“No new work because I’ve been workin’ on the Side Project,” writes Debbie Reichard in an e-mail about her exhibit There’s More Where This Came From at Princeton Day School’s Anne Reid Gallery through March 8. “See attached.”
I know she’s just had a baby, so I click on the attachment, hoping to see pictures of the “Side Project,” curious how an artist with a uniquely inventive vision like Ms. Reichard will present her baby in pictures.
But the attachment is a play on our expectations. It’s the postcard to There’s More Where This Came From, featuring her only work of art produced since Nona’s birth in October, block letters with shadow that project in downward repetition, then bend and come toward you. Indeed there’s plenty more where this came from.
Gallery Director Jody Erdman learned about Ms. Reichard from Princeton University Curator of Contemporary Art Kelly Baum, who also produced a baby recently. “I was looking for an inspirational artist who crosses the lines of contemporary art, reaching in interesting directions,” says Ms. Erdman.
Although Ms. Reichard wants viewers to take away their own interpretations of the work, it’s fun to hear her talk about her “personal mythology.”
The title of the show resonates with layers of meaning, as her digital print on the postcard. Trained as a ceramic artist, Ms. Reichard is accustomed to working in multiples. To demonstrate this on a surface level, she has made a ceramic plate and stamped it with block letters, “THERE IS MORE WHERE THIS CAME FROM.”
“Going deeper, it’s about creativity,” she says. “Even when you have block, there’s always more. Each person is a bottomless well of creativity.”
It also refers to the expression used when you spill, say, tea all over your keyboard: Oh well, there’s always more where that came from.
“And when the baby spits up, you know there’s always going to be another time,” she says.
Ms. Reichard has looked long and hard at a kernel of popped corn, thinking about the perpetuation of humanity, and how everyone is part of a continuum. “Popcorn speaks to the individual,” she says. “Every piece is unique, like a snowflake. Yet we never consider a single piece, always the lot. It takes every individual to make up the group, each is as important as the other.”
During a six-month residency at the Digital Stone Project in Hamilton, Ms. Reichard carved a single popped corn from Carrara marble. The resulting kernel is the size of a crater. One of her challenges was choosing the right piece of popcorn to be seenby the scanner. “I went through tons of brands,” she says. “The laser scanner saw right through the popcorn, so I had to find a material that make it opaque but wouldn’t shrivel it up.” Wax proved to be that material.
After the diamond cutting machine made a rough cut, she spent months sanding and polishing the stone. “I was amazed at how malleable the marble is, and how much control you have.
“In terms of sculpture, there are a lot of classical elements in popcorn,” she continues. “You can see the explosion when it popped.”
Ms. Reichard, 42, a Hopewell resident who teaches ceramics at Princeton University, has led a peripatetic life: She has taught at the University of Washington (where she earned her MFA), University of Colorado and Indiana University. After Sept. 11, while traveling and observing guards carrying machine guns, she found the security in airports was not making her safer but threatening her own security.
“In order to sell cleaning products, (marketers) make you feel like you are surrounded by germs,” she says as way of analogy. During air travel, “you’re put through inconveniences like taking off your shoes that doesn’t do anything. You feel assaulted.”
These fears made their way into a series of vessels stamped “Danger – Confined Space” and “Look Both Ways Before Entering.”
And you can use them as fruit bowls, Ms. Reichard points out.
“There are so few comforts associated with flying,” says the artist. The only comfort airlines offer are blankets, and since everyone is made to feel like a criminal, Ms. Reichard decided to play at being one and steal the blankets. “If I want my freedom I have to take it.”
Leaving the tag of the airline exposed, she printed the navy blue fleece with bandanas, to signify “bandit” or “runaway.”
Ms. Reichard loves the Home Depot aesthetic. “I go there for ideas. I like the products.” She has created a 4-by-8-foot hand-hooked rug that echoes the design of Styrofoam insulation sheeting, with the DOW logo in black diamond across the power blue surface. “The printing registration is always a little off, and it runs off the end of the board, an Andy Warhol effect.”
She also has a series made from garden hoses. “The garden hose brings back thoughts of childhood and summer,” she says. Here, “Hose Fountain” is suspended from the wall on three green holders, flowing into a bucket. You wonder where the water starts and where it stops, and it fills the gallery with a whooshing, soothing sound.
Another object Ms. Reichard loves is the plastic milk crate. During her peregrinations she used milk crates as furniture, appreciating the repetitive, structural patterns in the design. In ancient cultures, she points out, once nomadic cultures settled, ceramic arts emerged. When she settled in New Jersey, Ms. Reichard made milk crates out of ceramic, glazed in bright red and yellow, to mark the end of transience.
