2005 Essay

About My Work

Rene Rietmeyer  16 April 2005  Ludwig Museum Germany

My name is Rene Rietmeyer and I made these works here. My works have, contrary to the works of most of the artists exhibiting here [in the exhibition “Personal Structures, 16 artists from 11 countries”] a theme, a subject. For example these works are called “Shark Valley” and they stand in direct relation to a visit of mine to an area in Florida called “Shark Valley”. It is a small nature area with many alligators and mosquitoes. These works here try to create that atmosphere, and thus, try to represent me in relation to my visit to that region in Florida. They, my objects, do this with the use of shape, color, texture, composition and the choice of material. The works I show here at the moment, are mostly done in oil on wood, except these objects here [“Portrait of Robert Rauschenberg”], where I also used concrete, but sometimes I also use steel or other materials.

 Prof. Honnef mentioned just a few minutes ago that he regrets the loss of the haptic experience. In my opinion, however, many of the objects made these days, for example, by artists such as Girardoni or Yuko Sakurai, do react very well to that issue. Girardoni is very conscious of that: My work feels like wax and smells like wax. Art is not only a visual experience, it is also haptic, and it even relates to the sense of smell… I already had a collector who wanted to lick my works, taste them. There are also objects which you can hear, you knock on them [Rietmeyer knocks on one of his boxes] and listen: an acoustic experience. Because of the pigment you can not do that with works of Paul Raguenes, it would destroy their pigment surfaces. It is the conscious awareness of the presence of all senses, which is actually always a part of the creation process. You are aware, when you create a work, that it is not just a visual experience anymore. And this consciousness has grown in the last years. As Prof. Honnef claims, Frans Hals seems to have been conscious of that as well. And over the last centuries that consciousness has, so to speak, grown, or at least, the possibilities of expressing that consciousness, that awareness, have grown. For me, and for many others, there is no doubt anymore that all senses always play a role in creating and experiencing a work of art. The abstract language then has developed with this growing awareness.

 Although it was built up with abstract lines and fields you saw Rembrandt still had a figurative, representational, image. There was van Gogh, who was already very aware that his brush strokes should be so and so in order to create a certain dynamics, to create and express a specific experience. When he created a portrait of his paint shop owner or the postman, he did not just want to make a portrait, he wanted, more then Rembrandt, to express his experience of this person. And after that, Willem De Kooning. This is how I want it as well, for example in my portrait of David Salle. That for me is a portrait. It is very clear, so clear for me, that I, even without the recognizable, figurative reproduction, still come to a portrait, about which, I am of the opinion, all elements of my memory, of what impression David Salle made on me, are still expressed. Perhaps you can not visually recognize him in my work, but he is there: this is my meeting with David Salle, I can see the man there, present in my work. That meeting was not so fantastic; I was not very impressed by him. Probably it, therefore, did not become very attractive esthetically as does, for example Thomas Pihl’s work. Though he claims to dislike esthetics, at the same time Pihl’s work is so beautiful. My installations simply represent my own existence and my own emotions towards a specific subject and as this holds for other artists as well, I can not control how you see, how you experience, my works. Of course I try to have some influence on the way you see my works, I call them “Portrait of David Salle”, or these here are called “Paris”, in the hope that you might think, hm, perhaps that title wants to tell me something. But what you then think at the end of the line, that, I really can not control. I could, of course, put my thoughts on paper. I would, contrary to Girardoni, even be glad, if you read it and I do believe that words to a certain extent can support a better understanding of the work.

