Culture, religion and geography have shaped our understanding of beauty over the centuries and within the canon of art history women have been objectified by male artists. Johnathan Reiner, a self-taught printmaker and neurolgist seeks to readdress the historical and contemporary representation of female beauty in his latest series of screen prints.
Using a variety of source material, which includes vintage erotica, he confronts western notions of beauty by incorporating non-western, tribal aspects that empower his female subjects. Culture Trip’s Art & Design Editor Freire Barnes spoke with Reiner about using appropriated imagery and how studying neurology inspires his work.
Your work incorporates a variety of found images. Why do you use appropriated imagery?
It probably stems from a deep desire to be able to manipulate reality and mould it into something that fulfills a dark wish of mine. Cheap psychology aside though, I have always been attracted to juxtapositions and the surreal. By using found material and imagery and mashing it up with supposedly unrelated visual references, colors and patterns I am able to re-create the appropriated imagery and give it a second life, a reincarnation and a whole different meaning.
Your work challenges socially constructed concepts, including the notion of beauty. How do you think these have changed over the years?
I am far from being a historian or an anthropologist. The notion of beauty in art history has transformed throughout the centuries and has covered all shapes and forms of what is possibly human. What I am trying to challenge in my work is our modern-day western world cliché of what is perceived as beautiful and to confront the banality and superficiality of it. To uncover how stenciled it has become and how we fail to see the depth of the individual that is on display. I refer to the natural world, take inspiration from tribal practices and worship of nature and draw inspiration from traditional cultural attire spanning from Africa to the Far East.
You’re a self taught printmaker. Why is screen printing your medium of choice?
I love so many things about screen printing. The old-school analogue production stages of it, the physicality of it, the emulsion, the inks and the paper. I love the registration errors which emphasize the hand made aspect of screen printing and I love the tension that exists as you mount each layer on top of the other to form your final image. Furthermore, I love the reproducibility of screen printing. It is in many ways a socialist art form and I enjoy making art work that can belong to several people at the same time. I also love the fact that it has for years been perceived as an underdog within the art world and that it has gained so much respect in the past few decades.
You’re currently training as a neurologist, how does this inspire or influence your work?
My medical career is in many ways my ticket to interacting with the world. Medicine keeps me engaging with what it means to be human. By practicing medicine I am able to create and vice versa. Each engages with a different aspect of my personality and in practicing the two I am able to keep my sanity and mental health intact. In many ways I have left the two very much isolated from each other and have not yet found the way to collaborate the two. But the process in both is in many ways similar. Medicine requires creativity and the investigative approach to creating art is similar to the of establishing a diagnosis.