Victoria Reichelt – under the covers of her book paintings

Victoria Reichelt – under the covers of her book paintings

Following on from a hugely successful show at the 2011 Korea International Art Fair, Queensland artist Victoria Reichelt has been shaping a stunning 2012 year of exhibitions. She may be affectionately known as the “book lady”, but definitely not in the musty librarian conjurings of the term. Quite the opposite.  Reichelt’s work is as sleek, stylish and intelligently constructed as the Vogue magazines in which it frequently appears. Impeccable as a pristinely tucked white linen sheet without a wrinkle in sight. Just like the person that might make such a bed, there is an observable obsession to perfection in Reichelt’s work.  In fact, there’s a lot more going on below the covers of Reichelt’s paintings, with a hint of the subversive breaking ground in her latest work. Art World Women recently had a chat with Victoria about her fascination with books and her upcoming exhibitions.

Victoria Reichelt, Colour Field, 2012, oil on linen, 150 x 125cm (courtesy of Jan Murphy Gallery)

AWW: You are well-recognised for the iconography you have made of books. What is it that interests you about books as a subject?

VR:  Well I started out with a more broad interest in various objects – for example, I made a series of works based on photographs of cameras. I made these works because I liked the irony that the invention of photography was once thought to be such a threat to the medium of painting, but the cameras I was painting were antiques and had themselves been made redundant, superseded by new technologies and relegated to the realm of beautiful collector’s items. So they now had new lives in these paintings all those years after they were heralded to be the objects that killed painting, but had since been forgotten themselves.

So I was kind of working my way through various different objects that I was using to discuss ideas about the world, or about painting itself, and then I landed on books and I’ve been working with them ever since. In my work I like to look at objects that are in a state of change or in danger in some way. There has been a lot of talk recently with the invention of iPads and Kindles and reading news online etc, that books and magazines may be moving in a more digital direction. That idea was a little bit unsettling to me, as I love books, magazines and libraries, so I wanted to make some works looking at that.

Victoria Reichelt, Life, July 13 1953, 2011, oil on linen, 34.5 x 45.5cm (courtesy Dianne Tanzer Gallery)

AWW: What are you working on at the moment?

VR:  I have just started work on my next exhibition with the Dianne Tanzer Gallery, which will be in January next year. It will be a continuation of my series of works of animals in libraries (using the juxtaposition of animals in libraries to consider the changing roles of these spaces).

AWW: Yes, we saw you introduce animals into your work in the inaugural Gold Award 2012 at Rockhampton Art Gallery this year.  It’s a startling incongruity that shakes a viewer out of complacent assumption about the spaces. Libraries, which used to be the great repositories of knowledge with their hushed atmosphere of research, have given way to technology and the internet. In your recent library paintings you seem to have sucked the air out of the spaces. They’ve become like sealed time capsules. Are libraries still relevant in our communities or are you suggesting that like the wildlife entering these spaces, they too are becoming extinct?

VR:  I am interested in objects that are in danger or in some sort of state of change, so each series has this idea as the overarching theme but then the work takes off on other little tangents, reflecting people’s changing interests and examining broader cultural concerns. I am also really interested in contemporary painting and what it means to be a painter today, and how the medium functions today. I don’t think that libraries are becoming extinct – I just think that their roles are changing – I think they’ll always be there, but people use them in different ways now, and I guess these paintings are mourning for what we’re losing and the changes that are occurring.

Victoria Reichelt, Colour Theory I, 2012, oil on linen, 29 x 25cm (31 x 27cm with frame) (courtesy Jan Murphy Gallery)

AWW:  Your work has been likened to that of Mondrian, such as your bookshelf series, where composition, order and abstractions of colour seem to play a key role, are you more interested in aesthetics or ideas in your art?

VR:  I think I’d have to say both equally. It’s about ideas but the language contemporary artists work with in talking about the ideas is a visual language, so the work can’t exist successfully without caring about both aspects.

AWW:  What’s it like for you painting books as your frequent subject? Do you ever want to go out on a limb and paint something completely different? If you did, what would it be?

