Word play | AspenTimes.com

Word play

Stewart Oksenhorn
Words often appear in the artwork of Olivia Daane Reische, whose work will be featured at an opening reception Saturday from 4 to 10 p.m. at her gallery, Liveaspenart, in Aspen Highlands Village, in conjunction with the Maroon Bells Festival of Color. (Mark Fox/The Aspen Times)

Of the handful of people who had an influence on Olivia Daane Reische’s career, it’s hard to say who had the most significant impact.It was Barbara Daane, Reische’s mother, whom the young Olivia stood next to, the two of them painting and drawing away at their easels. Reische’s father, Dewey, a banker and professor of economics, instilled in his daughter a different sensibility. But Reische’s grasp of and focus on finances would come into play in her career as an artist and gallery owner.Donald Evans, an art professor at Vanderbilt University, in Reische’s hometown of Nashville, Tenn., gave Reische the guiding philosophy that still resonates with her on a daily basis. Paul Harmon, an American painter whom Reische worked for in Paris, opened her eyes to the possibility that a living could be made through art, and how that could happen.Even Donna Summer offered a significant piece of guidance. At a fundraising event in Nashville a decade ago, when Reische was wondering whether she could pursue simultaneously her interests in both music and visual arts, Summer – whose hits include “She Works Hard for the Money” – told Reische to slow down.”She told me my talents would unfold one at a time; don’t hurry,” recalls Reische. “I thought that was great advice.”Reische eventually took Summer’s words to heart. Though she maintains musical aspirations – in this, there is the influence of her sister Whitney, whose company Mighty Isis matches songwriters with recording artists – she has settled for now into the visual arts. Over the last three years, the 36-year-old has had success as a painter, with work that ranges from landscapes to stenciled poodle images to birds and butterflies. In July, Reische opened Livaspenart, a studio/gallery at Aspen Highlands Village that is a literal stone’s throw from her townhouse.The group show Wet Paint, including works by Reische, opens at Livaspenart with an artist reception Saturday, Sept. 23, from 4 to 10 p.m. The show also includes work by Tori Mitas-Campisi and Carrie Trippe, both of whom maintain studio space in the gallery; photographs by local resident Lisa Deutsch; and jewelry by Dallas designer Delight Van Dame. The opening is part of the Maroon Bells Festival of Color, a two-day, visual arts-oriented event at Highlands that runs Saturday and Sunday, 11 to 5 p.m. each day. The third annual festival features some 20 artists creating and displaying their work, free wine tastings from Paonia’s Stone Cottage Cellars, a Kids’ Canvas and other children’s events, and music by Bryan Savage and Jimmy Ibbotson.

Art and music were integral parts of Reische’s upbringing. Her mother had been a singer, and had a ballad, “You Were Telling Me Goodbye,” that got radio play. After she got married, Barbara traded her music career for art, a passion she passed on to her younger daughter. “I drew and drew and drew, all the time,” recalls Reische. Music was also a prominent element of the landscape. Reische took piano lessons throughout her childhood at the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt, where her father taught economics. “You sang your prayers, you danced in the kitchen with mom, my grandfather played the violin,” she said.When she enrolled as an undergrad at Vanderbilt, she opted for something other than the arts. Reische majored in English, with an emphasis on 16th-century literature. But even those old passages put her in mind of art, and she squeezed a few electives from the school’s small art department into her course of study.”I always fell back on poetry and rhythm, bits of rhythmic words put together,” she said of her interest in literature. “I still put lyrics into my painting. Painting has taken charge of my career, but I still use lyrics, because my goal is to communicate something.”Two things stand out in Reische’s mind from her time in Vanderbilt’s art rooms. One was the openness of it. “Because the department was small, there were no boundaries,” she said. “The cutthroat competition, the political side, weren’t present.”Even more significant was something Donald Evans, a professor and an artist who did performance pieces and cartoon drawings, told her. “Don said, ‘You either do something as an artist, or you don’t. That’s the only decision to make,'” recalled Reische. “At any moment, you could decide to do something else – that was his point. As an artist, you make a conscious decision to paint, or make photographs. And it is like that for me.”Reische dropped out of school. But while she took courses with NOLS, the National Outdoor Leadership School, she also took art classes at Vanderbilt, for no credit. She went to Florence, Italy, to study art through a Syracuse University program; she also took lessons in classical guitar there. She spent a New Year’s holiday and a summer in Aspen, which would also have a big influence. She returned to Vanderbilt to finish her degree and take more art classes.Upon graduation, Reische’s father suggested a performing-arts graduate program. Reische instead went to Paris to work as an assistant for painter Paul Harmon. She credits Harmon with showing her the discipline and organizational skills needed to make it as an artist. “He got up and he painted and painted,” she said. “I’d see him throw things away, start over.”

