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Dylan Rose Rheingold, “Harumi” (2021)
Dylan Rose Rheingold, “Harumi” (2021), Acrylic, oil, marker, charcoal, china marker on canvas, 122 x 91 cmCourtesy of the artist

Dylan Rose Rheingold paints people that challenge cultural differences

The 23-year-old artist uses her mixed family heritage and the tropes of American ideology to explore complicated modern identities and all their contradictions

Dylan Rose Rheingold is part of the next generation of artists borrowing from grand American narratives to explode them and make them new. The emerging painter is influenced by the great chroniclers of American culture, tradition, and ideology, those who have immortalised local folklore and their personal histories in times of great political and cultural movements. Think visual artists, portraitists, poets, and storytellers from Henry Taylor, to Alice Neel, Patti Smith, and Bob Dylan.

Family history and telling those personal stories are central in her painting, where the New York-based artist imaginatively explores her own ancestry. Drawing on influences such as the 17th century Japanese movements, Rheingold’s work investigates a rich heritage. ”As the eldest daughter of a first-generation Japanese American mother and a Jewish American father, I am creating work in the hope of contributing to the conversation that’s normalising and accepting cultural difference,” she tells Dazed

Her large-scale mix-media artworks – layers of paint, pen, and various other materials – physically embody the layers of personal history and mythology the 23-year-old artist seeks to unpack: “Through the process of layering, I am able to connect aspects of both time and history in my subject matter.”

As a selection of her work features in the London Paint Club’s spring exhibition, we talk to Dylan Rose Rheingold about delving into her ancestry, how she connects with inspiration, and the stories and characters who inhabit the rich world of her canvases.

Could you elaborate on some of the themes in your work?

Dylan Rose Rheingold: My work is heavily influenced by the concept of identity. I think if you were to take a magnifying glass and place that over this hypothetical space, you would see a combination of themes merged together inventing this concept. You’ll find the largest themes to be referencing memory, ancestral roots, pride, and difference. With that being said, I like to think of my artwork as a self-reflection. My paintings explore extremely mundane moments in our everyday life while reflecting with pride on aspects of otherness and dualism.

I love to exaggerate details and defects that stray from the classic ideology of the American poster child. I uphold the highest level of respect for rawness and honesty and I feel the walls around me start to melt when I’m able to connect with a sense of solidarity through the differences experienced by others. 

Although it’s subtle, I also use a great deal of symbolism, including cultural and religious representations. As the eldest daughter of a first-generation Japanese American mother and a Jewish American father, I am creating work in the hope of contributing to the conversation that is normalising and accepting cultural difference, regardless of how big or small those details may be.

Your paintings seem to really conjure up narratives. How important is storytelling in your work?

Dylan Rose Rheingold: Storytelling is a huge part of my artistic practice. Most of the time I don’t even realise it’s happening but that’s probably a result of my Illustration background. Before I started my MFA studies, I received a BFA in Illustration from Syracuse University. 

I think the whole notion of storytelling has been subconsciously shaped within my creative process since then, if not even earlier. My mum works at the library, so books have always played a large role in my childhood. In my early years, I also used to speak with a psychologist as I dealt with a bit of anxiety. She heavily enforced writing and drawing as a coping mechanism so, since I was a kid, art has been a vital way to express the stories, thoughts, and questions that prance throughout my mind.

I am constantly thinking about the idea of representation. The more I dig into art history with a global outlook, the more I think about what’s missing? Who and what lack representation? What ideals are still yet to be represented? Whose point of view is being voiced? It’s now 2021, yet most of the themes that make up who I am as a person – and an artist – have still yet to be represented in the fine art world. As a woman, and a product of cultural contrast, I rarely felt a connection to the paintings I saw at museums as a little kid. Now I’m 23 and, institutionally, still not much has changed.

“My apartment’s filled with vinyl and books. Patti Smith’s Just Kids has changed my life as it helped me make my decision to pursue art full time and go back to school” – Dylan Rose Rheingold

Who are the figures that populate your paintings? Are there any recurring characters?

Dylan Rose Rheingold: The figures in my paintings are mostly fictional subjects, based on my memory and patrimonial narratives. Through the process of probing I’m able to take inspiration from various figures in my life such as family, friends, and figures from my past and adapt them in a way that isn’t so specific to the original source. So, in that sense, yes – the characters do recur, but not in a way that is clearly recognisable. I know that may sound a bit ambiguous but I feel it opens the door to a larger degree of interpretation and connection. I never want my work to reach the degree of directness that it becomes obvious.

Originally, when I first started building up my familial archive, I was working too literally off of the photograph and I got way too wrapped up in depicting these people accurately. This focus took away from the conversation I was trying to conduct and made me realise that I have no interest in realism. Once I started working off of memory and allowing my imagination to roam, my artistic process became so much more innate. Methods of surrealist automatism and automatic writing were also welcomed and began to run in tandem.

Please could you tell us about your artistic process? 

