2012 Interview 2
"I am running out of time"
Rene Rietmeyer’s personal existence within time and space.
In: The Art Investor, Vol.1, no.1, UK, January 2012
By Karlyn De Jongh and Sarah Gold
Rene Rietmeyer (*1957, Netherlands) creates abstract, three-dimensional wall objects, which he calls “Boxes”. These Boxes address his own, personal existence within time and space. With the abstract means of a.o. form, color, texture, composition, and choice of materials, Rietmeyer visualizes his experiences of a certain region or a specific person he met at a particular place and time. His work is about expressing his existence, about living out the consequences of his thoughts, about living a conscious life and creating an awareness about this in others.
Sarah Gold: Already as a young man in the late seventies and early eighties, you have been successful as an artist. But back then, your pen drawings and aquarelles had a more “commercial” intention, depicting mainly recognizable and existing landscapes. Today your works have no comparison at all with your early work. What was the reason that you artistically develop so much and to take this leap from “commercial” to “non-commercial contemporary”?
Rene Rietmeyer: In my younger years I had to earn money while going to university and the easiest way was by selling my drawings and prints of my paintings. While making these in works I was of course aware that they do not have any intellectual, artistic, content. I made some works with “content” in the early eighties, but they hardly sold, I would not have been able to study without selling the commercial works. It was a choice. Then, after having been the director from a private art academy for 9 years, coming in my mid thirties, one starts asking himself more and more important questions about ones own existence and goals with one’s own life. For me, the consequence of my thoughts was that I had to challenge myself intellectually and I had to find out if I can have a positive influence on people with the artworks I was going to create. At that moment in my life I was strong enough to be not afraid of being financially poor, so I went on, to search for contemporary art within me, it took me several years to be able to create quality, and then I was lucky enough to find many collectors who were interested in my work.
Karlyn De Jongh: You seem to have quite quickly developed to your concept of the Boxes, which you maintained for the past 15 years. When you look at your oeuvre, are there certain Boxes that mark a transition? How do you see your artistic development? Or is it more like in the work of Roman Opalka, where the continuation of the artistic concept seems to be the development in the work?
RR: In the mid-90s, my intellectual development reached stages and through the influence of the books I read and the artists I met, I created my own thoughts, my own theory and concept. That went very fast, in a period of two years. It went through many stages. Once I found my concept, my thoughts. I started to only fine-tune them, which is since the summer of 1997, since then it did not move so much anymore. I could give it a stronger intellectual backup, with examples out of art history. I refined the use of my abstract language and the formal elements, my awareness grew over time, my capabilities to use color, shape and material more consciously became bigger. But there were no big changes, no Boxes that “mark a transition”. None. There are no special marking points. It has been a continuous expressing of my emotions with the formal means of color, texture, material and size ever since. Opalka was much more a voluntary victim of his own concept and could not have another kind of emotional expression. He had a very strong concept, but mine is more complete, more complex. Opalka really only focused on time, you could then also claim that he was focusing on existence, but that was never his goal. When he came up with his concept, the consciousness was not there that it was about existence. Consciously, it was only about time. My concept is consciously about time, space and existence, my own existence and the existence of other people and my surrounding. The fine-tuning in my concept, you cannot call that a development. I exist as a human being, and yes, I do change. Development is mostly seen as a linear development, like an improving, like a searching towards something, trying new things. I do not have to try new things; I express myself as I am at this point in time. Perhaps I am more complex or complete, with more knowledge than ten years ago. To call that a development is a large word. Unfortunately, in the artworld development is mostly seen as one style following up another. There is no need for that at all. There are too many artists now that have shown that development should be seen totally different than it was 100 years ago in the single artist’s careers and art history as a total. People like Lee Ufan, Opalka and me execute their concepts. That’s it. That is what they do until they die. In my work and that of Lee Ufan you can see a personal development, a growing older. I, today, am a different person than I was ten years ago or that I will be in ten years from now – if I am still alive. That is all the development to be seen. There will be no further artistic development in that sense. Only an expression of my thoughts today. These thoughts will not be exactly the same as time passes. There are always slight changes as humans change over time.
KDJ: In 2002 you initiated the project PERSONAL STRUCTURES and worked the past 10 years to make it grow. You decided to focus on this group of artists rather than on your own career. Why did you choose this path?
RR: I started of course, by just being occupied with myself. Eventually, when I had done that for 5 years, it went very well and my career developed fantastically. At the same time I realized, that someone who makes the type of art I make, will not easily achieve a sufficient enough level of influence on other people. My work is not spectacular. At first glance, it does not look amazing and does not attract you by a first view that easily. I knew that if I would continue by myself, I would reach only few people. That just did not seem enough to me. I looked at other artists, such as Bram Bogart, and thought: If I would now work very hard in my life, I might reach the importance and presence of a Bram Bogart. That was not enough for me; I wanted more than that. I thought – and time has proven me right – that when I create a group of artists around me, I give that group a name, in this case “PERSONAL STRUCTURES”, that then people might listen and might notice us much more easy. And they do. That is why I chose this path.
