Gary Riester


by Marian Sillyman

At the age of eleven, his arms full of books, Garey Riester was caught stealing from the public library— his defense: the limited number of books he was allowed to check out. Riester didn’t need to possess these books; he simply couldn’t restrict himself— he had an innate urge to study as many art books as possible, absorbing the works of Rosenquist, Warhol, Hamilton, Hockney and Lucien Freud, to name a few. He became enraptured with Pop Art and 20th century English painters at an early age, influences that decades later still speak in his work. He even beat up in Jasper Johns style an old tin coffee can to store his brushes. He painted oil then; he had not yet found acrylic.

At nine, having seen pictures of Monet’s studio, Riester converted a small corner of the attic into his private workspace. He discovered floorboards he could remove to hide his art from parental supervision. He created collages on the wall of photos he intended to paint and installed pedestals for still life objects. He had Monet’s tables filled with paint tubes, brushes and solvents. He cluttered the space with paintings on easels and on the floors and walls. And he worked, obsessively at times, in what he called his safe space, private and removed, where he could glance out the window and imagine the south of France, and not his hometown of Cleveland, OH.

To walk into Riester’s Easton-based studio today is to encounter the same artistic disarray. In fact many of his works have the aimless footprint or two from him having painted, left and then returned to works in progress on the floor. This is especially apparent in his Blackboard series, a series of work in which Riester draws and paints words and diagrams in a seemingly haphazard way, erased and rewritten like a chalkboard after a long day of teaching. Here, information is vital yet only partially conceptualized, understood and conveyed—the viewer is as if sitting in the classroom piecing together through the smudges what had been taught, yet rarely are his subjects school curriculum based.

But Riester will jump genres, start a new series in the middle of another, and prolifically compile a large amount of work in a short amount of time. For Riester, ideas beget ideas. The Blackboard series came out of a series of animal drawings, sketches, initially drawn to create life-size sculptures of extinct or nearly extinct animals, such as the Black Rhinoceros; but as he moved from oil to acrylic to drawing again, Riester embraced these sketches as works in their own right. Various perspectives at different angles indicate size and movement of the animals on large backdrop paper mounted on the wall— an ethological study to capture what has been or predicted to be three-dimensionally lost. For Riester, the variability in drawing is not like any of the other arts— “marks may be erased, smudged, smeared or made cleaner and clearer.”

Ultimately, Riester likes to capture the variation of things. His most recent series, Sky-Ocean, is a kind of time stamp on the nuanced variations of the day. Inspired by the sky over the Indian Ocean surrounding Bali, Riester returned to the same spot on the beach and photographed at different times on different days the same horizon—out of these photographs, he then created a body of work that shows sometimes slight and other times dramatic variation in color, texture, temperature, and, as Riester notes, “drama,” yet all of the same subject at the same location. His intention for this piece is to group individual works in a geometric grid, emphasizing nature’s static temperament and our own subjectivity in how we process “the view.”

While Riester received formal training from the San Francisco and Cleveland Institutes of Art, Riester’s more immediate training comes from generations of artists in the family— his grandfather, a landscape painter who studied and worked among the Hudson River School artists, and his father, who after long days working a factory job would paint on nights and weekends with Riester at his side. While Riester credits his art career to this familial apprenticeship, after gaining his MFA, Riester moved to New York in the 1970s and quickly gained gallery representation. His work was favored in SoHo throughout the 70s and 80s, and is among the collections of many well-known art connoisseurs. If he had it his way, however, Riester says he’d never sell a piece, which denotes a certain passion for the process and not the outcome.

Riester found Easton after falling in love with his partner and fellow artist, Michele Vrentas. While he continues to commute into New York City for business, he lives and works in Easton, often bouncing ideas off Vrentas and working in his studio.