An Interview with Louis Reith

April 26, 2016

Where were you born and how long did you live there? What was it like?
I was born and raised in Hengelo, a fairly small town in the East of the Netherlands. My parents were quite young and open minded and were set on stimulating both my creativity and freedom to do whatever I wanted. Early on I was involved in making music and drawing, I chose to do a graphic design school. I left when I was 18 and moved to Antwerp after an internship there at an advertising agency.

IMAGE 1 Louis looking at his parents and friends on the riverside. On the left an unknown fisherman.

When did you start making art? Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?

It all started with music. I have been obsessively collecting records since the age of 8 and at 11 I started making my own music on an Atari computer. Mixing and recording my own tapes, I made my first inlay by cutting up flyers. That was when it really hit me, the love of making my own imagery. After a computer crash, when I lost most of my music, I started relaying my focus more towards design.

IMAGE 2A cassette inlay, made by Louis at the age of 13.

Can you remember the first piece of art you saw that had an effect on you?
The environment I grew up in was very spur of the moment creative. My father spent around 7 years at art school, participating in every department they had, from painting and photography to sculpture. He was always working around the house; gardening, building furniture, painting murals and making music. And if he wasn’t working at our house, he was helping out friends. He taught me that everything can be art. My mother worked at an obscure comic library in Hengelo for a while, owned by friends. They had the weirdest stuff and the interior looked like a space ship. Upstairs they organized exhibitions in rooms covered with silver foil, with flashing lights and smoke machines. I still remember the sculptures made from isolation foam, spray painted with neon colors and people in costumes making noise music. I spent a lot of time at the library, reading comic books, watching Repo Man over and over, browsing through their huge collection of house party flyers and just wandering around the building.

What were you listening to growing up and what you are into these days?
In my teen years I became part of the most famous Dutch subculture during the 90’s; Gabber. (If you have no clue check this documentary) I even was a DJ at 15 years old, spinning records at art venues and festivals, it was a lot of fun. Though a lot of people think that gabbers are some drug-loving kids in training suits going crazy on aggressive house music, the visual aspect of the culture was as important as the music. Flyers, record covers, merchandising, it was all carefully made and thought through. Later I got more into experimental electronic music which also had an effect on my designs. It became much more abstract and minimal. Nowadays I consider Shelter Press, Miasmah, PAN, Night People and JJ Funhouse as my favorite labels but I also own quite a big collection of roots reggae and dub vinyl.

IMAGE 4Artwork w/ Bill Kouligas for Afrikan Sciences’ Circuitous, PAN 2014.

You work in a variety of mediums from paintings on wood to collage, sculpture and printmaking. Why do you bounce around with mediums and do you think they inform each other?
A couple of years back I felt a strong urge to step away from the computer. I was drawing a lot and every time making mistakes I had the tendency to correct those by using collage as a perfectionist method. I started to use old maps from second hand geography books because of the color and graphic aspect, but when using that a lot I started searching for the nicest paper books had to offer me, always old and with the right structure. By itself the black and white imagery and engravings became part of that aspect as well. Until today I am drawn most towards books with gardens, architecture, cultures and just strange imagery or missprints. They’re all from a certain era and have an almost still, filmic but abstract feel over it. The recurring natural themes triggered a sense of working with soil and wood. The diversity of this studio practice is such a enjoyable facet. Making a soil painting is quite straight forward; I draw up a design and all I do is execute it hands on, and let the material do it’s own thing. It’s important to follow the right steps and to keep focus. Constructing collages is much more about observing, shifting, thinking and taking time, letting it rest before making the final decision.

IMAGE 5 Untitled, 2016. Collage of found book pages.

Can you tell us about your typical work day?
Since the beginning of 2016 my wife (artist Martine Johanna) and I share a studio close to our home. Most days start out by saying how late it is and we should start working, which almost always is around noon. We pull a lot of all-nighters though, with some dancing around on loud music in-between and watering our studio plants. The studio is big, light, and we keep it pretty clean, with our works in progress against the walls. We drink liters of coffee and eat fancy sandwiches while watching Zach Galifianakis or Louis CK. 

