In a quiet corner of East Hampton, artist Eddie Rehm is standing in silence in Davenport & Shapiro Fine Arts, the calm before a storm become incarnate. He surveys the space, devoid of people now but on the precipice of the explosion that is the summer season in the Hamptons.
Rehm gestures toward a large piece on the wall, considers it for a few seconds longer, then approaches. Standing with an artist like Rehm as he deconstructs and discusses his work is not unlike, one imagines, being a room where a scientist is about to unveil the secrets to cold fusion. Energy and anticipation and a hint of the unknown about to be examined.
“This one is called ‘She and I Missed the Carriage’” he starts, walking to within inches of the painting (above, right). “It’s basically self-explanatory, with a little bit of hidden meaning in the title itself. The piece has to deal with a loss. You have the man, the woman, and the child right here, kind of covered in plastic, just to show the plasticity, the façade of how a memory can be so conflicting.
“It deals with loss in general,” Rehm continues, “but also with people in a relationship throughout that time. You take that walk to the carriage, then sometimes you get on, sometimes you don’t get on—we’ve all been there a thousand times. This particular piece was pretty relevant in my own life, so I felt it needed to be in the show.”
As part of the two-artist exhibition in which he shares the space with Emanuel Buckvar, Rehm, a Long Islander, is experiencing his first summer-season show here in the Hamptons. “It will be interesting to see East Hampton in its prime time,” he admits, envisioning the waves of people descending for Memorial Day Weekend.
“What I’m really looking forward to is the response, the reaction, the subtle overhearing of a conversation about a piece, because that’s truth. Or having a conversation with a person who’s taken by the work, and they want to discuss it, they want to go in-depth, they want to go into my head, what I was thinking, what message I was trying to put across.”
As for what he’s putting across in pieces such as “Belligerence Kept Walking” and others he selected for this show, “the theme and the message is the progression of myself and what my expression is at this point,” he says, although the same sentiment holds true for everything he paints. “I always want to keep pushing further—I feel that as an artist, you die if you don’t do that. You have to keep moving, you have to keep creating.”
And then sharing those creations. Rehm’s paintings are often driven by a mixed consciousness, internal and external views on a topic comingling on the canvas. They are created in the relative solitude of the artist’s process, but the public consideration and consumption of their vision and soul-laid-bare emotion are what make a show like this one special.
Turning around, he’s now face to face with “Tie Guy,” an electrifying piece. “It’s nothing more than the socioeconomic struggles people are going through right now. You have a guy here in total disarray, he’s totally disheveled, trying to do the right thing. He’s trying to walk the straight and narrow, but you see, everything’s dark, everything’s grim, there’s a lot of hard times going on, a lot of struggles.
“I feel like this piece relates to a lot of people. Even people who haven’t felt the struggle as much as others, in some way they have felt it, in some way they do see it, they know that it’s going on. Jobs, the economy, feed the family, put food on the table, trying to keep the house, not lose it, trying to keep the car, not lose it, trying to stay on top of some kind of payments so he’s not totally behind. And I think that represents the conflict of a man just going out there and trying to provide for his family.”
As with many of his works, ”Tie Guy” is not without some plastic mixed in with the painting. Plastic is a big part of Rehm’s artwork. Layered over, under, around the canvas, it puts his colors and textures in different lights. At times it’s like looing through both sides of a mirror, reflection and transparency, the dual perspectives of how things appear depending on which side of an issue or event one is on at any given moment.
Plasticity, duality, belligerence. The words and concepts they embody are as integral to Rehm’s creations as any paints, plastic wrap or even pushpins he incorporates into his work. Frustration, contemplation, experimentation, discovery, explosions of emotional energy—his force of will comes right off the canvas, reaching out from myriad directions, it feels, at once.
“I can see the good side and the bad side of everything. I question a lot of things. And I look at both extremes. I look at the worst thing that can possibly happen and start breaking it back. Or it can be the best thing, and I try to break things down as much as I can from there. When I think about something I’m always asking, Why is it like this? Why can’t it be like that? If you only did that, it would be this. I try to incorporate that into the pieces, but also into life.
“I overanalyze a lot of things, sometimes to the point where I could drive myself crazy,” he goes on with a small, self-knowing laugh, “but the art is actually a release sometimes. When I’m painting, it’s probably the only time in my life when I feel free. I don’t feel all my problems, things I’m worried about, bills I have to pay, the struggles that I’m going through—none of that matters. The hour or four hours or eight hours I’m painting, it all goes away. You’re just totally focused and zoned into what you’re doing. That’s where I like to be.”
It’s not as if he has much choice in the matter. Rehm’s drive, determination, won’t allow any other option. “You have something to say, something you want to do, you have a thought or a memory that you want to capture, and it doesn’t matter what it takes, you’ll go the full distance, you’ll let everything in your life fall to pieces to make sure that one goal, that one dream, that one aspect happens. It’s kind of like, How far will you go to 1) Survive, 2) Just get by, or 3) Go for one thing in you life that you honestly feel that, if you push hard enough and fast enough, you can open up that door, will it happen.
“I see the ladder, I see the steps I want to go to. Every time I have a show or something like that, it makes me want to work harder, it gives me more motivation. It makes you think, Can I get this? How much farther can I go? You only have one life, so who knows? We might walk out of here and I might fall in the street and bang, that would be the end of me. But at least inside myself, for that hot second, I could be like alright, you did it.”
Opening reception Saturday, May 26, 5–8 p.m., Davenport & Shapiro Fine Arts, 37 Newtown Lane, East Hampton, NY 11931. Call 631-604-5525 for more information. Exhibition through Monday, June 18.