Matthew Reichertz sits squeezed behind a table in a windowed nook, a sandwich and salad in front of him. A tiny lamp lights the surface of the rickety table. Gottingen Street foot and car traffic flows by in the angled panes of glass behind him.
He looks a little hemmed in, a contrast to the imaginative flights and expansive scope he takes in his paintings, not to mention the financial lift he’s gotten as one of two runners-up in this year’s RBC Painting Competition—Reichertz receives $15,000 and all the freedom the sum implies.
“I’m going to get a studio outside of the house that’s a little bit bigger and where I can be a little messier,” he says, after a bite of a sandwich.
Some artists don’t require studio space for their practice. Reichertz’s approach to painting does.
“For the last five or six years, I’ve been concentrating on large bodies of work that are inter-dependent,” he says. “They’re single paintings but they work together as a group. A series takes a long time to complete. So although I strive for a kind of open-endedness in the work, it really is about something very particular.”
Last year, he produced 68 diverse paintings to explore a little-known but sad cultural moment in Halifax from 1979: how neglect by airline employees led to damage to paintings in a touring show called Eight Contemporary Romanian Painters. Called Romanian Debacle, the series filled the Ballroom Gallery at the Khyber.
“When I finished Romanian Debacle, I thought ‘OK, I have to look for the next story.’ But it seemed like it might become a bit of a pat way of doing things.” Rather than confine himself in a tangle of questions about what to do next, Reichertz cut a new swath. “I just started working to see what would happen,” he says.
Thus Tiny Town was born. These paintings can stand alone, but are linked by creative process and a new concept.
Reichertz explains. “I’ll go through the day, and let’s say… I witness a disturbing encounter on the street or more subtle things. I go home and let it percolate in my mind a bit. Then I start looking at images on the internet. I use Google image search. I punch in words that I think have to do with what I think of that event.”
Perhaps you see some people fighting after a late-night bar crowd lets out. Left uneasy by seeing violence explode right in front of you, you go home and search for images related to “brawl.” Here’s what you’d get: bench-clearing brawls in baseball, hockey scraps, cops pounding on dope dealers, animated characters, historical drawings, women and politicians fighting and on and on.
These different brawls become the raw images for Reichertz’s paintings. “What I’m after is… some kind of feeling of equivalence,” he says. “Then all of a sudden will feel like the experience I originally had.”
Reichertz seems pre-occupied with our relationship to the earth via gravity—bodies in flight above or falling to earth. “Something in flight is quite beautiful, like sports images,” he says.“But very soon things are going to change.”
The artist realizes this imagery may stem from his own bike wipeout that left him with a broken collarbone and a sense that time had stopped as he hovered above the ground. In the painting showing in the RBC touring exhibition, on until October 16 at Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery, a figure in the background plummets to earth. Not only does it demarcate the horizon line (an example of Reichertz’s deliberate reference to “pictorial” painting tradition), it presents a horrible scene frozen in time. You’re further drawn in by the two figures Reichertz paints in. They’re looking at the figure, so you don’t see the expressions on their faces. You’re left with your own feelings. An overturned car and an uprooted hydro pole further unnerve you. What the hell is happening here?
Asking that question attests to Reichertz’s power as a painter, considering you can watch newscast after newscast of death and destruction, and still fall asleep in front of the tube.
The RBC painting competition winners are showing at Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery until October 16.