The photographs of New Yorker Raїssa Venables portray distorted rooms with intoxicating colours in a surreal manner. Despite the absence of people in her photographs, we still feel their souls in the rooms. Although her work is contemporary, involving the engagement of the latest technology, Venables is influenced by important artistic innovations in history. This includes the usage of perspectives and colours of the classical Renaissance, the Expressionist exploration of the relationship between colours and emotions, and the Cubist experimentation of depicting an object in multiple viewpoints on canvas. Venables’s photographs allow the viewers to imagine the dreams, nightmares, and events that took place in those spaces.
- 1 Background and Education
- 2 Philosophy and Style
- 3 Technique and Procedure
- 4 Selected Exhibitions
- 5 Catalogues and Articles
- 6 Public collections
- 7 External links
Background and Education
Raïssa Venables was born in 1977 in New Paltz, in the state of New York, U.S.A.. She has roots from Italy on her maternal grandmother’s side and Irish roots on her other grandmother’s side. Thus from an early age, Venables was introduced and exposed to the canons of European art. In 1993, Venables attended the Arts Student’s League in New York. During her 4-year matriculation, she concentrated on the Anatomy for Life Drawing. Venables developed an understanding of the system of proportion through drawing, which was a fundamental part of an artist curriculum since the Renaissance time. This would play a crucial role in her future photography work.
Venables continued her studies at the Kansas City Art Institute in Missouri, USA, where she received a BFA in Photography and Ceramic Sculpture in 1999. Studying these two medium inadvertently led Venables to merge the principles of each medium in her work. For Venables, ceramic sculpting creates an enclosed space where things happening inside are separated from the outside world. This is one of the several underlying themes that Venables incorporates in her photographic work.
Philosophy and Style
Venables’ exposure to European traditions as well as trainings at various academic institutions resulted in the shaping of her philosophy and style. While Venables was a student at Bard, she discovered her artistic style when she revisited the house of a childhood friend who was an older woman that had died. Venables had magical memories of the house and everything in the house, including the smell and sound, remained exactly the same as when she was a child. Although the friend, an artist as well, was not physically present, the way she decorated her house reflected her artwork and herself. Thus taking photographs of the house from different angles are portraits of the friend and of Venables’ time revisiting her world. Her goal was to connect her memories with the present physical space. This was the defining style of Venables’ future work.
Her photographic works shows that she is as sensitive and spatially aware as an architect. They deal with planar relationship, passage of time, motion, and perceptual fields, blurring the realm of the real world with the imagined one. The viewers ends up experiencing different sensory delights as well as the unconscious memories we have in different spaces, such as the those seen in her works.
Although Venables does not start a photographic project by looking at the works of specific artists, she acknowledges the influence of different artistic movements. Like most photographers, Venables pay close attention to the history of painting in order to understand the compositional structure, colour selection, and manipulation of the pictorial space. She is deeply influenced by Early Renaissance Flemish painters like Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden and Robert Campin, particularly with their usage of colour and lighting in their works. Venables’ work is also influenced by the neo-cubistic approach to splitting and dissolving an object or space before reassembling them together. By breaking the laws of optics, Venables creates a new freedom in the compositional arrangement. Curators make the comparison of Venables’ work with thematic perspective found in Medieval art, in which objects are arranged in accordance to their spiritual values as oppose to their natural ones.
Dr. Matthias Harder, Director of the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin, wrote about the artist’s reason for taking this approach: “Venables’ real intention is to open up unfamiliar perspectives and to transform real spaces into imaginary ones with realistic traits.” The artist creates surrealistic, digitally composed images of everyday and sacred spaces with no people in it, which allows us to observe how we mark our environment and vice versa. She believes that by showing a space void of people, the viewers can focus on the space itself, the life of an environment, and how this space is being used. The artist places us in private intimate spaces to evoke the unconscious memories and emotions we have with them. This is a daring approach to exploring human psyche and its relationship with the external surroundings. Venables is compared to Louise Bourgeois, Lee Bontecou, and Cindy Sherman for the similar themes they explore.
Venables’ work has also been often compared to Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, or David Lynch, particularly with her manipulation of perception, construction, and setting of the photographic works. Despite the places being familiar, viewers are often left feeling dizzy and claustrophobic when looking at the photographs. The rooms seem to be alive and anthropomorphic, as the artist aptly describes.