VR:  Each series really leads to the next series. I started off painting a single book on a canvas, and then moved to a few books, then I made works that were portraits of people depicted through their bookshelves, then books falling through the air, then colour-coded bookshelves, then magazines & magazine covers and now I am working with library imagery. Each little shift reveals something slightly different about the subject and looks at the printed word from a slightly different angle. The latest works, which are paintings made of the interiors of libraries really look at our physical alienation from these objects and the changing roles of these spaces.  If you look at the works when I started painting objects and then looked at them now you can see the logical shifts – I’m not sure if I’d ever just paint something completely different just for the hell of it – each series needs to logically move on from the last.

AWW:  Your work is photo-realist in aspects of the process, yet you take this much further than simply creating an accurate depiction of your subject. What is the juncture of photography and painting in your view?

VR:  I guess it’s different for every painter who mixes the two, but personally, I am very reliant on photography and it plays a very collaborative role, with painting, in my practice. Since its invention photography has really given painting a second life. From freeing painting up from simply being a ‘documentary’ medium, to assisting with the construction of an image, to giving painters a whole new subject matter to consider, photography has really opened up many exciting new avenues for painters. Combining the two gives you the best of both worlds – mixing the fast medium of photography and the slower, more contemplative act of painting provides a great tool-set with which to consider the world.

Victoria Reichelt, Korea International Art Fair installation, 2011 (courtesy Dianne Tanzer Gallery)

AWW:  Who or what situation gave you your first big break?

VR:  Thinking back, it was really the Dianne Tanzer Gallery that gave me my first proper show – they really had faith in me and I have loved showing with them over the years.

AWW:  How do you sustain yourself as a professional artist?

VR:  I have such an invaluable collection of artist friends! We all run our ideas past each other and support each other when things are going well and not going so well. I work 9-5 most days from home on my own, so my network of artist friends is essential.

AWW:  What differences do you see between artists working in QLD and artists in other states?

VR:  Not a lot really – actually I’d say none. I have worked in a few different places over the years, including the UK and France, and the life of an artist is pretty much the same wherever you go!

Victoria Reichelt, In Style, 2011, oil on linen, 85 x 55cm (courtesy Dianne Tanzer Gallery)

AWW:  Each artist seems to have their own approach to process. Can you share with us about your materials and technique?

VR:  I use oils (Art Spectrum & Langridge) on linen. I use lots of small brushes – actually I go through a lot in the average week. I tend to paint in one or two layers, pretty thinly, and there are no short cuts. It takes a long time to complete a work.

AWW:  People are often curious about a painter’s choice of colours to work with. What is your painting palette? How do you set it up?

VR:  The first thing I do is put some black on one end of the palette and white on the other end, and then mix up the spectrum of grey in between. This is the base – I then use greys from that spectrum to make other colours. If the particular part I am painting that day has other colours, I mix up spectrums for them too – I like to have everything all mixed and ready to go at the start so that I don’t have to stop and mix colours too much when I’m painting.

AWW: If you could have anything in your studio – what would it be?

VR:  I’d ideally love a bigger studio. I paint in quite a small room and it can be a bit claustrophobic at times – that’s all I think. Just a bit more room!

Victoria Reichelt, English Fairy Tales II, 2010, oil on linen, 91 x 112cm (courtesy Dianne Tanzer Gallery)

AWW:  What do you do find most challenging as an artist?

VR:  It’s all pretty challenging! One thing I do struggle with is having to sit down for such long periods of time. I know it’s not good for you and I try to get up and move about, but when you have deadlines you can’t have too many breaks and it wreaks havoc on your spine/posture etc. I never thought I’d get injuries from sitting so still all the time!

AWW:  That is so true!  Who would expect that painting can be so physically demanding. However when you really think about it, when it comes to the quality of realism and detail an artist such as yourself applies, then it makes perfect sense. As my physio says, you are more akin to an elite athlete with the demands you place on particular muscles groups to achieve that level of control and accuracy over such extended periods of time. So apart from keeping yourself finely tuned, what is next for you?

VR:  Really preparing for my exhibition with the Dianne Tanzer Gallery in January right now. I’m at that fun beginning stage where there are no deadlines in sight! Coming up in September my exhibition Catalogue will open on September 7 at Gippsland Art Gallery, Sale, in Victoria.

You can view Victoria Reichelt’s art work at:

Three Trajectories, Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane,
QLD, Australia
7 August – 25 August 2012

Catalogue, Gippsland Art Gallery, Sale,
VIC, Australia
8 September – 4 November 2012

Dianne Tanzer Gallery, Melbourne,
VIC, Australia

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