News Column

All things must pass: Gail Rieke

June 6, 2014

By Michael Abatemarco, The Santa Fe New Mexican

June 06--When you enter the home and studio of Gail Rieke you enter a space that evokes a sense of far-off places. Rieke, a collage and assemblage installation artist, teacher, and world traveler, has amassed a collection of oddities that in many cases would not be out of place in a natural history museum. They include cactus spines, bamboo paper clips, a stingray tail, shells, decorative gourds, and weathered stones. There are found papers, handmade papers, Black Cat firecrackers, fragments of mirrored glass, woven baskets, antique suitcases filled with travel journals, and other objects too numerous to list. One look at the collages, assemblages, and photographs in Ephemerist, an exhibit of Rieke's work on view at Patina Gallery, transports the viewer to a world of delicate and fleeting beauty. Ephemerist is the first of three in a series of exhibitions at Patina called Drawn to the Wall. Rieke's show is followed in July by Shape Shifter, an exhibit of abstract paintings by David Solomon, and in October by Measure of Days, paintings by Daniel Kosharek. What the three local artists have in common is that none have current gallery representation, though all are established artists. Rieke, who with her husband, painter Zachariah Rieke, transformed their home studio into a site-specific installation, prefers it this way. "I'm not a production artist," she told Pasatiempo. "With teaching and traveling and the work developing over a long period of time, I really like the luxury of having the work appear when it's ready to appear. Zach and I showed for many years at various galleries. Most significantly here, we showed with Linda Durham for 13 years."

Every summer on the first weekend in August, the Riekes host a three-day open studio. "It allows a lot of people to come that haven't seen the work in a while. It's a long time, so we can really talk to people. This time it's Zach's turn. We alternate years. He gets to take over the whole house. We've been showing in this environment for 21 years now. A lot of artists are not at all interested in interacting with people. They just want to go into the studio and be left alone. But a lot of what I do has so much involvement with whole groups of people that I encounter. The work is very much about these interactions, both with place and with people."

The objects Rieke collects are arranged in drawers in the studio. They remain there until she is inspired to find a use for them. A piece might sit incomplete, waiting for that final item to come into her possession and fall into place within a composition. "The collages can be about a particular experience or they can be formal configurations of materials wedded together by considerations of color, texture, composition, formal dynamics. Some things are engendered by a particular vision. It's not a concept necessarily, and it's not necessarily an idea. It's more a little slide projector in my head, just imagery coming through. The work is not conceptually driven, but there are some fairly obvious underlying themes that are continuous through the work." One such theme accounts for the exhibition title, which can be understood in a number of ways. "The name of the show is Ephemerist," Rieke said. "A lot of the work is about time and the cognizance of time being precious and fleeting. It's also about processes that happen to objects over time." The word ephemera also suggests collectible items and memorabilia, particularly printed materials. Printed papers and raw fabrics form the core of works such as Happenstance and Summer Letter, both included in the show.

One aspect of working with materials that are biodegradable, such as plant fibers, leaves, and seed pods -- the kinds of organic substances Rieke often integrates into her compositions -- is their limited life spans. The materials can discolor and degrade and are subject to infestations. Some measures are taken to protect pieces behind glass that filters ultraviolet light. But the transitory nature of the works is part of Rieke's intention in creating them. "It's kind of a delicate balance because on one hand I would like to present things that are in the process of change but also to have as many considerations of archivability as possible. If I wanted something to last forever and ever, I'd carve in stone."

Rieke's photographs, printed on aluminum, deal with abstraction and reflection. Images cast off the rippling surfaces of bodies of water are distorted and fragmented. An affinity exists between the image and the aluminum substrate on which it is printed, because they both catch the light. The aluminum surface adds a vibrant, shimmering quality to the photographs. Rieke's Patina exhibit includes a digital slide show of her meticulously crafted travel journals and photographs made abroad. It is on these excursions that Rieke finds some of the materials for her collages and assemblage pieces. "A lot of things are from garage sales in Santa Fe. A lot of things are from gifts from people. They come to the studio and say, 'I have something that I've had for 20 years and I don't know what to do with it and you will. I'll leave it on your doorstep tomorrow.' All kinds of things like that happen.

"I'm getting ready to teach a workshop in Mexico City, and one of them is called The Artist as Traveler. The first thing I talk about is the Age of Exploration and people going to far-flung places, bringing things back. When Zach and I started making these environments -- we started in 1968 I would say -- I really didn't know about cabinets of curiosity or anything of that nature. I just started doing what felt endemic to my brain and fingers. Then I found that there was actually this historical precedent, which was the foundation of our museum system: natural history, fine art, ethnographic art."


--Gail Rieke: Ephemerist

--Reception 5 p.m. Friday, June 6; exhibit through June 29

--Patina Gallery, 131 W. Palace Ave., 505-986-3432


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Source: Santa Fe New Mexican, The (NM)

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