Empathy Toward Inner Struggles

Rainer Andreesen

MM Fine Art in Southampton welcomes a virtual exhibition that dives into the human condition. Based out of New York City and Sag Harbor, Canadian born artist Rainer Andreesen presents his solo show, “Headspace,” June 20 through July 5, where his work goes beyond the physical likeness of a subject in order to capture the spirit within.

Drawing since age five, admiring the works of Rembrandt and John Singer Sargent, the series was ignited last summer when his husband, Victor Garber, was on the precipice of a life-threatening illness. Upon fearful back-and-forths to the hospital, Andreesen took notice of the faces of passersby on the streets and city subways, curious about the internal struggles of individuals.

“Headspace” was born out of an empathetic understanding that what we see on the outside is a mere fraction what makes up a person. Each portrait in the series, notable for its contrasts, represents a pivotal relationship in Andreesen’s life, from his husband to the melodies of Mick Flannery.

Describe your first interaction with studio owner, Peter Marcelle.

For me, it was fate that we met that day. My husband Victor and I were living in Southampton at the time and on a walk to visit some friends around the corner from the gallery, which I had never noticed. I was impressed by the hanging work. I recognized Bo Bartlett, Daniel Sprick, and an Andrew Wyeth painting, and was impressed by the curation of the show.

On the visit with our friends who knew and respected the gallery, they said I should show the owner some of my work. I told them it was not near the level of paintings I saw though the window and would be too shy to approach the matter with the gallery. One of the friends we were visiting is a therapist, and immediately went into work mode and convinced me to show Peter and Catherine [McCormick] my work. Victor showed Peter some photos on his iPhone of my paintings and our relationship was born in that moment.

What other life events occurred that incited your dive into the human condition?

The subject of the human condition has been a driving force in my work for many years. It has to be as a portrait painter, but the catalyst was listing to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” and later watching the making of that album. Roger Waters’ words and explanation of them resonated deeply with me and took me on a journey that carries though every aspect of my work and life.

An awareness of empathy, compassion, and lessons learned from the past have been a driving force to hopefully move me forward.

What was it like painting one of the most important relationships of all, your husband Victor?

Painting Victor is like doing a self-portrait for me. There is a freedom that somehow allows me to experiment, be more expressive, and not worry so much about capturing the likeness, but more importantly to capture the spirit of him. I try to do that with all my work, but vanity is mysteriously lifted in the process, when I paint Victor or myself.

Rainer Andreesen’s Debra

You mention the significance of singer Mick Flannery in your artist statement. Care to share other influences?

The relationship with Mick Flannery was certainly a pivotal moment for me with painting this series of portraits, as his music guided me through every aspect from the start, to finishing each of these subjects.

Patricia Wettig and Ken Olin are two subjects I placed in one painting for the series. They have played a pivotal role in my life and work. They are great friends, and a huge inspiration in our lives. Patricia is an incredible actress and writer. She wrote a play called “F2M” that I saw a few years ago in the Catskills. It dropped me to my knees with its powerful message and brilliant introspection of the human condition. I think about that play constantly. Ken is a great actor and director whose work I also admire and am influenced by.

They have been married for 38 years and the dynamic of their love and understanding for one another is unmatched in my eyes. I have painted them independently in the past and I am always inspired when we meet. I know I will have a good painting day after a visit with the two of them.

These images are captivating. After the eyes, what is the first thing you are drawn to in each subject?

I am mostly drawn to the feeling I get with a subject. It’s hard to explain, but I always see things as light and dark, value and contrast and the way it moves me. There is a lot of trial and error, but when it moves me to the core, it must be painted. I always want to capture a truthful moment in time with a subject, and allow the viewer to make their own interpretation of what they see in the shadows and light.

Tell us about that day on the subway/streets of NYC, when you first were inspired to do this series.

That day was a very moving experience for me. I always try to be empathetic as I pass anyone on the street, but coming from the hospital, filled with the doctors, nurses, visitors, patients, and seeing them on the way to the subway, I felt an elevated, overwhelming sense of not really knowing how each person was feeling or what they might be going through, or them of me. I felt lost in a world of unknowing, and not really sure of how to cope, but compassion was a strong tool to guide me though.

Would you say people are generally aware or unaware of their emotional expressions?

From my personal experience, I find that people sometimes misinterpret my expressions. What some people perceive in me as confidence or judgment when I’m walking down the street, or entering a room, is really my chronic insecurity. I am just trying to keep it together. It’s funny, but the people I find most difficult to paint or photograph are actors that are not personal friends. When I ask them to be themselves, they seem to want to show me who they think I want them to be.

If you were to add in one more portrait, someone who is influencing you right now during the pandemic, who would it be?

There were so many people I wanted to be a part of this show, but due to the pandemic I was not able to paint. I would have loved the opportunity to paint the frontline workers risking their lives to help others, or people who are making a huge difference and impacting our lives in this crazy troubling time. Barack [Obama] would be at the top of my list as the consistent voice of reason and hope. One can only dream.

MM Fine Art is located at 4 N. Main Street in Southampton. Stay up to date on opening plans at www.mmfineart.com.

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