A decade ago I had the opportunity of visiting the studio of painter James Rieck. I had only recently become familiar with his work and was impressed from the start. But seeing his work is person was a completely different experience. In honor of his upcoming show at Rubine Red Gallery in Palm Springs, CA, it seemed only right to revisit this artist to make sure everyone knows . . .
Here's what's so great about James Rieck.
THE SCALE. The sheer size of the work and the quality of execution are really quite spectacular. James’ beautifully subtle manipulation of paint is unlike any work I have seen. At distance the work has an element of realism that you can only assume will break down as you get closer to the canvas. This is not the case. In fact, at proximity the work is even more impressive. It has a nearly photographic quality as you find soft edges and almost no traces of mark making whatsoever. It's an impressive feat for any painter - but when you consider how large these paintings are the accomplishment is only more impressive.
THE PALETTE. Rieck's use of color is perfectly suited to his subject matter. A vintage Best Western ashtray painted in a palette that makes it look as if it was photographed in the late 1960's. An entire series of paintings using only red and green, which is not only impressive, but provides plenty of contrast while giving each painting in the series a beautiful harmony. Even his black and white work is perfectly executed, placing all of the emphasis on form and composition. The color is always perfectly suited to the subject, as if it couldn't have been executed in any other way.
THE CONCEPT. James displays a level of skill that most artists spend a lifetime pursuing. However, after speaking with him for awhile I’m convinced that the execution of the piece is really secondary. For James, the purity of the concept really trumps all. Rather than using his own photographs as the basis for his paintings, he creatively crops and manipulates piles of reference until his composition and concept feels cohesive. And yet, each series looks as if he hired and staged the models himself. This gives his work a ‘found object’ quality which only enhances the experience of viewing his work. For him, I believe, this is where the real angst lies. This is the work – pouring over and accumulating reference until he finds just the right pieces with which to make his fabulous paintings.
Scale. Palette. Concept. Rieck's work is not only flawlessly executed it's a unique brand of visual storytelling. He invites you into the work and then allows you enough time and space to get lost in it. A true pleasure to have met such a gifted and humble artist who was willing to open his studio and share his process. Overall, an inspiring visit that will stay with me for decades.