An exploration of painting and environment with Rotem Reshef
By Kate Mothes
Along the route between home and her studio, Rotem Reshef collects a scatter of leafy plants and grasses in a variety of sizes and textures. Overgrown or discarded, these plants provide the basis for the artist’s ongoing series of botanical paintings and installations, working in collaboration with her surroundings. Based between Tel Aviv and New York, her work is an evolving exploration of the relationship between art and environment, especially in recent projects in large spaces and outdoors where the paintings have assumed monumental scale.
Reshef describes her process as a balance of control and release. She selects and gathers the plants, “creating a world” on the canvas by laying them out in intuitive patterns and groupings, then applying paint on top of them. After the initial interaction, she allows time and the organic material to guide the way: “I value the frequent surprises that occur when I leave a canvas with plants, twigs, scraps of wood, and pigment to dry, and then peel them off after a few days or weeks. The tonalities in color and the textures can never be fully planned or anticipated. This is a thrill I look forward to when I enter the studio every morning.”
When working toward an exhibition in a specific space, she likes to incorporate plants from the local area, such as specimens from the botanical garden that is part of the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History in Tel Aviv. In 2020, when she was invited to create an artwork for HaChava (The Farm) Gallery, an organization combining ecological education and environmentally-conscious art exhibitions, she created an indoor-outdoor installation that included plants grown on the farm. Fascinated by the “idea of a land, belonging, and nomadity,” she examined the ways in which we interact with natural landscapes through a combination of vision, scent, and movement through space.
Immersive surroundings comprise the basis of another exhibition in New York at Marleen Meyerson Jewish Community Center’s Laurie M. Tisch Gallery, where swaths of unstretched canvas in colorful, abstracted botanical forms wrap around curved walls and drape around corners. While she sometimes works on stretched canvases, she prefers working directly onto long, loose scrolls that she lays down on the floor of her studio. “When working on an unstretched canvas, the composition can continue on and on, and usually it is configured as an installation or a painterly environment,” she explains. Like nature, where the essential elements of her paintings are sourced, she wishes to encourage a 360-degree viewing experience.
“I see working on large-scale formats as a feminist statement,” Reshef says, reflecting on the limitations imposed on women artists historically. “Women painters most often were excluded from creating in ambitious formats, exactly because it was considered ‘too ambitious.’” She considers scale to be a means toward visibility, citing groundbreaking work by artists like Helen Frankenthaler, Katharina Grosse, or Julie Mehretu, who challenged the status quo and communicate powerfully through the language of magnitude. For an outdoor installation at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History in Tel Aviv, Reshef has made large-scale scans of original paintings, putting the architecture of the museum in dialogue with the environment and complementing the eloquence of nature.
Reshef’s exhibition Walking on Dry Land at the Laurie M. Tisch Gallery continues through August 28, 2022, and the public outdoor installation Passage at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History in Tel Aviv is ongoing through the end of 2023. You can find more information on the artist’s website and on Instagram.
Header image: Unraveling Earth, HaChava Gallery, Holon, Israel, 2020. Image by Avi Amsalem.
All images shared with permission, courtesy of the artist.