An Interview with John Reuss

If you look at art long enough it becomes this blurry collection of colors that don’t illicit feeling anymore than the design of a computer programs interface. Both take a lot of talent and appreciation for visuals but it just gets lost in my mind and forgotten. When I got to John’s work it combined so many aspects of various design and art styles that it refresh button. So I had to get in touch with him and figure out why he wanted to put a glitch in my routine thought patterns.
Your painting work as a feel of abstract but with the emotion and overall aesthetics of impressionism. Do you take away a lot from those historic art forms?

Even though I am self-taught as an artist, I’ve actually read and studied quite a bit on art history & technique – and even painted in just about any -ism and style out there. I think my style is a fusion of various influences and things I tried out at an early age – some more deliberate and conscious than others. I like to take natural elements and then mix them with abstractions – so to that extend, there are elements of abstract art in my work. I think there’s also a lot of symbolism and surreal elements, and while you might see the aesthetic of impressionism, I’m actually very inspired by expressionism. I see my work as an eclectic mix based on history and contemporary elements – just as my technique is a blend of classical painting, contemporary techniques and experiments.

 Are the subjects in your paintings based off of real people or is it a fully constructed entity?

Both. Some are constructed subjects, I like to think of them “universal” beings or maybe more representations of certain emotions & experiences rather than a specific person, some are meant to be me and a few are actually based on friends and family. I’ve even done a few commissioned portraits.

 The hue to most of that series is overall pretty much the same. An almost human blue usually with shades of red, then some other more varietal color choices. Is there a reason for the consistency?

I think my use of color comes very much in phases. I don’t really plan for a specific palette as such, but when looking back I notice that I often will chose a certain color scheme over a period of time. The way I work is pretty intuitive and I think how I feel and what is going on in my life in general influences what colors I use. As for human subjects I tend to go for the more extreme variety of skin tone. I think there’s a lot of symbolism in the way I interpret skin tone – it’s not that I think that is how people look on the outside, but more a representation of their inner life. You’ll probably never find a healthy and perfect pink skin tone in my work, but more the colors of injury, disease, death etc. or even completely unnatural colors.

 In the paintings that use a more differential palette there is what seems to me a more design aspect (basic shapes, straight lines, detailed environments), was that something that you had worked on at the same time as the others or did it get added as the work progressed? Was there any particular reason for such a dramatic change in the series?

The interest in geometric shapes and an actual “room” or environment is something fairly new. I used to do completely isolated figures on a very empty background – sometimes a single monochrome color. A while back I began to take more interest in the way my figures interacted with the environment around them – I think it’s a development of my overall theme of contrasts. I tend to make the figures very soft and organic and even to some extent translucent, while the rest is reduced to very basic shapes with sharp lines and areas of solid color. Some of it takes inspiration from a few experiences I’ve had a while back, especially in the space between sleep and awakeness my mind would suddenly have difficulties defining the boundaries of my own physical being in relation to the surrounding objects, I’d feel as if my “self” was this fluid entity that would spill out over and even inhabit the objects in the room – that all were reduced to these angular sharply defined planes.
Convergence of multiple people tends to be a prevalent theme in a portion of your work, is there a symbolic meaning to this. Some idea that you’re trying to convey or that you are pulling from? Or does mixing people together just look awesome?
Mixing people does look awesome! But really, the idea is that it is not multiple people, but actually the same person at the same moment of time. I see it kind of as a snapshot of one persons inner life in one split second. The idea is that while we are all “solid” and composed on the outside, there’s really a fluid multitude of thoughts, emotions and cognitive processes going on the inside. So I’m trying to convey that inner turbulence.
Most of your pieces or at least a large amount feature solitary figures, and even the ones that contain more than one subject give off a feeling of abandonment. Is there a story given to the subjects that elicits such a strong emotion? If you don’t mind me asking do you have a history or story with those feelings that you are attempting to illustrate?
I think you are pretty spot on – even if my figures are together they seem to be alone or sort of not quite in contact with the other figures in the same painting. And as I stated in the previous answer, they are actually quite often the SAME person even if there are like 3 individual characters in the painting.
The theme of abandonment, loneliness or alienation comes to some extend from my own emotional life. I’m pretty sure any psychiatrist would have  a party with my brain! Personally I’ve had feelings of being an alien to the world or at least a stranger to other people and their actions as long as I can remember. Even as a kid I’d seek out solitude and distance myself from other kids. Growing up I always felt like I did not belong, like I was some sort of life form different to the human beings around me. I really like to observe other people, but interaction is not really something I’m particularly fond of. I think the way my persons sometimes come out with animal-like or downright space alien features are due to this view of the world.

If you had to match your work to other art forms kind of like an analogy with audio and video works (movies or music) do you feel would be comparable or compatible with your paintings?

