Oceanside Museum of Art, Oceanside CA
On view through September 8, 2019
Article by Cathy Breslaw
May 22, 2019
Over the course of my life, I have sought out nature in all its forms including mountains, forests, hills, oceans, rivers, lakes, big skies and sunsets, across several countries – all with the expressed purpose of encountering the power and spirit of the universe. I knew I would find it in these places. As I walked through Roland Reiss’s Flower paintings (2007-present), these same feelings emerged – awe, wonder and the spirit of an exuberant artist who wants to ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’. This is evident in the fact that Reiss requested that no identifying information be placed beside each artwork – no painting titles, sizes, mediums etc. that we typically see elsewhere that art is exhibited. We are left on our own to observe and discover what these paintings communicate to us.
Flowers are the vehicle which Reiss uses to express color. ‘Color’ is not an element of his works, it is the primary language. As a master technician in art-making, these expressions come across as easily as speaking a native language is to us. Being in the exhibition space in the presence of these paintings is reminiscent of southern California skies after a storm when the light is sharp, clear, bright and fresh. The color combinations are vivid, intense, glowing and full of emotion. He wants us to feel his joy and to find our own.
Reiss plays with figure and ground in his compositions – in most of the paintings the imagery appears to float within the spaces of the canvases, and in others the ground is implied – where we may see a few flower pedals sitting alongside a vase. Once again, he wants us to ‘fill in the blanks’.
The context or reference points are often missing. Reiss also manipulates spaces within each of his paintings. In some, the flowers appear to be three dimensional while others are simultaneously flat. Collapsing and expanding spaces add another dimension which challenges what a painting can be.
Another group of works appear to have vertical structural supports of stems for his flowers around and within which there are layers of tiny but discernible images of architecture – skylines of cities, capitol government buildings, museums, as well as monkeys, dancing people, butterflies, birds, geometric and abstracted shapes, and more. The imagery floats around like passing thoughts. Bouquets of flowers become worlds within worlds.
While most of the paintings have flat precisely crafted surface paint, there is a selection of those with a deliberate pattern of thick, textured sculptural brushstrokes. Multi-colored brushstrokes also appear as imagery within others works.
It’s as if Reiss is holding a conversation about painting in his works. He defies convention while charming us with the amazing range of color variations, varieties of flowers, imagery and general “eye candy”. The standard compositions, color relationships, two and three-dimensional spaces, and the nature of and use of brushstrokes – the traditional tenets of painting – all come into question in how they are played out.
Another portion of Reiss’s exhibition are the Small Stories – sculptural tableaux which the artist is widely known for, and which he calls “three dimensional paintings”. These clear acrylic boxes contain cinematic miniature scenes that play out varying social, political and cultural scenarios referencing contemporary life, and where it is left up to the spectator to comprehend.
In the title of Reiss’s exhibition: Unrepentant & Unapologetic Flowers, he addresses the notion of painting flowers as a disenfranchised subject. In one of the several personal statements about his work posted throughout the show, Reiss notes that the art world is generally dismissive of flowers as subject matter. It also goes along with the notion of beauty as a simple, trivial, superficial and irrelevant subject in art. Seeing Reiss’s exhibition proves this wrong – that flowers (and beauty itself) grab us humans at a deep unconscious level, one of the spirit – and there is nothing more important to contemporary society than to lift the human spirit and soul – and Reiss’s paintings do exactly that.
“We are honored to host Roland Reiss who has played an influential role in the L.A. and Southern California art scene. In Roland Reiss: Unrepentant & Unapologetic Flowers. Reiss subverts what some may consider a trite subject–still life floral painting—and instead takes us on a journey that ultimately becomes a visual experience with the frequency of color, and how it links to one’s own consciousness to that of the artist’s. That’s some wild stuff!” comments Maria Mingalone, Oceanside Museum of Art’s Executive Director.
For more information visit: https://oma-online.org/reiss/