Interview with Naomi Reis
Naomi Reis is currently in residence at Opossum House, an annual residency event hosted by Eugene-based artist Julia Oldham. This interview was conducted by Dorothy Siemens, a Eugene-based artist, curator, and writer who has spent the last few years co-curating Space Space in Tokyo, Japan.
Sitting in her studio-in-residence, deep in conversation about otherness within the art community, Naomi Reis said something that resonated within in me: “Sometimes it is important to be able to exert power from an unexpected place.” Like her body of work, Reis is quiet and contemplative at first glance, but has a strength that lies just beneath the surface. She notices small things: I am searching for my phone charger, and she offers me hers. She comments on the height of her chair, the tallest in the room, remarking on how uncomfortable it is to look down on everyone. But she also speaks from the heart about the failings of the hierarchies of the art world, and the problems outsider artists still face. Despite any initial awkwardness, we soon feel comfortable in each other’s presence. This is thanks, in part, to artist and Opossum House owner, Julia Oldham’s dog Saga, who – with no regard to the odd formality of conducting interviews – excitedly greets us all in turn, effectively relieving the pressure of making good first impressions.
There’s something poetic about the way Reis’s landscapes exist within themselves. Softly, they entice the viewer in. Draping greens beg to be defined, but elude description by existing just beyond any specific place or time. Our eyes move about, looking for a place to rest, but never find it – there is no horizon line, no figures to guide us to an emotional response, no respite for the search to make meaning of her worlds. She constructs these landscapes from images of botanical gardens, which appeal to her as spaces that seem to exist outside of reality. Inside them there is no weather, no threat of danger, nothing but plants existing at the hands of the people who care for them. But Reis’s work takes these spaces, and carefully reconstructs them, weaving in human experience and creating worlds that are at once self-contained, and expand behind the canvas forever.
“I guess that I’ve always felt outside of things,” Reis explains, touching on the complex relationship she has with her Japanese heritage. Reis, who was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and American father, has been aware of the complexities of constructing identity from a young age. Growing up in a limbo between two cultures expedited her search for a place to exist in harmony with the world at large. As the conversation continues, I get the feeling that she occupied those in between spaces not with anger or contempt, but with contemplation – creating and nurturing an identity that needed no outside affirmation. For her, and many other artists, otherness has been a catalyst for her creativity, and a means by which to build a community of supportive colleagues.
The resulting work is a testament to the strength that emerges from a body of work developed through the process of personal exploration, rather than a pure inquiry of color and form or an oblique statement on the world. There is something radical about the softness it creates. Something revolutionary about the sentimentality – and Reis has found a way to capture that impeccably. Her nature-scapes act as a blank slate on which we can project ourselves, and once enveloped into these worlds we are free to experience the work on a personal level, to take from it whatever emotional response it evokes.
For me, I stare into the layered foliage and contemplate all the experiences that I have layered upon each other to become the person I am today, much as Naomi has carefully crafted these worlds – allowing them to come into themselves naturally, until a completed world has emerged.
Naomi will be showing her newest works at an open studio event on Friday, June 10th, from 7 to 10 p.m.
Naomi Reis Open Studio
Friday, June 10th
at Opossum House
2825 Spring Blvd
Eugene, OR, 97403
For more event info visit: http://cargocollective.com/opossumhouse/Events