series of painting, "Tectonics of Poise" gives the exhibition its title and is its theme. All exhibited works, also if they have individual titles, refer to this theme. The photo series, "Brushstrokes of Light, Living Shades" is a hybrid. It was created in Shanghai, during my sojourn as an artist in residence in 2010. The work addresses current media critique, in particular the media's increasingly "self-propagating" nature. As a consequence, the series features both "painterly" photography and "photographic" painting. The photographs were taken by night. I looked for light of a certain colour, as well as for light and colour subject to kinetic processes. The photographs were composed on site using motion and the passage of time. There was no post-production of any sort. The resulting images recall the superimposition techniques employed in my paintings. The photographed paintings on the other hand, are ink paintings, produced on a routine, daily basis using a Chinese calligraphy brush and are carefully devoid of emotion. They are shades arranged in parallel sequence, not unlike a musical score, as we used to know them in the early days of photography.
MICHAEL: This sounds like quite a comprehensive show.
THOMAS: Another hybrid is my animation film "Enchanté". Its title referring to the diptych of the same name, it addresses the relationship between viewer and the art object, capturing the reciprocal posing and positioning involved while exposed to the structuring influence of music. The film seeks to engage with the media critic discourse implied by its title: "Enchanté" - a form of salutation ranging in meaning from "pleased" to "enchanted", and more literally "sung about" - refers to a theme shared by all the arts, communication and impression. A painting, its aggregate of layers, occupies an almost "extemporary" state and is perceived as a "concrete" and "spatial" entity. Music, on the other hand, expands in space over time and hence shares an affinity with film; though at no point "grasped" in its entirety, recollection compacts the artwork into a unified whole. Music, by the composer Julian Gamisch, echoes the underlying theme and provides a structural framework for the film determining the sequence of spatial constellations as well as the presence and absence of the individual viewers.
MICHAEL: I love your figurative work. I see abstraction, expressionism and cubism among other things in the paintings I've seen. I might be wrong, but it seems more modernist than contemporary. What inspires it?
THOMAS: That is really art history! It was at the end of the 1970ies, when I was a co-initiator of the so-called “New Painting” in Austria. We were opposed to the omnipresence of concept-art by hurrying through art history in a very sensuous and disrespectful way, finally also a kind of concept. Those paintings have to be seen in a post-modern context, similar to the transavantguardia in Italy or the "Neue Wilde" in Germany. In the mid-1980ies, I had begun to focus on issues of medium reflexivity of painting and photography, which has been dominating my work until today.
MICHAEL: I love African art and your work, like most contemporary work, looks splendid with it. You've even incorporated it in some of your works.
THOMAS: I had the opportunity to get them from different dealers in exchange for my art. I also have collected some pieces from Papua New Guinea, Timor and Borneo. They serve me as a kind of indicator and my art has to bear comparison with them.
MICHAEL: As you know Thomas, the art world is always seeking the new, exciting thing. Nobody wants to miss anything, but even as accomplished and as respected as you are, I still feel like YOU are the new, exciting thing. What do you think?
THOMAS: It's great, if you really feel like that, but I don't care regarding it. Too many new exciting things have already been highly valued in the art world. Nobody knows, what will remain. But it's always uplifting to gain a new fan.
MICHAEL: Do you follow what's happening in the art world? Does it make much difference to you at this point?
THOMAS: I am just interested in it. Sometimes I feel part of it, sometimes I am disgusted with it. We are social beings, so the art world will have a certain influence on me and my work and vice-versa.
MICHAEL: Finally, what is your daily routine like? What's a typical day like for you? Also, does your body of work have a message? What do you want to tell the world through your work?
THOMAS: The centre of interest is to paint in my studio, if possible every day. But there are a lot of other things to do and organize, finally to create the pre-condition for concentrated work. There is no message, no doctrine, I am not a missionary. I don't want to tell the people anything, but maybe I want to show them things, formations, structures and combinations they do not expect, but they are familiar with yet don't know from where. So I want to get them familiar with my empirical approach to the nature of painting.
MICHAEL: Thanks Thomas. I truly enjoyed our chat.
You can bask in Thomas Reinhold’s work at http://www.kunstnet.at/thomasreinhold