IMAGE 6Louis’ part of the studio in Slotervaart, Amsterdam.

We love your use of materials. How did you start working with soil as a medium in your paintings?
In the Summer of 2014 I participated in a residency project as part of a radio show; De Torenkamer (The Tower Chamber). The project offered me a temporary studio space and time to really build something big. There I constructed a wood assemblage based on a composition of the word aarde (earth) and filled the deeper parts with soil while other parts were colored with soil to shift tones. As I said before though, it started out by the connection with the natural themes, this was just the first time I actually executed it on a bigger scale.

Untitled, 2016. Soil on wooden panel.

Where do you find your collage materials?
Being obsessed with printing methods and layout of old books, just as much as the paper it’s printed on, I can spend hours in thrift stores or bookshops and decide not to take anything because it’s just not the right grain or hue. Most of the books I use are from the 60’s and contain black and white mat printed images. I realize there are less and less of them around, which makes search and finds very exiting.

IMAGE 8The source material of one of Louis’ collages.

You live in Amsterdam now right? What’s that like and do you think it informs your art practice?
There are a couple of very nice galleries and museums and the city is quite close to other places I like. I do not feel very connected with any particular art scenes here, if there are any. I do have some favorite artists and good friends but work-wise I’m more focussed on what’s going on internationally. I guess the internet play’s a big role in that. Nowadays that’s how you get connected with other peers and galleries that have the same outlook on art.

Do you meditate?
Every minute of every second.

Have you always worked with abstraction? What was your process as an artist to come to your current body of work?
I approach the visual not by subject but by their composition. I hope to show the viewer a different aspect of an image by complimenting it’s structure. Therefor my work is never merely abstract, it is a play between the abstract and figurative, where I attempt to find the perfect balance between them.

IMAGE 11Untitled, 2016. Collage of found book pages.

What are you most excited about working on right now? 
There are a couple of forthcoming group shows such as in Apeldoorn (NL), New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. At the moment I’m looking into some possible solos as well. I’m working on multiple things at once, experimenting with shapes outside of the rectangular, but more I can’t tell yet.

What do you do on a day off?
Being pretty stressed out on what I still have to do. But I also enjoy cycling outrageous distances or listening to my records.

What astrological sign are you? do you relate to it? if yes, how?
I’m an Aquarius, which are known as down to earth people that don’t believe in astrology.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?
To cut my collages I use plastic protractors. And when I do use a proper ruler, I tend to use the wrong side. 

If you could have any superpower what would it be?
Superpowers are overrated.

Who are some of your favorite artists?
There are many artists who’s work I really admire or appreciate, too many really. But to give you some insights on what inspires me: blogs, or online archives like Void () by UK based graphic designer Joe Gilmore and Mise en Green by curator Arden Sherman are definitely favorites. And if you haven’t seen the short documentary Folk Art Found Me (1993) you should definitely watch it. Artist Brent Wadden recommended it to me some years ago.

IMAGE 17A still from Folk Art Found Me with Leo Naugler flicking of the ash from his cigarette into his pocket.

Can you tell us about your publishing company Jordskred? How did it start and what are you currently working on?
It started out because of my big love for printed matter. Wanting to put things out there that were my own favorites, working with befriended artists and coming up with limited edition prints, books and cassettes. Just as my personal work, Jordskred (which means landslide in Swedish) came to existence by releasing a mixtape. When people started asking me for a second mixtape I decided to make a zine, Jordskred Två. From there I collaborated with other artists, such as Merijn Hos, Geran Knol from Park Pardon (Oval Angle), Matthew Craven and Kim David Bots. Currently my schedule is taken up by my own work, but I do plan to put more out there as soon as there is space for it.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully with more accomplishments, more possibilities, even greater exhibitions and still enjoying it all. 

What would be your last meal before execution?
You silly Americans… I’ll have a sandwich with chocolate sprinkles please.

See Louis Reith’s available work HERE