ERIC RHEIN: BIOGRAPHY & STATEMENT
The artist Eric Rhein, a native of New York’s Hudson Valley, spent his childhood summers in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky. This experience instilled in him a love of nature and mountain lore, both ongoing influences on his work. As an adult, Rhein’s appreciation of nature extended to New York’s Fire Island, where the water’s edge merges with grass-blanketed dunes and mystical pine forests. Inspired by the human form within this environment, Rhein began his series of refined and passionate wire drawings that blend male nudes with animal and plant life, creating hybrid figures of provocative power.
Rhein’s communion with the inhabitants of the woods—human & animal, natural & metaphysical—has helped shape his own personal iconography. This has manifested as a series of portraits and self-portraits, often with mythological qualities. Some are drawn with wire, while others transmute male nudes through assemblages of photography, found objects, jewelry, and bronze & silver castings of leaves & twigs. These assemblages are often photographed and reinterpreted into limited addition prints.
A variety of media is used throughout Rhein’s body of work. Wire drawings, sculptures, constructions, and photography explore the delicate & powerful connections among humans, nature, and the spiritual world. The realm of science has also been commented on in Rhein’s artistic vision through the appropriation of such objects as pages from antique botanical and medical journals.
The artist’s sculptural constructions of wire, paper, monofilament, and appropriated objects, such as sentimental bits of jewelry, discarded metal, bottle caps, gears, and crystals are simultaneously about absence and presence, the material and the ephemeral. These sculptures range from figurative, biomorphic, and architectonic forms, to the abstract.
Rhein explains: “What matters to me is the interconnectedness, sympathetic relationships, and sensual commonalities of all things in the natural world. Images of nature are used as a metaphor for the cycles of human experience: birth, life, death, and regeneration.”
Eric Rhein is known for his AIDS memorial artwork Leaves, and its AIDS-education companion, The Leaf Project. Leaves, conceived in 1996 to pay tribute to departed friends who died of complications from AIDS, is a series of wire leaf “portraits” that symbolically reflect the essence of each individual. As observed by noted art historian & AIDS activist Robert Atkins, “Art has always played a role in coming to terms with collective tragedy, and the role of the artist has frequently been to bear witness. Surely an art of memory like Eric Rhein’s can help harmonize our views by suggesting that honoring the past is one way to live more fully in the present.”
In 1980, the School of Visual Arts in New York City offered Rhein a full scholarship for his undergraduate degree, and he has lived in Manhattan ever since. He holds an MFA from the School of Visual Arts, also given under a full scholarship.
Eric Rhein’s work has been widely exhibited in both national and international museums and exhibition spaces, including: Sculpture Center; White Columns; Artists Space; Art in General; Lincoln Center, Morris Museum, New Jersey; Portland Museum of Art, Oregon; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; The New Art Gallery Walsall, Walsall, England; Pera Museum, Istanbul; American Embassy, Malta; Ambassadorial Residence, Cameroon; Leslie-Lohman Gallery, New York; Jonathan Edwards College, Yale University; and the Smithsonian Institution’s Traveling Exhibition for the Millennium.
Reviews of Eric Rhein’s artwork have appeared in Art in America, Interview, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Village Voice, Dutch Elle, and Vanity Fair. Grants and fellowships include: the Pollock/Krasner Foundation, the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation, and The MacDowell Colony.
Rhein’s artwork merges sexuality & beauty, and speaks to mortality and it’s transcendence. New York Times critic, Holland Cotter, writes that in Rhein’s work “the combination of art and craft, delicacy and resiliency, feminine and masculine, is exquisitely wrought and is, as it should be, seductive but disturbing.”