SG: Being an artist, creating works which reflect your intellect and being in the world today, how do you feel about the “banality” of the financial aspect of the so called art market? Today at auctions you can find artists who sell for record prices who only just emerged in the last years. What do you think about the auctions and their possible potential for “investments”?
RR: It is a sad reality, not only in the art world, but in general, to see that we humans are led by the greed to accumulate more and more possessions, we seem to have forgotten that satisfaction should be found somewhere else. Yes, art, as any other created item, should represent a certain value, and art that has proven over time to be an essential prove or part of human artistic development, can therefore be very valuable, but much too often one is misguided by the “art market” into the believe that a certain artwork or artist deservers already that status. The result is that almost all contemporary artworks are highly overrated in value and most of these works will have lost a large part of their financial value within 50 years. The conclusion is that a potential financial investor should first ask him/herself if he/she is interested in a short-term return or a long-term investment. Unfortunately most people seem to be only interested in the chance to create instant money, disregarding that eventually there will be a company or a person who at the end of the line holds the by then overpriced unsellable artwork, and regardless of the consequences for the development of the artworld as a whole.
SG: If you would invest yourself in art, based on what parameters would you take your decisions?
RR: I would buy artworks of artists in whom I believe.
KDJ: What do you think then of the current economic situation, because of which many artists seem to have to give up their artistic practice and ‘find a job’?
RR: The current economical situation will hopefully prove very beneficial for the art world, because many ‘fake’ artists, who only are in it for the money, will disappear. Now it is much more difficult to make money with your art. It became complicated; it is no ‘easy money’ anymore. That will block many people from starting a career as an artist or making themselves believe they are artists. Of course, there are some commercial artists who sneak through and who managed just in time to be sort of recognized by a larger group of people without being a good artist. You cannot eliminate everybody. I hope this current economical crisis will erase many want-to-be artists and many artists who are artists for the wrong reasons.
KDJ: Why do you believe you yourself will stay?
RR: Because I make art for art sake. I would make art also if it does not sell and that is something only very few people do. The classical commercial artist makes work only on demand, for example for an exhibition or when a client orders something in advance. I make art the way I want it. I make it and then eventually it would be nice if someone buys it and hangs it on his wall. But even if they do not, I make it anyway. That is why I will survive. If necessary I will make my money with other sources than art, but I will put all my money in making the art.
SG: Do you think that honest and sincere art, in general and your art specifically, gets “honored”, whereby I would like to define “honored” into two categories, being it intellectual recognition and secondly financial rewarding?
RR: There are many high quality artists who live, work a life long and are willingly or unwillingly hardly ever noticed. But there are fortunately also many good artists who do get the appropriate recognition. I myself am very satisfied with the intellectual recognition of my work and the financial aspects, the way my “art career” in general has developed.
KDJ: Looking at your glass-installation “Venezia” at the 2009 Venice Biennale, Joseph Kosuth commented that these works of yours are “too beautiful”. For many collectors, it is an important aspect of a work that it is aesthetically pleasing to them, that they like to live with the works in their collection. Beauty is subjective, but you sometimes make Boxes that address a – for you and in the broadest sense of the word – not beautiful location and as a result you claim that these Boxes are also not aesthetically pleasing. Why do you choose to make Boxes after experiences of cities that were not beautiful? Don’t you want to forget about those? Or is an artwork that is visually too beautiful, a danger for its concept?
RR: In my life many memories are of the strange, the weird, the so-called ‘not beautiful’ experiences. I remember so well those unusual sexual experiences, which were not beautiful at all. The beautiful sexual experiences I may have partly forgotten. My work is about things that make a strong impression on me, regardless whether it is beautiful or not. My concept is in no danger what so ever. I am executing my concept regardless the aesthetics of the result. Too beautiful, too ugly, it does not matter. My concept is to express the experiences I experience, with all formal means that I can handle. This concept cannot be broken; it is regardless of the kind of experience. As long as I express my experiences, I follow my concept.
KDJ: So, you choose experiences that are remarkable in your own life, but what do you want to say to the viewer in this respect? You do want to make him more aware about his own existence.
RR: By expressing my own existence, by showing the viewer my own existence and how I express my own personal experiences I hope that the viewer relates to his or her own existence and starts to contemplate about his or her own existence and how they experience certain regions or persons in life. I want them to see that when I am so conscious about living my life and experiencing the experiences I had, I hope that also they learn to be more conscious about what they experience and try to see more clearly their own existence within the environment in which they are. So, in first instance I want to express myself. Then I want to show other people how I express myself and I hope that from that on they consider more about how they experience and perhaps even could express themselves. I hope this will lead to a larger awareness about their own existence. I think that by showing how aware you are about your own personal existence, it might have an influence on other people and they might then look more carefully to their own existence.
KDJ: 15 years ago, it was possible to get one of your Boxes in exchange for a restaurant dinner. Now your works are exhibited worldwide, even twice at the Venice Biennale. The financial value changed, as well as the way the public perceives your work. How do you yourself feel about the value (financial, emotional, intellectual) of your work? What does a work from 15 years ago mean to you? Or are you like Arnulf Rainer mainly interested in the last work you created?
