Stephanie Reisch paints with a nod to pre­his­tory. Indis­tinct an­i­mal forms res­onate through her ab­stract painterly com­po­si­tions, which reach into a realm of higher con­scious­ness, in­stinct and the past. Hid­den within the painted sur­faces can be the an­i­mals them­selves – a piece of bone or tooth or claw, ground into the paint, car­ry­ing the po­tency of its own his­tory.


My work is cer­tainly in­flu­enced by shamanic pre­cepts and some of my con­cep­tual en­quiry is in­formed by that ecol­ogy of ideas, but I would not call it shamanistic in and of it­self. My prac­tice does seem to share a lot of com­mon ground with shaman­ism and it’s helped give my work con­text, di­rec­tion and clar­ity. Shamans gain in­sight from the knowl­edge em­bed­ded in na­ture, so it is not too dis­sim­i­lar to what I do when work­ing with an­i­mal-de­rived ma­te­ri­als.

What im­por­tance do an­i­mals have in your prac­tice?

The an­i­mal op­er­ates in a world of in­stinct and on a plane of pure sen­sa­tion; hu­mans op­er­ate within a less holis­tic realm, which is sat­u­rated with the men­tal noise that ac­com­pa­nies higher-level con­scious­ness. My work at­tempts to speak to the deeper part of our aware­ness and to elicit re­sponses from our an­i­mal selves. I reg­u­larly go back to an­i­mals in my prac­tice to help in­voke sen­si­bil­i­ties that by­pass the con­scious­ness of the ob­server.

How does the phys­i­cal­ity of an­i­mal ma­te­ri­als in­form the twodi­men­sional com­po­si­tion of your paint­ings?

The paint­ings al­ways re­tain some ref­er­ence to the an­i­mal sub­ject, how­ever the process is less about im­age-mak­ing and more fo­cused on ac­ti­vat­ing the sur­face through the lay­er­ing and in­ter­ac­tion of sym­bolic ma­te­ri­als. I of­ten let the nat­u­ral motil­ity of the paint guide me around

the can­vas and this leads to in­ter­est­ing com­po­si­tional ten­sions as for­mal el­e­ments con­verge with ges­tu­ral mark-mak­ing.

How is the act of grind­ing an­i­mal bones sig­nif­i­cant to the works?

My fas­ci­na­tion for bone and dead an­i­mal tis­sue plays an im­por­tant role in my prac­tice. Deriv­ing pig­ments from na­ture for the pur­pose of paint­ing has al­ways in­volved grind­ing down the ma­te­rial to some ex­tent so that it can be car­ried by the medium. I’ve never thought of paint as a purely tech­ni­cal sub­stance but rather as hav­ing its own sig­nif­i­cance and po­tency, so when I work with an an­i­mal frag­ment, whether it is a piece of bone, a tooth or a claw, I’m work­ing more with the his­tory con­tained within it as op­posed to the ob­ject it­self. That idea in it­self, work­ing with the un­seen, ap­peals to me a lot.

How does this con­nect you to the works?

I’m al­ways try­ing to in­ter­pret those sub­tle ex­changes be­tween ma­te­ri­al­ity and life. When an an­i­mal ceases to op­er­ate as an ob­ject or a con­di­tion, it can be ex­pe­ri­enced as a type of in­ten­sity, which is then recorded in the paint. Through these con­nec­tions and ob­ser­va­tions I’m ex­plor­ing an al­ter­na­tive way of see­ing that doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily oc­cur through the eyes.

What are the lessons you de­rive from the cre­ative pro­cesses of the first, pre­his­toric artists, who painted on cave walls?

Their in­ten­tions were very dif­fer­ent. I imag­ine them trav­el­ling down long, dark and dan­ger­ous tun­nels to mark walls by fire­light. They’d use earth pig­ments, blood, saliva and an­i­mal fat to bring these hu­man and an­i­mal forms into the phys­i­cal world. The im­ages would be guided by the mor­phol­ogy of the cave sur­face and ac­com­pa­nied by an an­i­mal tooth or claw em­bed­ded along­side. The in­ter­play of light and shadow from the torches would have given the im­ages di­men­sion, re­sult­ing in that mag­i­cal, float­ing qual­ity I as­pire to cre­ate in my own work. The pos­si­bil­ity that these artists worked in com­plete dark­ness is even more in­trigu­ing as it rejects the idea that art should be looked at. My work at times feels like an ex­ten­sion of what these early im­age-mak­ers were try­ing to do, by in­ter­nal­is­ing some of those ideas. I like to weave mean­ing from things that did ex­ist, do ex­ist and will ex­ist.

How do you balance con­trol with free­dom in your paint­ing?

It is mostly an in­tu­itive process but there is a con­sis­tent method­ol­ogy at play too. I be­gin by lay­ing down ges­tu­ral marks with oil sticks and dry brush­work and then build di­men­sion­al­ity over time. Af­ter that I work be­tween form­ing and un­form­ing the vis­ual el­e­ments, so there are a lot of lay­ers of his­tory be­ing recorded, some­thing which isn’t al­ways ob­vi­ous in the fi­nal piece. It’s a con­tin­ual process of draw­ing out shapes and push­ing them back through a type of cre­ative en­tropy. I oc­ca­sion­ally think of my process as re­verse ar­chae­ol­ogy.

What chal­lenges do you find paint­ing large-scale works?

An im­por­tant part of my process in­volves ro­tat­ing the can­vas ev­ery so of­ten in or­der to dis­lodge the vis­ual el­e­ments, which helps keep them in mo­tion and within the bounds of the frame. This be­comes more dif­fi­cult the larger I work, as the scale in­flu­ences the length of each in­ter­val be­tween turns. I also find the longer I wait be­tween ro­ta­tions the more static the work be­comes so it’s im­por­tant I don’t linger too long. The square for­mat seems to work best for me, as the ro­ta­tions re­main rel­a­tively bal­anced, so break­ing away from that has been par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing. There is also the chal­lenge of get­ting lost in sin­gle mo­ments on the can­vas and los­ing hours.

What’s next?

I will be show­ing again with my gallery, Lin­ton & Kay, later next year. I also have a re­search project, Wa­ter & Stone, open­ing at Heath­cote Mu­seum & Gallery (in Melville, WA) in March that ex­plores the sibylline nav­i­ga­tions of the jellyfish in re­la­tion to the Swan River. It’s an ex­per­i­ment with new ma­te­ri­als and ideas through ex­panded draw­ing and touches on themes that in­clude myth, rit­ual and un­char­tered worlds.

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