Joe Reihsen’s paintings are characterized by optical illusions, vigorous and determined overlays of polymers that often exceed every possible limit of the surface. Over the years he has constructed a body of work that is both materially determined and metaphorically romantic, a body of work that bears the tension of a physical universe that is highly permeated with digital realities.
It’s indeed artists who mix the human gesture with the machine, and whose obsessions are as much those
of printing geeks as of traditional painters, like Christopher Wool and Albert Oehlen for instance, that are his
major reference points. With its crisp flat finishes, and trompe-l’oeil depictions of impasto and brushstrokes,
Reihsen creates panels that are entrenched in the historical language of abstract painting, while also exerting
a clear relationship to contemporary digital culture. Like the ubiquitous digital screen, all of Reihsen’s panels
contain a profound sense of physical depth while remaining almost entirely flat.
Reihsen belongs to a generation of painters that naturally integrated digital tools in their art while still in high school in the 1990ies. And until today, he will use computer terms to describe his process, he will “copy and paste, distort, warp and rotate”, only to end up “scaling up” or “scaling down”. In the end though, it is artists like Eva Hesse and Clyfford Still, both geniuses of texture and surface, seemingly at odds with flat screens and pixels, who really gain his admiration. The twin elements of digital maven and manual laborer are what define Reihsen both as a person and as an artist. As put by Ed Schad, “the most urgent question of his painting is wether these two worlds ultimately have to be at odds or wether he can find a vocabulary that dissolves the split entirely.” (Modern Painters, June 2014)