Light plays a significant role in the overall effect of the photographs on the viewers. Venables uses only natural lighting because it accurately reflects the persona of the space. Her photographic technique requires taking pictures of multiple perspectives and with long exposures. Thus the photographs inadvertently records the passage of time, which intensifies the metaphysical characteristic of the space.
Technique and Procedure
The final works of art we see is a result of a long procedure that involves employing the latest camera and computer technologies. Venables is willing to go through the process because she wants her “photographs to convey the effort of feeling a space and just not be a documentation of the room.”
She achieves that by exploring different architectural interiors, from church and bedroom to camping tent and elevator. How she decides which spaces to visit involves both conceptual thinking and intuitive process. Once she finds a location that she wants to work with, Venables goes back with her camera and takes pictures from different angles. Venables is always aware of how her view of the room changes as she moves around. By taking pictures of all possible angles, Venables has a more intimate understanding of the three-dimensional space she is in. She successfully conveys this awareness in her final production.
Venables shoots with film camera instead of digital, because digital camera simplifies the colours. Venables wanted colour to be a seductive element that invites the viewer into the image. She creates a psychedelic effect by using high-saturation colours.
After taking multiple photographs, Venables prints the contact prints, cut them up, then physically tape them together. She then scans each negative into the computer and begins the digital collaging process, fusing the separate images into a single image. This step requires the most work, with the shortest time the artist required to complete being one week. The result is a reality distorted into surreal images with an Alice-in-the-Wonderland element to it. The artist’s process of making these images can be compared to the process of a film sequence.
Clearing Space, WAGNER + PARTNER, Berlin, Germany
Farbreiz – Licht und Farbe im Werk von Raïssa Venables, Kunstverein Speyer, Germany
Rendered Visible, Galerie Rothamel, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Raissa Venables, B.A.T. Campus Gallery, Bayreuth, Germany
All That Glitters, Galerie WAGNER + PARTNER, Berlin, Germany
Distorted Places, Klaudia Marr Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Raïssa Venables Fotografie, Galerie Rothamel, Frankfurt Am Main, Germany
Maybe Too Lofty?, Galerie WAGNER + PARTNER, Berlin, Germany
Raïssa Venables, Kunstverein Grafschaft Bentheim, Neuenhaus, Germany
In the Guest House, Roswell Museum And Art Center, Roswell, New Mexico, USA
Raïssa Venables, Kunstverein Ludwigshafen, Germany
Raïssa Venables, Städtische Galerie Waldkraiburg, Germany
Raïssa Venables: Digitale Fotografien, Kunstverein Ulm, Germany
Intimacies, Jersey City Museum, Jersey City, USA
Opened Rooms and Other Vessels, Joseph Nease Gallery, Kansas City, USA
Realism: The Adventure of Reality, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Munich, Germany
The Inner Eye: Interiors of Contemporary Art, Kunsthalle Tübingen, Germany
One step beyond Reality-Positionen zeitgenössischer Fotokunst, Galerie WAGNER + PARTNER, Berlin, Germany
The Brand New Deal, Caren Golden Fine Art, New York, USA
Real: Selections from the Collection of the DZ Bank, Städel Museum, Frankfurt, Germany
Photos and Phantasy: Selections from The Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation, Carnegie Art Museum, USA
Full Circle: Ten Years of Radius, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, Connecticut, USA
The Eclectic Eye: Pop and Illusion–The Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, USA
Frozen Moments, Galerie Christa Burger, Munich, Germany
Photos and Phantasy, Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation, Los Angeles, USA
Catalogues and Articles
Lange, Christiane, and Nils Ohlsen. Realismus: das Abenteuer der Wirklichkeit. München: Hirmer, 2010.
Real: Photographs from the Collection of the DZ Bank. Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2010.
Venables, Raïssa. Raïssa Venables. Ostfildern-Ruit, Deutschland: Hatje Cantz, 2006.
Nelson-Atkins Museum / Hall Family Foundation, Kansas City, Missouri, USA
Kunsthalle in Emden, Emden, Germany
Städel Museum, Frankfurt, Germany
The Jersey City Museum, Jersey City, New Jersey, USA
Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art, Roswell, New Mexico, USA
The Progressive Collection, Mayfield Village, Ohio, USA
Weisman Foundation, Los Angeles, USA
DZ-Bank, Frankfurt, Germany
Sammlung Knauthe, Berlin, Germany