Zenfolio | Erik ReeL | ErikReeLInterviewKAQB

An Interview with Erik ReeL

22 January 2013

KAQB: Could you talk about what you are doing?


ER: If we make marks, and they start to be interpreted, and they start taking on tied-down meanings, there is a problem.


Schopenhauer made a comment on this in his work The World as Will and Idea.  There he observes that if we see a painting, and are able to make a map, a one-to-one map between iconography in the image and an explicit reading of a meaning for each form, then that not only makes it easy to read the image, it also weakens the art in a very fundamental way. Schopenhauer claims that visual art has to viscerally go beyond the intellect and get into the realm of Will. Will does not work within strictly mapped ideas. It is much subtler, it is much more powerful. It is a more fundamental reality. Good art needs to work in that reality, the reality of the will, not confine itself to the the realm of the Idea.


[This also corresponds to a long-known observation made by serious collectors and curators: that if visual art is too easily read, it does not sustain interest over time. There has to be a certain immutability, mystery, emotional impact, and multiplicity of meanings within the image for it to sustain itself over repeated viewings and time. Schopenhauer would say that this sustained interest is due to its connection to the realm of Will and that these qualities are symptomatic of that connection.]


So I realized as I was getting to something closer to what I wanted that these marks actually carried a lot of emotional content. Looking at them, the eye becomes more sensitive to color, and there is this sort of spatial moving in and out and all.


What was I doing?  As I was eliminating all these references, the work actually got richer. I realized what I was doing was tapping into what Schopenhauer called the realm of Will rather than the realm of Idea. And that the work got substantially richer. In a certain sense, this stops the intellect of someone wanting to make little maps to what’s referenced. Those are gone. In a certain sense, what’s left is nothing. Or another way of saying it is that it’s a process of looking for a more spiritual  point of reference in the content, or a subtler form of art—or what someone might call subtle, instead of spiritual. But it means something is there beyond the material world.


I was already looking for an art that was more of a critique of materialism.


We’re wrapped up in this materialistic, one-dimensional nature of things. The physical world.  Well, that’s a problem, when you’re painting. One of my problems with other painting is that a lot of painting just celebrates the physical, material world.


We’re a materialistic culture. We want to own things.  So we want to paint pictures of things. We want to have things. People are going for sensate sculpture and thing-ness. We want that thing-ness because we’re very materialistic.  We’re like the Romans, we want huge monuments and military power, huge wealth, huge amounts of material stuff, and we are empty on any subtler levels.


I wanted to clean out those [materialistic references], that surface. That’s the problem with reference as well. That’s the other problem: with reference, you start painting those tables and chairs and recognizable things, it just hooks into and keeps you on the material plane.


It just reinforces the crass materialism of American culture. American art has been reinforcing the crass materialism of American culture. And I wanted to get to the subtler level that is a critique of that.


KAQB: Wait, Can you explain the depth in your work?  Because when you look at your work there is a depth to your work.  Does that have anything to do with what you are saying?


ER:  Yea, Do you mean visual depth, or the depth of meaning or experience?


KAQB: Both.


ER: Now [when you eliminate painting objects] you’re not in a literal space. What happens, these pre-marks, they, ah, we start reading them as defining the space, defining emotion. Now we’re in a subtler realm. Subtler things start to be triggered. The gateway to subtler realms, even certain nuances, is through feelings. But we’re in a non-literal space. So your mind just goes into this space. You’re just totally in a non-material space. There’s no material references, but the mind still creates space. It’s a very mental, psychological, emotional space and depth. 


KAQB: Elsewhere you’ve mentioned something called kenosis. What’s that about?


ER: Kenosis is a process of, originally a spiritual process of, in a monk emptying themselves out of everything of the world. They empty themselves out of the world and they reach this state of complete emptiness which the Gnostics called kenosis. Then the word was revived for aesthetic purposes by the great English art critic, Paul Berger, when he was talking about Modern art and certain modern masters’ process of abstraction, that what they were operating with was this process of kenosis, where they empty out meanings through a process of kenosis to get to this particular style of work. [Berger’s idea is different from the original meaning.* He uses it as a critique, the Theologians used it as a process].  They [the monks] actually empty out. Exactly what I’m talking about.  As the monk empties out, what they expect in that emptiness, is for, in their terms , God to come in.  The Gnostics tried to avoid the word God, it was always Gnosis, which means knowledge. So knowledge entered in.


So actually as you empty out of all this superficiality and interest in worldly things, you get this sense of emptiness and then everything else enters in. That’s where it connects to rasa:  Yogananda used the word rasa for what you get when he emptied everything out in meditation. What comes in is rasa [sublime taste], you become incredibly immersed in the richness of everything. You actually achieve superconsciousness.


The mystics in the Christian tradition and the Gnostic traditions were allied with the platonic, neo-Platonic Greek and they merged. The Hindu traditions and those traditions are trying to explain a very similar thing. And it is the same state I am trying to get people aware of in my painting. And that I am actually in when I am painting most of the time.


That’s why it takes me awhile to get into it, why it’s hard to get started, because I do get into a certain kenotic state where I cannot understand language while I am painting these things. People say:” where does this come from?”  It sounds like, it feels like, it comes from somewhere else. I have to get emptied out to do the paintings as well.


KAQB: umHmmmm.



*Paul Berger also talked about the role of landscape painting in the history of subjugating and destroying the landscape.  Landscape painting is really about possession. Material possession.