2001 Interview 1
The Florida Series
Excerpt from an interview with Peter Lodermeyer, January 2001
P.L.: The Florida Series are, without a doubt, the most colorful examples of your work to date. Did the colors originate from the landscape or in urban life? They remind me of the famous Art Deco buildings in Miami...
R.R.: The colors I use in my Boxes are a representation, or rather, a conversion of my experiences. Experiences which can be acoustic, haptic or even smells, tastes and, of course, visual experiences. The colors in my Miami Beach series, sometimes powerful, sometimes pastel, soft colors mostly stem from my visual experiences in Miami Beach: blue sky, white sand, turquoise water... The atmosphere there is light and sunny, except for certain times like August which can be more dramatic than winter because of the heavy storms. In the Miami Downtown series the colors stem rather from the general impression of a dull, sombre and atmospherically unattractive region than from visual impressions.
One could say that the colors in my work have different origins. Of course the colors in my ”Florida Series” are connected with the weather. It is very sunny there. The climate is very optimistic and my surrounding there has a marked color spectrum. I don’t just mean the buildings, but also the sky, ocean, sand, vegetation... It is clear to see that in a non-urban area nature had a great influence on me and my work. There is a completely different world of experiences when I paint in Manhattan than when I am in Miami, where nature is very present indeed. The color and surface structure of my Shark Valley Boxes clearly originate from the intensively experienced nature of this area, this nature reserve in the midst of the Everglades. However, the colors here have less to do with visual, than purely emotional impressions. Of course, bodily experiences were an added influence; mainly the thousands of mosquitoes and the denseness of the bush resulted in the deep red color. It is always the case though that the choice of colors stems from different experiences. All kind of perception are involved and it varies from series to series which sense plays the largest role in the choice of colors.
P.L.: Do you find it reproachful when the colors in your Miami Beach series are described as kitschy or mawkish? Is that a fair description of your art? Is it maybe a reflex to the mainly Floridian taste to which, for example, Christo also referred in his famous pink ”Surrounded Islands”?
R.R.: The especially American lightness of being can be felt intensively in Florida. Almost the entire region is, optically as well a the way of life, a light, almost superficial affair with kitschy elements. It gives me pleasure when an observer of an installation of my Miami Beach Boxes notices this superficial and lightly kitschy atmosphere. I have become used to Miami and the way of life there because I spend many months of the year working there and it has become a part of me. It is noticeable that the simplicity of life and the openness of the people there has an influence on me and because of this my Florida series has mainly a very optimistic, colorful effect. Even in downtown Miami where the atmosphere is much more sinister and people’s prospects are gloomier, you don’t feel the deep seated pessimism in the locals that one encounters in certain areas in Europe. I see this superficialness, a certain kitschiness, and accept it. One can see this, for example, in my Miami, 4th of July Boxes where the festive and extremely superficial mood on Independence Day with its parades and fireworks are mirrored in the lightness of the colors. I chose the colors in both series intuitively, without intellectual forethought or critical intentions. On the other hand, I consciously chose them in the Boca Raton Boxes. They are made from glass blocks, framed in wood, and have a colder, more impersonal image. I use, as a contrast to the deep red border, a blue-green color which suits the coldness of the glass, to mirror a colder surrounding, a well tended, clean, luxurious and almost sterile residential area, a gated community.
P.L.: Your choice of colors then is not made purely on artistic or aesthetic grounds, but more in relation with the impressions you get in certain surroundings?
R.R.: My Boxes are an attempt to give a body or a presence to something invisible and incomprehensible. For this I try to create an abstract language. It is communication using abstract methods and I use these formal elements to articulate and express the atmosphere which I experience. My Boxes are not images of objects, they are abstract because, in my opinion, I have better possibilities to approach to the articulation of the non-visual experience. An object would only be a distraction from that I want to express. One might think that the object was the theme. My Boxes contain, even embody, my experiences and thoughts, intellectual and emotional. They are not symbols.
But the abstract language I use is not universal. The world is too multi-faceted for that. In Central Africa, one would probably have a different interpretation of my colors than I intended. It certainly makes a difference if an observer is a businessman in Manhattan or a German art historian. How the formal elements are felt, seen or sensed are very different from region to region and also depends of one`s social and cultural background.. That is why it is impossible, in my opinion, for abstract art to have a universal truth.
P.L.: You once said that your work does not strive to be pleasing, not beautiful or ugly. What kinds of set quality standards do you have then?
