During one of her presentations Renée Reichenbach quoted from a letter written by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke to his wife: “Objects of art are always the result of experiencing something until the very end… The further one goes, the more individual, the more personal and unique the experience becomes, and eventually the resulting object of art is the necessary, non-suppressible, and possibly final expression of this uniqueness.”. It is not surprising that Renée Reichenbach has found and written down this statement, because it expresses precisely how she sees herself as an artist, since she is someone who pursues her goals single-mindedly. Renée Reichenbach creates objects of art previously unknown to us. They are characterised by a great ease. They possess dignity and they touch us. It is astonishing to see how the art of Renée Reichenbach has changed over the years while at the same time remaining true to itself. She has developed her themes with remarkable consistency. There are landscapes and gardens, boats, temples and shrines, artefacts as well as animals. In a long and ongoing process, Renée Reichenbach has created a completely unique world of her own – unmistakable as far as themes and design are concerned and realised by means of her own particular working technique through which form and decoration merge inseparably and complement each other.
Renée Reichenbach creates her objects from slabs which she assembles and combines with moulded parts. She usually applies a thin layer of grey clay, which acts as a surface, on to a slab of rolled-out fire-clay. Then she works in countless, extremely thin shreds of coloured porcelain or multicoloured clays, as in a piece of inlay art. Subsequently, what appear on the large slabs are shapes, in most cases triangles or squares, and blots with straight or picturesquely frayed edges. Sharp, black incised lines create an effect of rhythm that is full of suspense. These lines are prominent yet nuanced. In the past, the artist used to prefer many different contrasting shades of colour, whereas in the last few years she has confined herself to only a few subdued colours in order to give a calmer general impression to her objects. She often combines red-brown with black shades, light-yellow with grey or white with light-grey and ochre. Dark-grey, almost black areas repeatedly create strong contrasts. In some parts, a transparent or white glaze accentuates the colours with blue or green patches shining up here and there. With the help of a knife or a needle she cuts into the composition and uses a wire netting to make delicate impressions. Imprints or remnants of nails with their rough edges appear like the strong lines of an etching. The objects are fascinating because of the fine nuances of their colours and the artificial structure of their surfaces. The complexity in colour and the haptic quality of her objects has continuously been improved, almost to perfection. This is very impressive and there is nothing like it. It seems that this complexity is based on the artist’s own life experience. She sees beauty in the inconspicuous. She distrusts the smooth and the perfect. The beauty of the countless details is touching: the blurred glaze, the ground-off paint, the bold sweep of a form, the glaze drawn across two parts to create a connection between the two different areas. All these details show the artist’s high standards, her ambition to reach perfection and to create richness and liveliness in her objects.
The artist cuts segments out of these elaborately treated clay slabs and uses them to create her objects. In order to make landscapes and gardens, which have developed from pedestal-like angular bowls and trays, she starts out from a rectangular surface. Inspired by its texture Renée Reichenbach decides on what to add: superstructures, incisions, steps, depressions, walls and partitions (curved or straight) into which she breaks openings that lead into a dark interior. Thus the artist has developed a unique ceramic technique where the three-dimensional form and the colouring of the surface interlock in such a way that they keep influencing each other. This results in new structures and proportions. It is an attempt to subordinate colours and shapes to a shared and, if possible, natural rhythm. This composition process is only complete when individual parts add up to a harmonious whole, when the artist is satisfied, when the object has indeed acquired something compelling and unique as Rilke wrote in the above-quoted letter to his wife.
The deserted landscapes and gardens form a major group of works that show the artist’s profound knowledge of architecture. Originally intended to be presented horizontally, the items may also be looked at from a vertical angle, just like abstract paintings. Balanced in colour and shape, they are very convincing in their formal consistency. The gardens, whose inner walls protect the lower-level interior, evoke associations of Italian-style gardens, squares or terraces with walls and stairs but also of Aztec temple ruins or excavation sites. The landscapes, which look like settlements or ruins, represent a contrast to the gardens. They are plateaus en miniature, protected and isolated from the outside world because they are located on a higher level. The highly nuanced colourfulness of the gardens and landscapes create a very special atmosphere. The combination of yellow, white and grey shades seems relaxed and cheerful, whereas the range of colours between dark-red and black creates considerable tension. One could imagine the following scene: the sun beams down blazing hot onto a barren landscape whose yellow is interrupted here and there by occasional grey and black shadows. One can sense the drama, the explosiveness of a tension, which may be released at any moment. People have retreated into their cooler homes in order to protect themselves, not only from the heat but also from the events to come. In contrast, the black and red landscapes and gardens appear downright peaceful. One can imagine, it is getting dark with occasional blue wisps still flashing up in the red and grey dusk. Similarly conflicting feelings may be caused by a number of openings here and there. It does not matter whether they are protecting or uncomfortable, they increase the tension one way or another. The landscapes convey a complexity that goes far beyond what is described here. If one gets involved with them, one might feel as if one can move around in them. They can be experienced time and again. These landscapes seem to be intricately built stage sets where human destiny may be fulfilled in all its facets. These landscapes are far from being deserted because they may be the scenery of fictitious events and as such reflect our feelings. They are the inner landscapes of the artist which we may choose to adopt.
