James Rieck: Lyons Wier Gallery - New York
James Rieck HIGH QUALITY ASSET, 2004,
oil on canvas
In his NY solo debut, photorealist painter
James Rieck presents nine paintings based primarily on 1960s-era fashion
imagery. Source photographs drawn from middle-class catalog advertisements
and corporate annual reports are cropped to edit out the models' faces,
then painted at larger-than-life scale. The viewer's focus is drawn to
clothing and accessories: conservative suits, once-fashionable skirts,
and dated hair styles. By careful editing, Rieck manages to subvert the
original intent of the commercial images, revealing instead a threatening
landscape of constrictive social roles and repressed desire.
One large painting portrays a woman's mink coat, its arms spread wide
so the dark, furry surface looms like a gigantic tarantula. No part of
the (presumably female) model is actually visible, so the implied wearer
of the coat appears instead to have been consumed by it, a fate which
might in a moment also befall the viewer. In another painting, the knees
of a schoolgirl poke out from beneath a red skirt with a strategically
placed pleat, simultaneously signifying hidden reward and possible snare.
Men are not exempted from this treacherous world of cause-and-consequence.
A mural-sized painting called THE SHAREHOLDERS features a trio of dark,
rigidly-posed suits whose wearers, though clearly successful by some measure,
are just as clearly imprisoned within their occupational uniforms. A smaller
painting focuses on the emasculating baldness of, as the title informs
us, the FOUNDING MEMBER. Both images imply that in the business world
(stereotyped as white, male, and corporate), a successful social position
will levy a heavy individual price.
Rieck's previous body of work, also based on 1960s fashion photographs,
featured women's wear as seen from a kid's -eye view. His new paintings
are more democratic, including male, female, older, and younger subjects.
They are also full of color, whereas the previous paintings were monochrome.
What has stayed the same is the way in which the subjects are entrapped
by the symbols of their white-bread, middle-class-American success.
As a portrayer of social insects inhabiting a narrowly-constructed terrain
based on social class, Rieck might be seen as following the trail blazed
by John Currin. The most obvious difference between the two is stylistic:
Rieck is a photorealist, Currin is not; Rieck appropriates his imagery
ready-made from consumer sources, Currin does not. More significantly,
Rieck's paintings have a very different tone. The characters who populate
his world are colder, less optimistic, and more cynical than Currin's.
They come off alternatively as tragic victims of repressed individuality
or as menacing social manipulators themselves. A better analogy is to
Warhol's portrayal of Marilyn Monroe, the ultimate example of an individual
who falls victim to a social persona which they willingly created in pursuit
of success. However, Rieck's use of banal and dated imagery counteracts
a direct association to the subject of mortality. Rather than dying, Rieck's
characters seem to live on in a timeless nostalgia, forever trapped in
cages they bought for themselves.
New York, New York 2004