We went to interview Thomas Reinhardt at his home in the Tuscan countryside near Cortona. The walls of the house and his studio greeted us with a dazzling display of richly-coloured collages.
Bill Dodd: After a highly successful career as a garden designer in the Middle East, Europe and in the USA, what led you to plunge into the art of collage creation?
Thomas Reinhardt: Creativity runs like a thread through my life. It started already in my childhood: in school my paintings and drawings were hung up in the classroom because the art teacher felt they were unique. Over many years I worked with colored pencil, magic marker and acquatec, and more than 35 years ago I started doing collages (for example ‘A River Runs Through It’). The creativity did not only manifest itself on paper. In the 70’s I began creating gardens, which I am continuing to this day. It was on the Mount of Olives that I built my first one - a desert garden with mosaic walls. Art critiques who know my collages and have seen photographs of the desert garden feel that the details of the mosaic walls built more than 35 years ago have a strong similarity to the collages I am creating today. And gardens themselves, after all, are three-dimensional collages.
BD: Your first show, held last year in the municipal gallery of Cortona, Italy, was called ‘Revolution in Collage’. The astonishing variety and energy of your collages made the whole exhibition a kind of explosion. How do you enable such energy? Tell us about the state of mind you work in, how you set about producing a collage.
TR: By and large I work with an empty mind. I do not follow any trend, any style, any color theories and I do not try to fulfill an idea or concept. I have found that creating ideas and trying to fulfill them is a form of resistance towards emptiness. If I have an idea during waking hours and cannot execute it immediately I let it go. This is because if an idea is stored in the memory and is put into action only at a later stage it becomes exclusive and an authority, so there is no more openness to the new. The authority of the idea resists what is occurring at the very moment, and so there is dissipation of energy. Only when idea and execution are one is there no dissipation of energy. As one can see in some collages there is a learning process going on during the creative flow. This is evident within one and the same picture and from one picture to the next. While I am working—whether on paper or in designing a garden—I am observing my relationship to the ongoing work: the colors, objects, paper and the spacing etc. and the relationship of one to the other. This is of highest importance. I never make any fundamental corrections on the basis of a given conditioning, for example, by a preconceived idea. I live with my ‘mistakes’, and let the work evolve according to its own logic. It seems to be a natural flow of creation; it is like a river. In essence it is not born out of conflict. There is no struggle whatsoever.
There is lots of humor and astonishment over what comes about. In fact I do not identify with the artwork created, I do not set out to ‘express myself’. — Music is my second nature; in music it is as if I hear colors, shapes, structure, space. Making collages for me is like making music. With abstraction there is no determining structure. It is only the essence of various forms, shapes, structures and their relationship to one another and to me that dictate the flow (the dance). Emotion and intellect are fused together. When I am drawing the forms and the shapes it is going on without any effort. The drawing and the whole creation of a collage or of a garden is like the flight of the swallow. It is without resistance and without opinion. While drawing with pencil it is very rare that I should do erasing of any kind to correct a shape. The positive cut-outs (the shapes I had drawn out and cut out) and also the negatives (the “leftovers”) are used in my collages; nothing is discarded.
BD: Most of your collages have titles. Could you tell us when and how these usually suggest themselves to you?
TR:The title presents itself at a later stage. Sometimes I get hints for a title from the reaction of viewers to the work. Several times it has happened that collages were created which reflected on an incident or event that occurred in the so-called future of that time. This happened for example before the earthquake and the resulting Tsunami and the Fukushima accident in Japan in March of 2011. I had been working since November of 2010 on collages that had a strong sensation of Japan. At the time I felt very uncomfortable about the composition of these pieces and I did not understand how they had come about. Afterwards when I heard in the news what was happening in Japan, it all fell into place. Many of my collages convey premonitions.
BD: What kind of overall visual effect do you aim for, and what kind of impact do you seek to produce in your viewers?
TR: There is the understanding not to be manipulated by the opinion of others and my own. I do not seek to impress. Moreover I do not wish to influence the viewer in any direction. While creating I am not thinking. I am just concentrating on colors and shapes and the surface I am working on and their relationship to one another and to myself. The available space, the colors, the shapes and the textures of papers fascinate me (in creating gardens I am fascinated by the color, shape, texture and structure of plants and all other elements used in landscape design, e.g. boulders, water, walls, paths, sculptured soil, vacant spaces; all of this is simulating and using nature and blending together with it).
Unlike in nature the outlines in collages are never fuzzy; they are clear cut. In collages there is a strong contrast between the object and nothingness. Both stand in a dynamic relationship to one another. Depth of vision can be created in a collage without the traditional means of painting. But the illusion of depth is not my main concern. After having created a piece I do not judge the result in any way. It is important in life to expose oneself to one’s mistakes without judgment and to live with one’s mistakes without the conflict of right or wrong and to remain with the facts. This is important to me also in gardening. I am not the kind of garden designer that continuously transplants or throws out plants —which would be a cruel action; and so through the years the act of creation itself has become a disciplined action. You learn to respond to the conditions and the demands of each part of the garden—for instance, where there is shade, the different kinds of soil—you learn to respect the characteristics and spirit of the place.
BD: Your collages are a cornucopia of intricate cut-outs and curlicues made from a great variety of patterned, textured paper. They show extraordinary colour combinations and extreme fluidity played off against highly formal patterns. With such an explosion of plenty, how do you know when to stop? Do you have a particular idea of balance, completeness?
TR: As a two and a half year old child I enjoyed dancing to classical music. The feeling of space and time which a dancer has and which is manifested through music and body, is the sensation prevalent when I create a picture. Therefore the pictures have fluidity. It is as if I was creating music through color, shape and space. When the music finishes, and when the river dissipates in the ocean, that is the end. It stops on its own.
BD: Though an ancient technique, collage is usually taken to date from early 20th century modernists like Braque, Picasso, Matisse and many others. Have you been influenced by any particular collage artists? Do you see yourself as part of any particular tradition in modern art?
TR: I am always fascinated by the work of others, but I have no preferences. Throughout my life I have studied my relationship to literature, music, paintings, sculpture, architecture, technical skills and in general all kinds of structure. Science is my passion. I am fascinated by chess; it is the essence of thinking. I expose myself continuously to art, music, architecture, poetry and science. I study structure and destruction—in other words living and dying—which take place in nature, in myself and in the human being in general and in life as a whole. It is an ongoing learning process without accomplishment, without result and without authority. — Taking walks in nature is my ‘Bread and Butter’. A favorite activity is to observe my relationship to other people who have certain skills—to watch a carpenter, a mason, an electrician or a gardener during work.
BD: What are your future projects? Do you have any exhibitions coming up?
TR: As of now I do not have any exhibitions coming up. I plan to work with teenage students in England. I think that education is the highest form of art and creativity.
Images © Thomas Reinhardt