Mindful


Responsibilities, deadlines, and aspirations often send me on a spiral of what I have done, didn’t do, should do, can’t do, and need to do, filling my mental calendar and leaving no energy for what I am doing in the moment. There is a space between every stimulus and response: in my head, anxiety shrinks that space and clouds the moments in front of my face.To be mindful is to be consciously aware of your presence within an environment. I try to use sculpture to confront the meaning of being in a single place at a specified moment in time. The pandemic has been a constant state of separation and angst, and daily life is full of challenges. By allowing time after each stimulus to reveal other possibilities, I am able to understand different options before determining my response. Every day I consciously or unconsciously make decisions on how I react to the constant flow of external stimuli. The decisions seem to range from selfish to selfless, with the former leaving me empty and the latter leaving me full. Most of the time, I feel like I am moving through life on autopilot, going from one task to the next. Occasionally, when I am jolted from this state, I am able to step back and look from a distance with some clarity.

Tom Riefe, Day/Night, 2020. Wood, stainless steel, paint, 28 x 28 x 28 inches.
Tom Riefe, Stillness/Action, 2020. Wood, stainless steel, paint. 33 x 22 x 20 inches.

My goal, in creating Mindful, was to move away from representation toward objects that have a unique interaction with each viewer. In this way, more abstract concepts of time and space become apparent. The series is composed of ten works that are made of painted wood and polished stainless steel. The mirrored metal creates symmetric reflections of the suspended forms. Moving through the space allows the viewer’s perception to oscillate between seeing the mirrored reflections and the physical object behind the mirror. For example, Open/close is a carved wooden sphere that has an opening on one side. The form is conceived as a vessel with two converse parts that form a whole. The inner space is divided in half by a stainless-steel mirror, with one side painted black and the other white. Depending on the viewing angle, the black and white will either shrink or expand. I envisioned the work as a thought bubble, or something that is both inside the head and outside in the world.

Tom Riefe, Open/close, 2020. Wood, stainless steel, paint, 28 x 28 x 28 inches.

Some of my thinking was influenced by my interpretation of texts like Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, written in the 4th century BCE. I started making drawings of symmetric forms like spheres, rings, and spirals. Each form has a very strong internal logic; it felt natural to suspend them like atoms or planets. As I began to consider making the forms, wood seemed like an obvious choice. The material is excellent for creating rounded compound curves, and there is a natural warmth which reminds us that this material was once a living organism. Carving each piece was a slow repetitive process that felt like a form of meditation in itself. There is no rushing the process; the material can only be removed so fast. What emerges, though, is something that becomes more concrete as the form is refined. After the polished stainless steel was cut and inserted between the blocks of wood, the project finally circled back to the original drawings from months before. The blank illusionary portion that was absent in the drawings was finally visible.

Tom Riefe, Lightness/heaviness, 2020. Wood, stainless steel, paint. 31 x 24 x 12 inches.
Tom Riefe, Inside/outside, 2020. Wood, stainless steel, paint. 28 x 28 x 20 inches.


M for Mitigation

Responsibilities, deadlines, and aspirations often send me on a spiral of what I have done, didn’t do, should do, can’t do, and need to do, filling my mental calendar and leaving no energy for what I am doing in the moment. There is a space between every stimulus and response: in my head, anxiety shrinks […]


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Says the artist: There is no separation between studying, performing the daily chores of living, and creating one’s own work.

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“You need to look at the sky,” Holt is saying, taking me by the shoulders, tilting me backward, carefully, gently—so that my eyes ascend but my feet don’t slide out from under me.