Interview With Artist Lucas Reiner by John Wisniewski Artlyst Exclusive

Lucas Reiner

1) When did you begin drawing and painting, Lucas?

My mother was an artist and so drawing and painting were always encouraged when I was young. It wasn’t until I was 20 years old that I began painting and drawing regularly. Martin Lubner was my first teacher and introduced me to a wide range of materials. We started with contour drawing, which I found incredibly frustrating, but great for slowing down the eye.

2) Are there any artists that inspire your work?

Many. Giotto’s cycle of St Francis Of Assisi, Piero Della Francesca, Vermeer. More recently Morandi, Rothko, Guston. I’m a big fan of the drawings of James Castle since seeing them in 1996 at the Puck bldg.

All really inspiring artwork exists sui generis.  The inspiration when I see, or think about something that I’ve seen can often take months or years before it really registers in the mind. These inspirations become like a kind of family and form a terrain that you can end up inhabiting, they become ‘your team’. Of course it is reassuring to think of your work as part of a ‘team’, but this is a real trap when you’re trying to work and find yourself with too many ‘voices’ in your studio. Chuck Close supposedly once said; “inspiration is for amateurs”.

Ultimately, my deepest inspiration comes from nature.

3) Why is art so important in our lives?

Art is important because it wakes us from our stupor and increases our capacity to feel. By confusing us for long enough to break our habitual ways of thinking, works of art ask us to question what we are seeing and allow us to see the world in a new way. Art has the unique ability to make visible and real the ineffable and invisible. 

4) How do you know when one of your works of art is completed?

It’s interesting that this is one of the most common questions asked of painters. There are lofty and practical answers. Completing a work of art is a kind of death, and so maybe the curiosity is connected to a curiosity about dying – the ultimate completion. If I continue to be agitated by a painting I feel compelled to work on it more. However, you can’t always trust this feeling of agitation to be a negative, because sometimes the painting is revealing something new which can make you feel uncomfortable, something you’re not yet ready to accept. I’ve had paintings that I thought were complete that I’ve reworked 10 years later. Sometimes I can finish something in one shot, but it is rare. I tend to not accept most of what I do on principal. One tries to formulate a theory of when something is complete. For instance, you can think a painting might be complete when you don’t recognize anything of yourself in it. That ethic might not apply to another painting – which only feels complete when you feel you’re looking in a mirror. Maybe this is why painters go mad. Though there is a feeling of inevitability to complete works.

5) Are there any films or books that may inspire you?

I always feel inspired when I see Andrei Rubelov – especially the Bell sequence, which is my favorite piece of film ever made. It shows the total commitment and unknowing leap of faith required to make something that rings true. Not knowing if it will work while you are doing it is the drama.

8 ½ by Fellini, Au Hazard Balthazar by Bresson, Some films by Bunuel, Rohmer, Goddard, Kubrick. //There are so many inspiring films and books, just as there are so many inspiring paintings. Wouldn’t it be nice if the great films were screened all year long – the way you can just walk into the Met and see Vermeer’s Study of a Young Woman? // Balzac is someone I’ve had an almost mystical relationship with for many years. Quest of the Absolute, Black Sheep, Wrong Side of Paris. Kafka’s Trial and Castle have stayed with me and are part of me. Recently, more and more poetry inspires. Sometimes one line can stay with me for the week, floating in and out of memory. 

6) How does art communicate to us?

The danger of thinking about art as a form of communication is that it can turn it into sub-species of language, which can constrain and limit the art. Perhaps it’s an idea inherited from conceptual art, and we now live with that to some degree.

So often I will start making something with one intention in mind, only to change direction, sometimes radically upon discovering that the original idea is not working. In the end, there may be no resemblance to what I originally set out to do. This would be a very inaccurate form of communication, (or not inaccurate enough?) However, ultimately something meaningful is contained or posited in the work and something new is revealed; a new energy. This energy can be useful in many ways, and the viewer is free to derive from it what they will, and do with it what they want, and in this way become an active participant in the exchange. That is a kind of communing or communication, but it would be impossible to codify this. I don’t think art has anything to do with language as we think of it.

7) What is most important to you about your art, Lucas?


 8) What was your best moment as an artist, Lucas

Being able to do this is a privilege. All moments, but I would like to think that the best moment is ahead of me. The ‘best moment’ is when you go beyond yourself and something happens in the studio that exceeds what you previously thought was possible. This can be the way an image congeals or a new form appears that seems miraculous, like looking in a mirror and not seeing yourself there. Instead, you see something you don’t at first recognize, as if seeing for the first time. It’s also great when someone who you respect is complimentary about your work, or when you see your work in an environment that re-enforces what you intended in the work.

 9) Do you feel that spectators really understand art, understand what they are viewing?

Many spectators think they understand something if they see the language they have read about or heard about a work of art verified in the work. There is a high premium placed on understanding art at the moment. This is often the way art is taught and thought about and discussed. This is one kind of understanding, but I wonder how deep it really goes. Art has to be experienced and the real understanding of a work lives or dies with the viewer’s experience. I’m not sure how there can be any understanding without an actual experience of the work first. 

10) Any advice for artists just beginning a career?

Although it will be presented to you that you should think of what you do as a career, try not to think of your life in the arts as a career. Lawyers have careers. A lawyer might go from clerk to lawyer to judge, or professor. But if you’re an artist you’re not really going anywhere, except hopefully further and deeper with your work. Your work and your career happen in your studio, a wise man once said, or wherever you make your work. If you’re lucky, somebody like a friend will recognize it when you make a breakthrough. That’s like getting a promotion of sorts. If you’re lucky enough that a curator or gallery recognizes it, then you may get another sort of promotion. If you want to have a career in the traditional sense, my advice would be to do something else. Acclimate yourself to living outside of the conventions of what is expected of you, of what other people might want from you, or for you. That way you will be able to hear what you yourself are thinking and make progress in your own direction. Otherwise, you’ll just be walking around in someone else’s shoes. 

Lucas Reiner  is a painter who has exhibited widely. He attended  Parsons School of Design. Lucas’s father is Carl Reiner, the actor, author and director, and his mother, Estelle, a painter and a singer. Lucas was born in Los Angeles and grew up in the film world—his brother, Rob Reiner is also a director, his sister Annie Reiner a poet- and studied in New York and Paris. Lucas Reiner’s paintings offer “narrative” and “symbol” and are at the same time “nonrepresentional.” Just as the figurative paintings of Giorgio Morandi, whom he admires, are not about merely depicting vessels, so Sean Scully’s definitive abstract works have narrative structures when they evoke associations of figure and landscape, of window and mirror, or of religious forms and themes such as altar or resurrection.