RR: The more well-known established artists I meet, the more convinced I am about the intellectual and emotional value of my work. The financial value is a complicated thing. Of course, most artists like to make as much money as they can and they like it when their work is expensive and it sells good. I do not want my work to become more expensive, but I seem not to be able to stop the increase in value of my work. It seems also as if my clientele expects my work to increase in value. The gallerists do as well. So, without my own personal involvement, the financial value of my work grows. Then I cannot offer my work for a tenth of the value, without loosing credibility. When someone meets me in person and wants to purchase something, I have to stay at least a little bit close to the widely accepted official market value. That sometimes blocks my wish that the work comes in people’s homes, people who love my work but do not have the financial means to purchase it anymore. Then I will try to find a solution, which is not always easy. It is a pity that work became so expensive. I love to create and spread my work and I would not mind if they would still be more affordable for everybody. So that it reaches many people. But I cannot control the market system, where a successful artist also becomes a so-called victim of the market mechanisms. The many established artists I meet would not mind if their work would be more affordable, but they cannot turn back the clock. The lesson learned here is to try to keep your own work financially affordable as long as possible. Fortunately, in my case is that a collector does not have to buy the whole installation of – let’s say – 60 Boxes. Also 3, 9 or 12 Boxes can create a beautiful installation with the same emotional and intellectual power, the same power to reach somebody. Therefore, I can probably at least be purchasable by people with an average salary for a long time.
KDJ: How is for you the difference between ‘you 15 years ago’ and ‘you now’ with regard to the intellectual value in your work?
RR: There is no change. The main intellectual underwriting, the basis of my intellectual backup has been created in the spring and early summer of 1997. It has been refined over the past 13 years. Details have been added, but the main content has not changed at all. My works from that period and looking back to spring time 1997, it has not changed. The intellectual backup has become better. I have a better foundation, because I know more about other artists. But it has not changed. And also the emotional value of my work for me personally has not changed. Today it feels the same as 14 years ago. Of course, when I look at the works I made around that time, they have an emotional impact. But the works I made last week, they have the same impact on me. There are differences from series to series; some have a strong impact on me and others a less strong one. But it is not counted by the year, but by the series. So, I cannot say that my relationship towards my work either intellectual or emotional, has changed over the years. For me personally with regard to the financial value of my work, the same counts: there is no change in value. I cherish all my works the same.
KDJ: Your work shows ‘you’. Although you lived most of your life outside of the Netherlands and have had encounters with people from all over the world, it seems you are still very Dutch. When looking at the Dutch tradition of painters, you seem to fit very well in the line of Van Gogh, De Kooning and Mondriaan and even Schoonhoven. To what extent is who you are influenced by the culture you are brought up in, or even the time that you did not experience yourself? Do you think, when you would have been born in another part of the world, that you would have expressed yourself in a similar way as you do now?
RR: I am a product of my culture. I think there is no denying. I traveled many countries and lived in many countries and all these situations must have had an influence on me. But, yes, I am probably still very Dutch, even though I left the Netherlands when I was 21 years old and only briefly came back around my 40s. I am part of my surroundings and part of my genes, just like everybody else. I think that, would I have been born and grown up in a different culture, let’s say Saudi Arabia, for sure I would have expressed myself differently. Emotionally and probably also intellectually, I would have been a totally different person. It is an illusion to think that one really only, totally creates oneself. For a large part, it is your genes, the way you are built, and for a very large part also your cultural surrounding, which forms you as a human being. That means, the thoughts I think are probably not so much from myself, but are probably more a product between my own personal relationship and my own personal exposition with my culture, with the knowledge and the things I see and learn. We are not that unique by ourselves. I think we are a product of learning about our surroundings. When I would have been grown up in the jungle, not knowing anything of what I know now today, I would have felt and acted much different and I think especially the emotional repertoire that someone has to express him or herself, is largely influenced by the culture you are surrounded by. I have seen in myself how I acted as a human being in Greece, it was different from how I acted being in the Netherlands. Also emotional expression has to do with communication with the people around you. In order to communicate with people, you have to find the right type of language. In different cultures, you communicate differently emotionally in order to communicate well. You adapt even your own personal emotional way of expression.
KDJ: Visualizing experiences that happened in your life, in your work you are mainly focused on the past. At the same time, you are someone who is very aware of how short life actually is and seem to think often about the possible number of days that you are still alive and how this number is decreasing every day. What does your future mean to you? How do you feel about the moment that you will paint your last Box?
RR: I have less and less lifetime and I am so aware that I have to hurry up… I have to hurry up with regard to my artwork, my personal life, in everything, in experiencing. It is like I once said, when I told you about my meeting with Robert Rauschenberg: “I am running out of time.” Everybody, no matter in what age you are, should immediately understand that you are running out of time. Time is very, very limited. There is no reason why you should hesitate in experiencing new, other things and there is no time to waste in creating. You have to create and do as much as you can within your lifetime as fast as possible, because it is so short. You are dead within a second. This awareness should push us. It is sad that I have to sleep every night. I would prefer to stay awake, always and never die. Dying will be a very sad moment in my life, because I wish my life could continue forever. It will not; I will die. But hopefully not soon.