Having closed the tall gate from the street, I’m wandering down the path to artist Victoria Reichelt’s home studio when I stop to check my watch. At this time of year it’s always possible – having hopped across the border into Queensland from Byron Bay – that I might be a whole hour early. Almost at the door, I hear a noisy bark from Oscar, Reichelt’s loveable grey poodle. Oscar then appears before the artist does, determined to get in first with his excited welcome.
Over a strong cup of coffee we have a quick chat before getting down to business. Today’s the kind of day when Queensland is living up to its mantra of ‘beautiful one day, perfect the next’. The sunshine outside is tempting but Reichelt works a full five-day week and doesn’t allow herself too much time for shooting the breeze.
This year marks a decade since Reichelt’s first solo show. Apart from a short stint in Brisbane and some time spent in France, she’s invariably painted from home, but it’s only recently she’s had to jostle for studio space with her partner Damien O’Mara, an emerging artist. Books belonging to both artists are piled in bookshelves in every room, while bubble-wrapped photographs and others on which they’re working lie flat on a table. With O’Mara firmly ensconced in his day job, Reichelt and Oscar have the place to themselves. It’s only one of them, however, that gets set to relax in his favourite spot on the couch.
Reichelt generally works in one room dedicated as a studio. On the day of my visit she’s almost finished painting for her latest exhibition. Titled Paper Trails, Reichelt’s work is showing at This Is No Fantasy (the joint venture of Melbourne galleries Dianne Tanzer Gallery + Projects and Helen Gory Galerie) alongside that of sculptural installation artist, Carly Fischer. Last year Reichelt collaborated on a show with Sydney-based sculptor, Alex Seton. In both cases work was created separately, but Reichelt enjoys working with her contemporaries and finds the conversation with fellow artists stimulating. She adds that these kind of joint projects often inspire an extension in her work that may not have otherwise come about.
Reichelt’s palette for the day is black, white and numerous shades of grey. She’s working on two images – Deluge 1 and Deluge 2 – both of which are ‘white on white’ oil paintings on linen. Deluge 1 is drying whilst Deluge 2 awaits her on the easel. Several photographs of the image she’s working from are taped to the top of the canvas. The artist works from her own photographs, which are digitally altered to achieve her desired composition. Most images for Paper Trails were shot in State libraries and archives, with the exception of the Deluge images, which were created at home. There’s a lot of preparation before brush ever hits the canvas.
Each Deluge painting depicts a stack of standard white A4 sheets of paper against a white background. Interestingly, the genesis for the idea was originally drawn from Reichelt’s fascination with the elegant installations of Australian ceramicist, Gwyn Hanssen Pigott. Using dozens of different sized brushes, down to one so small it has just a few tiny hairs, Reichelt admits painting white on white is one of the most challenging projects she’s ever undertaken. It’s probably one she wouldn’t have attempted without her years of experience. Each painting requires several weeks to complete and Reichelt often listens to podcasts while she’s painting. She has a long list of favourites, that includes “anything” from Slate magazine, Serial (from the people at This American Life), Longform, NPR (America), some from Monocle magazine and the best of New Yorker magazine and Radio National.
As if Reichelt’s hyperreal detail isn’t difficult enough to achieve, in Deluge 1 and Deluge 2 she’s upped the ante in technical skill by introducing a mysterious pool of water that subtly emerges from beneath each paper stack. On closer inspection, small ripples in the lower layers of the paper bundle are evidence of water’s destructive consequences. The subversive presence of water can also be found in the remaining works in Paper Trails. Stacked neatly around the walls of the studio they depict traditional library spaces and archived material, continuing Reichelt’s focus on the transition toward an increasingly digital world. Why water? Reichelt isn’t completely sure, but perhaps the choice of water as a menacing physical force isn’t so surprising when Queensland is still reeling from the devastating effects of the 2011 Brisbane floods, and potential ramifications of global climate change are constantly debated in the media.
As I suggest I’d better be heading home to leave her finish painting, Oscar’s still on the couch not looking too worried about, well, anything really. While we’ve been chatting he’s stepped it down a notch from relax to unlax and I’m thinking he’d look right at home in Byron with me.
Paper Trails, Tue to Fri 10am-5pm, Sat 12-5pm until 8 November 2014, Dianne Tanzer Gallery + Projects, 108 – 110 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy; (03) 9416 3956, diannetanzergallery.net.au