This particular skill to work deliberately with a tension that is caused by an ambiguity of associations is a characteristic feature of the artist’s boats as well. These include watercrafts of all sorts: slim dugouts and barges as well as pompous ships, some of them being slender and streamlined and others broad and stout. Particularly, some of the larger specimens evoke a number of associations, not only with different kinds of ships made of wood or metal but also with strange-looking water creatures no-one has ever seen before, with futuristic architectural drafts or shipwrecks which give an idea of their bygone glory. There are some odd vehicles among them. Some of them look as if they can move in many different ways – not only by swimming. Renée Reichenbach creates “beings” no-one has ever seen before and gives them a life of their own. They appear both familiar and strange at the same time. Ships and boats have always been symbols for being on the move, for being in transition. People usually travel on ships for the purpose of a journey for a limited period of time. People set out to an unknown far-away place or they return home. They have not arrived yet. Ships represent the vicissitudes of life and it is not without a reason that so many stories are set on ships. Sharing a limited space with strangers for a short period of time without the possibility to escape, the hopes and desires as well as the disappointments of the travellers may suddenly be revealed. Knowing that they might never see each other again makes it possible for them to experience closeness and intimacy in an instant. The ship is one of the central symbols of our culture and thus Renée Reichenbach, who tells us about her own life’s journey with each boat she creates, opens up a wide open space of ideas and notions to play with.
Renée Reichenbach’s stay in Japan in 2008 has stimulated the development of a new theme besides landscapes and gardens, and she has devoted herself to it ever since. Japan’s ceramic tradition corresponds with her own artistic attitude. This does not so much concern Japanese ceramics itself because, with all due respect, the artist is more attracted to the ceramic traditions of other cultures, such as that of Crete, Mexico or the Neolithic Period. Parallels can rather be found in the respective working methods and the aesthetics of austerity and perfection through which exclusivity is reached with very simple means. Renée Reichenbach usually works on her objects for a long time and with careful consideration. She does not produce large quantities in rapid succession with individual pieces meeting her requirements sometimes more and sometimes less. Similar to Japanese calligraphers, she is very focused when she sets to work and whatever she begins must turn out well. This long overdue encounter with the traditional Japanese culture (which took her great effort to unearth from underneath the dominant modern culture) has provided affirmation for her own work and also inspired her to develop new themes. She owes her new group of works to recent impressions and to a limitation in working time and space. Nevertheless, it is the natural continuation of her previous oeuvre. There are sword-like artefacts made of different pieces: short and long, thick and thin, open and closed, with circular, oval, rectangular or pentagonal cross-sections. Here, the playful joy becomes evident with which Renée Reichenbach produces beautiful shapes whose elegant sweeps remind us of swords and sword ornaments, slender fish and boats, or curved Asian-style roof gables. Put side by side, they make the beholder wonder how many kinds of sweeping outlines there might possibly be. They are well-mastered, imaginative little studies in proportion through which the artist shows us effortlessly the endless possibilities of creating diversity with very simple means.
This also becomes evident when looking at her gaming pieces. They reveal (just like her artefacts) how confidently the artist has mastered the small form. Playfully, she takes up her entire repertoire of shapes and varies and combines endless possibilities. Like a sorceress, she produces variety and evokes many different associations, such as that of small buildings and industrial architecture as well as miniature gardens. Next to these, one may even discover tiny power stations, ships and writing things but also the occasional figure, or sea lions resting on rocks. Here, a sense of humour and wit show which is characteristic of the delicate artist, who for the most part creates enormous landscapes, gardens, and even tables and pillars. The liveliness of the gaming pieces is contagious. They equally evoke cheerfulness and amazement. How is it possible to produce such lovely little sweeps? These gaming pieces are in no way conventional but they are the result of Renée Reichenbach’s play with ceramics. They are treasures made with great ease and they tell of the skill, the sensitivity, the sense of form, and the imagination of their creator. Even on a small scale and with very limited space Renée Reichenbach shows what is possible for a true artist.
For some weeks now and in further development of her sweeping forms, she has been creating large, powerful horns and tusks which evoke images of excavation sites or collections of natural history. Yet again, Renée Reichenbach’s interest in prehistoric times shows. This affinity leaves scope for interpretations which go beyond what is visible. First of all one can imagine the unrestrained strength characteristic of the animals those horns and tusks belong to. One can see them in their movement and, in spite of their size, their gracefulness: bulls, rams, but also elephants and mammoths in all their splendour and with great strength, which is particularly evident in battle. This inevitably makes us wish that some of the power of those animals, which has manifested itself in their horns and tusks, may in some magical way be passed over to us.
As banal as it may sound, Renée Reichenbach creates objects which would not exist without her. Objects which radiate natural beauty and elegant dignity, which touch us and which one would miss, if they did not exist. Her objects can be compared to essences or distillates. In the course of a time-consuming work process, not only the form is concentrated but also the content and something substantial becomes visible. Renée Reichenbach is a sculptor who creates works of art out of clay, which in their complexity are comparable to stories or dramatic plays. Her objects have a natural monumentality and they evoke a wide range of moods. Like a poet, the artist tells stories and opens up a wide open space to the imagination of the beholder. This originates from a high demand of the artist to herself accompanied by a rare sensitivity. Continuity and consistency characterise the creative process of her work which distinguishes itself by an unusual artistic confidence and credibility. The continually improving treatment of form and surface over the years is the expression of a maturing process. Renée Reichenbach does not make concessions in her work. Her art has something compelling and her perseverance shows a healthy self-will. Knowing this is certainly very liberating.
translated into English by Diana Quetz