2001 Essay

Surface and Object. Rene Rietmeyer`s Works on Paper

from Peter Lodermeyer 2001


Rene Rietmeyer’s artistic work has mainly focused on the production of his Boxes since 1997. This peculiar genre consisting of works characterized by the use of oil paint and canvas, yet leaving with their object-like, box-shaped forms the traditional concept of painting behind and breaking with the established patterns of painting and picturality, by arranging the Boxes with its organization in variable, multi-parted installations. It is therefore interesting to see that Rene Rietmeyer is involved in two other fields of art, perhaps not with the same intensity, but certainly with the same dedication. Those areas are his sculptures and his works on paper. 

Already in 1997, when his first Boxes were created, Rietmeyer started applying his knowledge gained from this new conception to three-dimensional plastic works in its actual sense. At that time glazed ceramic objects were being made in  Vallauris, a pottery village in southern France, which became famous through Picasso`s ceramic production. The form of these objects refer to the still very flat Cote d’Azur Boxes, made at that time. He later emphasized the vertical orientation, which already characterized the shape of these early small sculptures, with large, upright, stele-like, colored sculptures. They were initially made of found wood (Saarland/Germany 1998), then from long wooden planks put together at right angles (Florida 2000). These sculptures are in a way nothing else but Boxes which had liberated themselves from the wall and by this turned into independent three-dimensional objects. With their colorfulness and – apart from the ceramics - their use of oil paint and the display of their texture qualities all of these works point at Rene Rietmeyer`s origins as a painter.  

The works on paper are also closely connected with the Boxes in a much more direct way than the sculptures. It is striking that Rietmeyer omits completely the spatiality of the Boxes, which was emphasized in the sculptures, and focuses more on the picture plane and its autonomy,  developing the formal creation of these works.  

The main feature of his works on paper becomes evident already in the Cote d’Azur sheets of 1997. In the France, Cote d’Azur 1997 series two hard edged colored planes meet, a strictly horizontal or vertical stripe beside a larger form. Without illusionistic  effects of depth, the two forms meet on the surface, thus dealing with abstract values of proportion, orientation and color harmony or contrast. By going through all possible variations of their arrangement, i.e. by placing those narrow stripe alternately on each side as well as at the top and at the bottom, Rietmeyer creates four-parted units of sheets.  

The following works on paper also have a serial character, but now in the very different sense that they refer directly to the conception of the Boxes series. Yet these are not merely reproductive works, no “prints” by means of oil paint – not only because some of these sheets were created prior to the elaboration of the corresponding Boxes, what lends to them the character of preparatory studies, but also because they aim at achieving a completely different aesthetic effect, in spite of their close relation to the Boxes. So to speak Rietmeyer isolates the front of his Boxes and tries their effect in the picture plane. (One series is a significant exception to the rule, and this is the one dedicated to the conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner. The very special feature of the corresponding Boxes is their lateral opening. To preserve this effect, Rietmeyer adds upon their adaptation on paper a narrow right-angled bow-shaped element to the blue plane, that means he joins front and side views by consequently preserving the flatness and avoiding any perspective effect). By placing the mainly square color planes on large-sized sheets of paper, Rietmeyer achieves  their isolation and forces the eye of the beholder to a careful and intensive study of these isolated flat forms. This also applies when several sheets are unified in a single installation. The distance between the painted planes is big enough  to let them appear as single forms. Their isolation and individuality furthermore becomes apparent by the fact that the artist does not fix their size in a stereotyped manner but partly varies their measures considerably, what becomes very evident in the Joseph Kosuth series.   

The works on paper are mostly executed in oil colors, applied by brush depending on the series, in three, four or five layers, or spread in thick coats. However, it is too easy to call it “painting”, because it is evident that we are not dealing with painted pictures in a conventional sense anymore. The artist stresses, not only with reference to his Boxes but also to his works on paper, that he sees himself rather as a constructor of objects than as a painter. He says, that for him “the manual operation or the application of color is not necessarily associated with the idea of painting.” In fact, these works – unlike the Cote d`Azur series with their very pictorial conception – show object-character. They present themselves as “color-form-objects” being spread in the plane by setting off the color materials with their specific texture clearly against the support of the paper. In that way these works develope certain plastic qualities and therefore are the adequate adaptation of the conception of the Boxes with their crossing over of the genres painting and sculpture – and herein lies, without any doubt, their special aesthetic fascination. 

(January 2001)