“It’s been hard changing my image from free-wheeling artist to Mom,” says Ms. Reichard, holding a happy baby Nona to her chest.
There’s More Where This Comes From: Sculpture and Installations by Debbie Reichard is on view at the Anne Reid ’72 Gallery, Princeton Day School, 650 Great Road, Princeton. Open during school hours. 609-924-6700.
Last year, Reichard curated Perfect Citizen at the Arts Council of Princeton. Here’s what I wrote about that show:
In the short video by Andrew Wilkinson, a fire is crackling in the white brick fireplace. Artist-curator Debbie Reichard stands alongside a 1970s-era suburban hearth, advocating the viewer to “Become a Perfect Citizen” and help support the catalog and shipping expenses for large-scale sculpture to the Arts Council of Princeton.
With her fresh face and sweet voice, Reichard, who has charmed Princeton-area art goers before with her large-scale Santa-in-toast installation, makes a compelling case, and I found myself reaching for my credit card.
“I guess I have to thank Jimmy Carter for the fireside chat idea,” says Reichard, 42, who is curating Perfect Citizen for the Arts Council of Princeton.
The late James Colavita once said that all ceramic artists are pyromaniacs, so that might explain Reichard’s love for being around fire. A ceramics show she curated at Artworks a year ago was titled Around the Campfire, and one of the works in the show, a video by Emily Bivens, depicts a man standing before a fireplace, sipping from a ceramic bowl that drops and breaks. (The film then reverses itself and the shards come back together to form a cup the man sips from.)
Back at the ranch – or, rather, at the colonial house in Hopewell Reichard shares with Andrew Weiss, an alt rock musician – Rhode Island Reds are pecking and clucking. Life is good for these chickens, who have a tractor coop that has been added on to three times in three years. In turn they provide fertilizer for the rhubarb and garlic growing nearby. In another month, this bucolic retreat will include a beehive.
Throughout the yard are vestiges of Reichard’s sculpture and ceramic work, including some made from urinals she brought back from Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan, Wisc., where artists develop work in clay, enameled cast iron, and brass to create murals and site-specific installations. One speckled urinal, turned upside down and with a doll form mould inside, becomes a reliquary in her garden.
Ceramic sculpture sprouts alongside little signs for bleeding heart and beard tongue, a concrete bowl filled with seashells and a Buddha, and through the garage window, white glove forms can be seen reaching toward the sky.
On a warm spring day, cubes made of garden hose are not to be used to water the aforementioned rhubarb. Reichard creates illusions with hoses, buckets and water, and this installation, at press time, was still under consideration for Perfect Citizen, space permitting.
The garage is Reichard’s warm-weather studio, but for now the artist, who is expecting her first baby in October, works from a basement studio. In the kitchen she offers up healthful snacks: cut-up apple sections and Irish cheddar cheese.
Reichard shows some of the ceramic items that will be given as premiums, just like on public radio, to donors to the Perfect Citizen project. There are mugs made by the sister of Perfect Citizen artist Andrew Wilkinson (who collaborated with Reichard on Around the Campfire). The mugs are actually “seconds,” and he adds floral decals to his sister’s minimalism, thus “clobbering” them. Clobbering, says Reichard, is a ceramic term that refers to using someone else’s ceramic work that you alter to increase its value.
Another premium is a sketchbook with the Perfect Citizen logo on it, and Perfect Citizen ceramic plates Reichard has made for donors at the $100 level. They are available in white or “sexy satin black,” 8 inches, functional, and for your pledge you also get the catalog and a “creative license.”
What, exactly, is Perfect Citizen?
According to promotional materials, Perfect Citizen “positions the artist as an observer, subversive and trickster with a practiced ability to access, and act on intuition.”
“While spotlighting the artist as having a unique vision, PC exemplifies universal human inventiveness, optimism and drive to create and see things anew. The overall attitude will be that, while these artists have devoted time to an art career, the viewer, too, has the ability to see their world in a new way, and thus turn it around,” according to the PC website.
“Perfect Citizen is someone who misbehaves, not in a destructive way, but redirecting people’s attention, playing around with the social rules,” says Reichard.
The title came from a U.S. Government program, Perfect Citizen, that monitors cyber attacks.
“I read about it in the news,” says Reichard, who was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Media, Pa., and Pine Beach, N.J. “The program allows your computer activity to be accessed. If you have suspicious activity, the government, through the Perfect Citizen program, can access your searches.”
Reichard chose artists she knew who had work that fit the theme. Perhaps the signature piece of the show is Tim Eads “3,178 minus 366,” a sort of exercise bike that churns butter.
Reichard graduated from The College of New Jersey in 1992, and earned an MFA in 2002 at the University of Washington Seattle.