Somehow, all these influences led Reische to this conclusion: that she needed to find a solitary, remote environment and make her art there. In essence, she opted to distance herself from virtually every influence she’d had, so she could find her own way, her own voice. She found the spot in Madrid – not the city in Spain, but an isolated place 40 miles from Santa Fe (and pronounced with the accent on the first syllable).”I decided the best way to make art was to build a cabin in the middle of nowhere, as far from the academic, sheltered environment at Vanderbilt, the upbringing I had in Nashville,” she said. Reische spent her time splitting wood, doing physical labor to make some money, driving the 15 off-road miles to her cabin, and fixing flat tires. “Needless to say, I didn’t get any painting done,” she says.But the isolation had its beneficial effect. “The best thing to come out of it was the prayerfulness,” she said. “All I could see was the lights of Los Alamos in the distance. You got up at sunlight and went to bed when the battery ran down. I went to an extreme.” And she came to a conclusion: “I was not going to pound the pavement, or fill out résumés. It was all with this goal to have a place to be creative. A place that would be a foundation, both physically and spiritually, from which I could be creative.”While living off the grid, even Reische’s grandmother weighed in with her two cents. The card from grandma read, “This is cute at 25. But what about 35?””And she was right,” said Reische. Reische tried out Santa Fe, where she had some gallery connections, but the vibe didn’t feel right. She tried Nederland, where she thought about singing in a band, but that vibe was really not right. So Reische returned to the Roaring Fork Valley.In Aspen, Reische’s series of jobs included the art-related (co-directing the Earthbeat Choir, working at Aspen Art Supply, teaching art classes for Challenge Aspen) and outside the arts (ski instructor, car valet, concierge at the St. Regis, adaptive assistant for Challenge Aspen). Outside of work, she married; had a daughter, Ki-Lin, now 7; moved to Redstone; divorced. All this time, she painted when she could, exhibited her work where she could, and found that her art sold.

“I found that everything I painted would sell,” said Reische, who got remarried, to Eric Reische, in July. “I’d paint two things, put them in a show, and someone would say, ‘I love that.'”After getting divorced, then winning the housing lottery for an employee unit at Highlands, Reische focused on her painting. This time, it was the influence of her daughter.”Ki-Lin made me realize how much I was running around,” she said. “I wanted my daughter to see me paint and be creative, that her mom was an artist, and not just punching in and punching out. I wanted her to see what my parents told me I could do, use my talents.”In 2003, Reische gave herself a year to make it financially as an artist. Here, she was thinking with her father’s voice in her head. “He was a governor of the Federal Reserve, which is why I have any business inclination at all,” she said. “The idea of money is very creative to me.”Reische worked her sister’s contacts in the music world to sell her art. She also showed at farmers markets, at the interior-design store Aspen Inside and at the Aspen Artists Cooperative at Highlands Village. To her surprise, she could envision a feasible art career.”I never thought it would work. Who can make a business work in a year?” she said.

Just before she started getting serious about her career, Reische painted an animal alphabet – “Z” for zebra, “A” for aardvark – using folk-style animal images, for Ki-Lin. The series not only kick-started her effort to make a career of art, but also gave her specific inspiration for subject matter in her work.Reische still paints lots of animals. Her latest series is butterflies on square blocks of panel; before that she did a big poodle series. Birds frequently fly across her canvases.Another constant in the work is words: lyrics, spiritual refrains, reminders, prayers. Often they are prominent, other times barely visible, sometimes completely buried.”It’s not only journaling. And it’s not only the line of words, because I love the way words look,” said Reische, whose studio is filled with scraps of paper covered with words. “But I think it’s also songs that I may be writing, that I have to go back to and work on.”Despite the uplifting phrases and birds and butterflies motifs, Reische’s art amounts to more than pretty pictures of animals. The work is often graphic-design heavy. Her poodle paintings used a stencil outline of a poodle, giving them an offbeat look, humorous and mysterious. In “Different Perspectives,” a work in acrylic on paper, the various objects are each seen from a slightly different angle, an indication of Reische’s experiments with composition and spatial planes. Her sense of color is dynamic; at the program in Italy, her first introduction to the competitive nature of art-making, her colors were a consistent subject of praise.And through all her art, there is an energy. “It’s messy, it’s raw,” she said. “You can have technical ability out the wazoo – but it loses its human touch.”The vitality seems to be a distillation of all the influences, pieces of advice and experiences Reische has absorbed. But if there’s one bit that seems to stand out, it’s what Professor Evans told her about what being an artist is. For Reische, it’s about making the choice each day to make art, to say something in paint and words.”They’re my way of trying to figure out why I’m here, why are you here, how can I keep that appreciation of being here,” she said. “They’re my way of grasping life. And life is pretty big.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com

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