Dylan Rose Rheingold: Regardless of what material I’m working on my process consistently involves the mixing of mediums. A lot of the time I still feel funny calling myself a “painter” because my work is so untraditional in relation to the classic painterly criteria. Drawing has always been my passion so it only seemed fair once I started painting that I would continue this stylistic notion even when the mediums changed. 

When I’m painting I feel it’s a true balance of drawing. Sometimes that means using the paintbrush as if it was a marker, and sometimes that means using an actual china marker on canvas to illustrate a scene. Combining an eclectic group of mediums plays hand-in-hand with my mixture of illustrative detail and loose painterly strokes and form.

My process involves the layering of acrylic, oil, china marker, pastel, charcoal, spray paint, marker, and ink. With sketch-like immediacy, I draw with oil stick over a fusion of acrylic paint and several other mediums. Through the course of layering, I am able to connect aspects of both time and history in my subject matter. 

For the most part, my paintings are on canvas but I’m also experimenting with wood, linen, and many different types of paper such as yupo, bristol board, hot press, and newsprint. I work on a large scale so you have no other choice but to look and listen, at least for a moment. Instead of politely asking for your attention this scale demands it

Although my works often appear as stand-alone pieces, I am really striving to create a collection of works that affect each other, opening up a new way to argue with the unique object and the contingent object. In some sense, finding a balance between autonomy and contingency.

It’s not easy to place your paintings in time – they could be from another era. Where and when do you locate your work?

Dylan Rose Rheingold: To be honest, this is a tricky question for a couple of reasons and something I think about often. I say this because of the process and outlook of my style. In my work, I am bringing together a combination of styles in a singular painting, connecting the hybridity of dual cultural identities and difference. Since my artistic process combines various styles, it’s hard to place it in time.

A better way to think about this would be by listing some of my favourite art periods, such as the 1600s to mid-1800s Edo period in Japan, the 16th-century Flemish renaissance era in the Netherlands, and 1970s neo-expressionism in Germany. Although these periods and locations are very different, I feel my work blends elements of them all, alongside components of abstraction, surrealism & feminism.

Which other artists inspire you? Do you take inspiration from other mediums too? Are there any particular books, music, films, etc?

Dylan Rose Rheingold: Artists that inspire me is a rough one to narrow down! Top figurative influences are probably Alice Neel, Philip Guston, George Grosz, James Ensor, Egon Schiele, and Ben Shahn. Figurative influences I look up to today who are still living and breathing are Marlene Dumas, Nicole Eisenman, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Kerry James Marshall, Hope Gangloff, and Henry Taylor. I’m also very influenced by illustrators such as Joe Ciardiello and Alan Cober.

Because I’m a hands-on learner I find the presence of physical photographs and art books for reference to be very helpful. My favourite photographers are Diane Arbus and Nan Goldin. Yorgos Lanthimos is currently my favourite director.

I can’t imagine making art without the role of music in my life. I still can’t get over that pre-COVID I had tickets to see Bob Dylan and King Krule, so my fingers remained crossed there’ll be a couple of rainchecks. My apartment’s filled with vinyl and books. Patti Smith’s Just Kids has changed my life as it helped me make my decision to pursue art full time and go back to school. Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation is also probably my favourite recent read.

Do you have any particular creative rituals that help you stay creative?

Dylan Rose Rheingold: I’m a very curious person and I ask a lot of questions. This probably sounds pretty nerdy but I genuinely love to learn, so any type of new conversation I am so slightly intrigued by and I usually leave feeling inspired.

In order to stay creative, I need to be constantly active. By this I mean writing, exploring, gallery-hopping, seeing new exhibitions, watching films, going to vintage book stores etcetera.

Little details are also a big source of inspiration... like taking a walk and photographing an obscure shaped-leak leftover from a coffee spill on the cement. Then I can print or scan this image and layer it in a collage for texture. Just yesterday I was driving on the highway and photographed the rusty barrier’s decaying paint job as inspiration for the blank canvas sitting on the floor in my studio.

Sometimes if I’m having a block I need to try and do something new or create in a simpler form, like drawing from life. Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of that and researching automatic writing and the subconscious drawing process. I also started a dream journal which has been keeping me on my toes as I have very strange dreams almost every night.

What are you working on at the moment? And what ambitions do you have for the near future?

Dylan Rose Rheingold: At the moment I’m working on a bunch of archival collages I’ve been composing from my family photo album. After I finish each collage I’ve been printing them on 12x12 transparent plexiglass with UV ink. So far they include old newspaper clippings, letters, photographs, and other scrapbook fragments. 

I originally started this archive solely for reference purposes but, after seeing Gerhard Richter’s Atlas collection in physical form, I was moved by the idea of creating something more. Since I’m working with clear acrylic I’m also able to directly layer each collage. I love being able to see them stacked on top of each other and notice how my perspective is altered each time I vary the order.

In regards to the future, I’ll be focusing a lot on my thesis research and next year’s show. In light of all of the racism, xenophobia, antisemitism, and misogyny that has been occurring in the United States, I have been putting a lot of thought into how I can proactively contribute to conversations of embracing your truths. 

Dylan Rose Rheingold features in the London Paint Club’s Spring Awakening exhibition, available to view online until April 11 2021