Victoria Reichelt is a young Queensland painter and a member of the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council. Sharne Wolff recently had a chat to Victoria in her Queensland studio…
SW. You have two exhibitions in the second half of 2012 – one in your home state of Queensland Jan Murphy Gallery in Brisbane and one at Gippsland Art Gallery in Sale, Victoria. Why Gippsland?
VR. As far as Gippsland goes, I have wanted to work with curator Simon Gregg for a while now – he shows so many great artists there at Gippsland – and in particular lots of exciting painters (Natasha Bieniek, Stephen Giblett & Tony Lloyd have all shown there recently and they have shows by Kate Shaw, Juan Ford & Sam Leach planned for the future). Also the space is fantastic, so I was thrilled when he asked me to show – he is a really exciting curator.
Victoria Reichelt, ‘Fall’, 2012, oil on linen, 150 x 105cm (Courtesy of the artist and Dianne Tanzer Gallery, Melbourne)
SW. What can audiences expect to see in these exhibitions?
VR. The Jan Murphy Gallery show is called Three Trajectories and is a group show with two other artists who also studied at the Queensland College of Art, Jason Fitzgerald and Leith Maguire. For my part of the exhibition I am showing my colour-focused works. These works continue my investigations into books using colour, minimalism and repetition, however where my previous series’ considered books within personal spaces and as portraits, I am now broadening my scope to examine them within the settings of public libraries. The Gippsland show, Catalogue, is a bit of a ‘mini-retrospective’ – featuring works from a few different shows over the past few years. My most recent major work, Colour Field, will travel to both venues.
SW. Your painting is usually described as ‘hyperrealist’. In your last few shows you’ve exhibited paintings of books as portraits, the ‘Mondrian series’ of colour bookcases, magazine covers and now libraries. Would you say you had an obsession with books? How did it begin?
VR. I guess as an overarching concept in my practice, I look at objects that are in danger of becoming obsolete or in different states of change – so each series has that idea as the over-arching theme, but then the work goes off onto other little tangents. The first book painting I did was a painting of a lone book on a canvas, and then I made works with a few books on a white background, and then I started to paint whole bookshelves, portraits of people through their bookshelves, books flying through the air, piles of books & magazines, and now I am painting the interiors of public library spaces. It started as a focus on individual objects (and their histories and narratives) but it has really taken some very different paths that have lead me to the big library interiors.
SW. Colour and line are obviously very important to your practice. Mondrian apparently said he was inspired more by the beauty of lines and colour, and the relationships between them, than by the concrete subject of the picture. Do you feel the same?
VR. Yes, I can relate to that – it’s funny because even though I paint from photos and the images tend to have a lot going on in them, I feel just as attracted to minimalism (and repetition). I guess that’s what I want the general aesthetic to be – repetitive and minimal – but with lots going on too.
SW. I note you even have the icons in the dock on your Mac in colour-coded order…
VR. Yes – that involved some very tough decisions – and every time I get a new program yet more tough decisions need to be made. At the moment the ‘iTunes’ icon is next to the ‘iChat’ icon and they are completely different blues – but I can’t find a blue icon to bridge the two. I’m sure I will one day – I’ll keep you posted.
Victoria Reichelt, ‘Colour Field’, 2012, oil on linen, 150 x 125cm (Courtesy of the artist and Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane)
SW. I gather the show at Gippsland will be hung simultaneously with work from Natasha Bieniek, also a young realist painter, a Gallery stable mate of yours at Dianne Tanzer Gallery in Melbourne and winner of the 2012 Metro Art Award for artists under 35. Were you surprised when another realist won the award or do you think artists like Michael Zavros have paved the way in more recent times?
VR. I was so thrilled with Natasha won the Metro – and when Michael won the Bulgari Award at the AGNSW too – I guess people (and judges!) respond to really good, considered painting and both of those artists make very thoughtful and clever work.
SW. Two of your more recent paintings ‘Fall’ and ‘Climb‘ were included in the $50,000 Gold Award at Rockhampton Gallery with Michael Zavros, Ben Quilty and eventual winner Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori. How did you feel to be included in that group?
VR. It probably sounds like a cliché, but it was really such an honour to be included in that group of painters. They are all established names and their works were fantastic. Tracy Cooper-Lavery at the Rockhampton Art Gallery really did a great job with that Award – she kept the numbers of finalists down (there were eight) so that each artist could show a few works and so the exhibition itself looked really good. Kind of like a mini survey of contemporary painting. I was very happy to be included.
SW. Your paintings are based on photographs – and these two pictures include animals in libraries. Can you take us briefly through the process of making them? How long is the painting process?
VR. There is a lot of work that goes on before I start painting – for the works I am making at the moment I did photo shoots at the State Library of Queensland and the Queensland College of Art Library in Brisbane, and also the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne. They all kindly let me in after hours – the works that were in the Rockhampton Gold Award, ‘Fall’ and ‘Climb’, resulted from a quite long shoot at the State Library of Queensland one night. Once I have lots of images I then do a bit of Photoshopping (often amping up the colours and contrast) and then I paint them. As you said, I have started recently to work on a series of paintings that incorporate animals into the library settings, so those works also involve photo shoots at zoos and animal parks, and then the animals are Photoshopped into the image before I paint them. I am really excited about these new works – in these paintings the animals wander through stacks and shelves as they would a forest, tentatively interacting with these foreign environments but never looking 100 per cent comfortable – I wanted them to hint at the alien way, we too, may feel about rooms full of books in years to come. They are meant to create a feeling of anxiety and ‘out-of-place-ness’.
SW. I saw you in the audience last week at the Melbourne Art Fair Lecture Program entitled ‘Why Paint?’ Jan Bryant’s first lecture was introduced with the following: “Perhaps the most brutal and devastating allegation levelled against painting last century was the widespread claim that it was too tired, too weighed down by the burden of its own history, to make us think or see anew”. What is your personal response to that statement? Do you think your own painting addresses that idea?
VR. That was a great lecture and the panel afterwards really interesting. That statement is of course true – but what I love about painting is that after all the challenges that have been thrown at it, it continues to thrive, to reinvent itself and to provide compelling and complex ways to discuss ideas about the world. I particularly like how artists such as Glenn Brown (and more locally, Chris Bond and André Hemer), use the tumultuous recent history of painting, in different ways, as subjects for their paintings. It is a very self-reflexive medium and I don’t know if you can paint today without making some kind of acknowledgement to painting’s history. Perhaps the questioning of painting’s relevance has made for better painting, I like to think so. It’s certainly made me think hard about why I paint. A parallel was suggested about video art in that panel discussion – everyone comes to video art with a history of TV watching, movies etc – so painting is not the only medium that people come to with baggage.
SW. You’re the youngest member on the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council, has sitting on the Board affected your practice in any way?
VR. It hasn’t changed my practice in any way, but it has certainly made me more aware of the amazing breadth of talent we have here in Australia – there are so many wonderful artists making fantastic work – it’s very humbling.
SW. Do you have a support group of artist friends? How do you speak to each other and is it important for you to surround yourself with other artists?
VR. Oh yes – I don’t know what I’d do without my artist friends! It’s such an unusual career path and it’s so great to be surrounded by people who can relate to the ups and the downs of life as an artist.
Victoria Reichelt. Three Trajectories, Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane until 25 August 2012.
Catalogue, Gippsland Art Gallery, Sale, Victoria from 4 Sep to 4 Nov 2012.