R.R.: If I, in my opinion, have managed to express what I wanted to express then that is the quality standard for my work. Sometimes I’m satisfied with what I have expressed, other times I am not. Sometimes others see it the way I intended and sometimes they don’t. The fact remains that I have expressed myself. I have taken risks in the choice of formal elements and sometimes I have to admit to myself that I did not managed to create the desired atmosphere. These risks are necessary to experiment with material and see what one can achieve with it. The overall atmosphere is difficult to achieve. Only when an exhibition is in the correct space, with suitable lighting and I have observed from a certain distance, can I judge whether I have managed the desired atmosphere or not. In my studio, on the other hand, it is a very experimental affair. It is about expressing what I want and what I am capable of expressing at that moment. I sometimes create technically advanced objects, sometimes not so advanced, downright sloppy even but usually carefully made. In any case, they remain an expression of my existence. When I can say that I have utilized my capabilities to the full at that particular moment to express what I wanted to express, then that is my personal definition of quality.
P.L.: In an earlier catalogue you mentioned that, apart from color, form, surface structure and composition are the formal values of your work. With the new Boxes one sees that material is an even more important factor. One can say that the earlier works appeared with the tools of the painter - canvas, wooden frame and oil paint. In the Boxes of the second generation, as I would refer to them, one can find many different materials. How important is material and its characteristics for you?
R.R.: I believe that, especially with regard to the Florida series, the color is of the utmost importance in creating an atmosphere. The format and increasingly, the surface structure also play an important role. The composition within the Box is, for me, less decisive than the composition of the entire installation when it has finally been placed on a wall or on the ground. In that case, composition is an important factor in creating the appropriate atmosphere. I see myself that the choice of materials is an increasingly important part of my work and there are different reasons for this. Firstly, it highlights my heightened awareness of the possibilities offered by using different materials to create different effects. The second reason is a simpler more practical one. I recently set up larger studios in the Netherlands and Miami and with the extra space, it has become easier for me to experiment with new materials. Two or three years ago, things were more complicated because my work was created under difficult circumstances as well as in cramped spaces. Now that the situation has improved, also financially, it has become easier for me to test new materials. I am convinced that this development will continue and I will certainly try out and use new materials. For the Boca Raton Boxes I used glass, for the Miami Downtown works I used wood, concrete and oil paint, for the Miami, 4th of July works I used a type of silicon, acrylic and wood and the West Palm Beach Boxes have a layer of wax over the oil paint to create a certain matt effect. For the Florida Keys Boxes I used normal oil on wood. And at the moment I’m planning a Germany-Saarland series using steel and oil paint.
P.L.: Do you still consider your work as a form of painting?
R.R.: I don’t really see myself as a painter in the classic sense of the word. I feel more like the constructor of my objects. I often work with a paint brush to apply oil but I do not see it as painting. I apply paint, which means I create the object. While I’m doing that there are numerous empirical modifications to my work in progress. I never know at the beginning of a series how the completed installation will turn out. While I am working on the installation, the later Boxes change, especially at the end of the series, in order to create the effect I desire.
P.L.: The characteristics of your Boxes clearly resemble Minimal Art and on the other hand your work distance itself from it by having a different intention. You insist that the formal values of your work, in contrast to the ”specific objects” of Minimal Art, are not meaningless structural parameters but vehicles of your emotional sensibilities. Is this anchoring of formal means in your subjectivity an expression of the responsibility of the artist for his work? Does awareness of responsibility play a role in your work?
R.R.: I want to extend my reach. Of course my work is inspired by the formal elements of Minimalism. For me, Minimal Art is not so much the artistic movement of the sixties, it is more a number of issues and features to be found in the work of various artists. I like to use minimalist characteristics, at least some of them, to express emotions, contrary to what Donald Judd formulated. I believe that neither he nor Carl Andre managed to leave their work devoid of emotion. I find their work an admirable and consistent attempt in this direction, but I’m certain that it isn’t possible to eliminate feelings and cultural origins from one’s work, quite simply because we’re human. I want to deal with precisely this theme and that includes my reality, problems, difficulties, inconsistencies, in unison with my thoughts and in relation to my surroundings or a person. As regards the artist and his responsibility for his work, yes, I take responsibility for my work towards myself and am true to myself in that I try to the best of my ability and with a maximum of awareness of my materials, my formal elements and methods of expression, to express myself optimally when I create an installation. That is the responsibility that I, as an artist, have taken upon myself. I don’t think that my responsibility encompasses preaching to the observer or making the world a better place. No, this kind of responsibility, which can often be seen in Conceptual Art and especially with young artists, is foreign to me. I don’t feel responsible for teaching the observer, or like some, mankind in general. My work does not have religious undertones. It is not mystical or political. It is not a form of protest. It doesn’t seek to uncover metaphysical secrets or universal truth. My work is, possibly a reaction to the times we live in, where emotions and personal experiences seem to have become less important and count for less. My work deals with precisely this theme, in unison with my surroundings. My emotions become a theme and, as such, become an expression of my existence as a person.