Eric's America

an interview with Eric Riemenschneider

by Andrew Elias

ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG SCHOLARSHIP WINNER, Eric Riemenschneider, graduated the Ringling College of Art & Design in Sarasota, has had his oil paintings exhibited in various galleries in the Fort Myers and Sarasota, and teaches art at Lexington Middle International Baccalaureate World School in South Fort Myers. He also recently moved into a new hoime with a new baby.

Eric will also have a man-man show at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center in Fort Myers’ historic downtown river district, an exhibition of large oil paintings depicting friends, family and strangers with a disarming strength and odd grace.

I emailed Eric a few questions about his work and his new show and in the midst of several life-altering situations he was nice enough to reply:

When did you first get interested in painting ?

Eric: I only recently remembered the day I was first struck by a painting. I was 10 years old and attended a show at the Akron Art Institute with some coaxing by my mother. She was always trying to introduce me to interesting things. The show was Chuck Close and Duane Hanson. Close’s paintings were the enormous, hyper-realistic portraits hung around the perimeter and Hanson’s were life-like sculptures of common people placed throughout the space. I was blown away by the scale and detail of the portraits and was literally drawn to them to inspect every little detail, down to the pores in the skin. I saw the human face as a landscape, an environment of texture and tonality. Years passed and my interest in art grew. I would draw friends, family members, even teachers in school. It wasn’t until several years after studying illustration at Ringling School of Art & Design, that I realized I had to share my own viewpoint of the human landscape; the story of one’s face and the complexity and beauty within.

What was studying at the Ringling School of Art in Sarasota like ?

It was incredible. I was able to study and learn from some of the top artists and designers of our time, in addition to being surrounded by students from all over the world, most of which attended an Art Center or Private Academy focused on art. The creativity was abundant and the competition was fierce, but there was also a sense of community. We learned as much from each other as we did our instructors. I would say the two most important things I learned from Ringling College of Art & Design are how to view my work more objectively and how to know when a piece of art is finished — and see a work through to completion.

Why is your new one-man show at the Davis Art Center called ‘America’?

This show is a modern view of the melting pot that is America – similar to Norman Rockwell, but seen by me.

There’s a kind of ‘blue collar’ feel to your work — in the subjects and the colors. The guy in your painting, ‘Humphrey’ seems like he walked out of a Steinbeck novel. Even ‘Born Again’, your portrait of Marilyn Manson, is more graphic novel than celebrity portrait. How do you explain that ?

I Love it. These are real people. This is how I paint. I don’t know how to explain it. I loved reading comics and graphic novels as a youth and I often practiced drawing those images. I also have always been a fan of cinema. The way the character in a scene can tell a story without saying a word. I think these early experiences have naturally influenced my painting style.

I will also be debuting a series of mixed-media pieces as a part of this show. It’s titled ‘America Eats’ and is a series of large, graphic images depicting people and their relationship with food.

How do you choose subjects for your paintings ?

I’ve reflected on my life and realized I have a very unique experience which is specific to me. These portraits are in a way a narrative of my life and of modern America. Many of them are friends, some of them aquaintances; all have had some impact or influence on my life.

You’ve said that you see the human face as a landscape. What do you mean by that ?

I believe I grew the most as an oil painter working outdoors, painting landscapes. Really pushing the colors around and trying to focus on capturing that moment in time. I always loved drawing people, so when I started painting people in oil, I think I naturally looked for those patterns and shapes in the portrait that reminded me of landscapes. This also becomes more apparent when working on a larger scale.

Which other artists do you admire and inspire you ?

While studying illustration at Ringling, I was inspired by the works of Andrew Wyeth, Norman Rockwell, Edward Hopper, Richard Diebenkorn, and Lucian Freud. I have also always admired Dali’s humor and attention to detail.

When did you first come to and settle in Fort Myers ?

I came to Sanibel Island quite a few years ago, fell in love with a beautiful woman and the island and never left. We’ve recently moved close to Edison’s home. What more inspiration do you need to get up every day and create something!

What is your studio like ?

Right now, I am in the process of remodeling an old home, so the studio is mostly in my head. I paint in what I believe is the exact middle of the new house. It’s not by design or choice — it’s just the only empty space right now.

You also teach art at Lexington Middle School. What do you tell your students is the most important thing about painting ?

I tell my students the most important thing about painting is: “Not to worry about messing up — you can always paint over it.” •

‘AMERICA’ will be on view at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center thru April. There will be an opening reception with the artist on April 1, from 6-11pm, during downtown Fort Myers’ monthly Art Walk. The Davis Art Center is located at 2301 First St. For more information, call 333-1933.

from the March-April 2011 issue

"These portraits are in a way
a narrative of my life
and of modern America."


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