 An important issue for me is to declare that I, although I might not have read as many books as some of the art historians, am of the opinion that the works I make are not “Concrete Art”. If I understood it right, “Concrete Art” tries like the representatives from “Minimal Art” as well, to eliminate the presence of the author, the creator of the object. Or the artist who creates the object which he later calls “Concrete Art” or “Minimal Art” tries to eliminate himself. I am of the opinion that such people do not succeed. That it is not possible. It is impossible to eliminate yourself from the object you make. With all respect for Donald Judd and many others in Minimal Art, there is no chance that Donald Judd with his huge ego, even bigger than mine, eliminates himself. He is so present in his own works. He can not deny that. I believe that during the last years of his life he faked his own belief, he must have known this already at that time. If he had not been the Donald Judd he was, he simply would not have made those objects the way he did. It was his personality which brought him to create those specific items. And so it is with myself as well. When I realize that personality elimination, despite all efforts of several artists in Minimal Art and Concrete Art, is impossible, and then they still say: ”The creator of the artwork is not present, this artwork stands totally on its own and has nothing to do with the personality of the artist”, I know that is an error. Nice try, but a failure. No future. Dead end. Therefore it is my opinion that I and also some of the other persons exhibiting in this museum, who confront themselves with this question, should admit their subjectivity, the presence of their own personality in their works. Simply say: “Okay, okay, I make this object and I make it according my best knowledge and conscious and with the maximum of my capabilities and I am aware that creation is a very subjective matter.” With all thanks to those artists, who helped to gain knowledge concerning formal issues and still continue to do so. It is not that we should all stop now to think and to search—“ah, there I‘ve found some detailed question, which I could discuss to death”. No, no, it is fine to continue to discuss all the formal questions and I am grateful to all these texts and books and all those discussions I could take part in and which my brain was capable of understanding– even today there are some issues I have not been able to understand. Fortunately this is being taped; I seem to have a second chance. It is good that we have achieved so much understanding on formal issues, but I believe that for me, in recent years these discussions have not brought a lot of real new knowledge and I therefore see no other way out than to say: I am simply Rene, I have a certain knowledge of certain issues, a certain awareness and I try, to the best of my conscious and capabilities to use that as good as possible to express what I want to express.

 I would like to communicate with the help of my works. It seems that the New Yorkers, Thomas Pihl and Girardoni, get so many impressions from Manhattan, that they say the opposite: ah, for the moment no communication, please… But I live mostly in the countryside, at the moment in the Netherlands, small village, small house, I see no world and I say: I want to communicate, I want to speak. I want contact and I try to do that as good as I can, to express myself as well as I can. I believe we have reached a stage where we have to move seriously forwards in many issues. For example we discussed here monochrome painting, about non representational art, for me that has all become so commonplace, I grew up with that, it has become part of me. We should look further. I tried to explain to my mother what my “Monaco Boxes” are about. For her they are all boring white boxes and she can not grasp what I want with them. Perhaps we should no longer try to explain everything to everybody. It will probably be so that it is a small group of people with whom we will be able to discuss certain subjects. It seems to be difficult enough already for the art historians to speak about single definitions. For me all those discussions of the last thirty, forty years, about minimal characteristics, about certain formal aspects of non representational art, have reached a point where I believe we will not come to a positive conclusion. Many questions remain unsolved because there are no solutions, only approaches. Prof. Honnef, I am afraid that, if I have understood correctly, I am 47 now, you have been speaking and discussing about art for almost as long as I am old and yet it seems to be that you have not found any solutions or answers, either. It is better, I don’t begin looking. I am quitting the search for the non-existent answers. Therefore I proclaim that what I make, I make to express myself in relation to my surrounding. Regardless of whether the result is esthetically beautiful or ugly, my objects are the direct result of what I want to express. Sometimes I envy that horrifying Thomas Pihl. Why do his works always turn out so esthetically striking? I have small Thomas Pihls at home, my God,… I do not know how he does it. That extra quality, he just has it. And then I hang my “David Salle” Boxes next to it and I think: Damn, why does that look so terrible? Aesthetically they never amount to anything. My works as well as my experiences do not have aesthetics as a goal. Sometimes the experience is dreadful, then my objects also do not turn out to be aesthetically attractive, that is the consequence of my concept.

 Not long ago I visited Callum Innes in Edinburgh and he told me: ”Rene, I guess, I throw away about 70% of what I make. I go through all that I paint and select perhaps 30% which I think is good and I keep. How much do you throw away Rene?” – Me? I do not throw away anything. What I make is what I make. I as a human at this moment, with these capabilities, if I just had sex, physically was in good shape, if I just had dinner, if I was rich and therefore had a lot of materials or if I was poor and had to work sparely, that all has influence on how my objects do turn out. They become how they turn out, with the maximum of my capabilities at that moment, and therefore they are nothing else then the proof of my existence.

 (Translation by the artist)