As for movies I’d have to go for works by David Lynch – I just love how he plays with the concept of identity, time and the dark sides of the mind and I think there are certain similarities to my work. That, and a (music)video by Chris Cunningham!
As for music, I don’t know, maybe something intricate and glitchy like Aphex Twin. Maybe something by Swans or TOOL .. I actually always listen to music when I paint and it goes from dark, intricate, rock to a variety of electronica and everything in between really. Mainstream music and radio is however something I avoid listening to.
I’d love to do more cover art and maybe even music videos or other collaborations with musicians. Music is a big source of inspiration for me and I think a cross-field collaboration would be awesome
How did the destroy this project come about? Have you and Jacob worked together prior to it? How long have you known each other
Well it’s kind of a strange story. We actually don’t know each other that well!
We both got accepted at a major juried show back in 2010 – we both visited the exhibition but never met or talked. Fast forward to late 2012, I suddenly get a mail from Jacob suggestion some form of collaboration. It was only when I checked out his work I realized who he was and what kind of work he did (and the fact that I really liked his work back in 2010 too). More important I think we both felt there was some sort of kinship in our subject matter.
So I visited Jacob for what is our only face-to-face meeting so far. We more or less laid out the rules of our collaboration there and adjusted as we slowly got started and well.. here we are!
As we both like to work in solitude (and we live in separate towns) we quickly agreed to making pieces that could be mailed back and forth between us. The rules are few and simple: The format is A3, any medium is allowed, any form of destruction, rearranging, cutting, burning, whatever, is allowed. Who ever worked on the piece last, can’t call it finished, you have to send it back. When you receive a piece you can either work on it and let it go through another cycle or stop it by calling it done!
While I believe you have some college work, it is largely influenced and mixed with your painting, while Jacobs style seems to be more based on external images and from what I tell a Baldessari type style. How do you manage to mix two very different styles? Will there be showings of the projects once there is a sufficient amount?
I am somewhat inspired by collage in my work – and even more so after we began the project. Jacob has worked extensively with photography, digital manipulation and physical altercation of photos. The way we work couldn’t be more different – which is part of what attracted me to do this collaboration. Jacob has some talents and practices that I envy and would like to learn more about – and I think he feels somewhat the same the other way round.
As we started the project we had no idea where it would lead us. Now that we have several pieces circulating and even a few finished ones, I think we are both very fascinated by the fact that there seems to be some sort of common “language” emerging.
It is very interesting to observe how a piece sort of “becomes itself” in just a few rounds. We did not plan how to mix our styles – but rather developed a common style “by doing”and let it find its course. The project is all about taking what is in front of you (the piece sent by the other one) and treat it like it is your own and just make it work no matter what it takes.
As far as showing, we have nothing concrete planned yet – but we have discussed to make this into an exhibition once we have a larger quantity of finished work, maybe within a year or so. We are currently looking for suitable galleries that would be interested in this as an exhibition project – and we would probably include some sort of documentation on the transition of the individual pieces, so people can see what phases the finished piece went through.
Even if we never show the finished pieces, on a personal level the project has been amazing so far – very inspirational, it takes you right out of our comfort zone and forces you to see your own work in a whole new light.
Speaking of showings, do you have anything coming up in the near future? Are there any series’s or projects that you have in development?
I have a solo coming up this fall at a renowned gallery here in Denmark, Galleri NB. They’ve been around for 25 years and have spaces both on the mainland (Jutland) and in Copenhagen. I’ll be showing a solo in their project space called NBeX – a space they reserve for cutting edge, upcoming young art. So that is pretty much what I am concentrating on right now – trying to crank out some really awesome work for them. I do have some offers to consider for 2014, but not something concrete enough for me to start talking about yet.
Where have you shown in the past?
My latest show was february 2013 at the Hillyer Art Space in Washington DC – which is also my first real solo outside of Denmark. I have had shows at various galleries here in Denmark, but I’d really like to get more shows abroad. I took part in a juried show in 2009 winning the juries 1. price and got admitted at one of the 4 state recognized juried shows here in Denmark in 2010 – which really gives you sort of a “stamp of approval” and it has meant a lot as far as interest from galleries and buyers.
Do you have in sculpting or 3D experience? I ask because the images seem almost molded instead of drawn/painted.
I don’t have any experience with sculpting – but it’s an old dream of mine to do some sculptural work. So who knows, it might happen. I’d also love to get into some sort of video work maybe.
I often try to think in a spacial manner when painting and the way I work with light/shadow is probably pretty similar to sculpting – you work with shapes and volume (or the illusion thereof). Only difference is the fact that you are trying to make 2D seem like 3D.
More of John’s work can be found at:
-Cameron Patton

One response to “An Interview with John Reuss

  1. Pingback: Well, why don’t you meet artist John Reuss? | well why don't you…?·

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