A PLAYful Conversation with Olivia Hamilton, Co-Conjuror of The Silent PLAY Experiment, by James Scarborough
"The Silent PLAY Experiment", conjured up by the creative team of Olivia Hamilton, Kyle Kaminsky, and Ross Wyngaarden, by James Scarborough

The Constant Gardener Tends To His Painted Flowers: Roland Reiss’ “Unapologetic Flowers and Small Stories”, Claremont Museum of Art, and “Unrepentant Flowers and New Miniature Tableaux”, Diane Rosenstein Gallery, by James Scarborough


Plutôt la vie que ces prismes sans épaisseur même si les couleurs sont plus pures

(Choose life instead of those prisms with no depth even if their colors are purer.)

Andre Breton, Plutot la Vie, 1923


NOTE: Both shows include selections of the artist’s Flower Paintings and Miniatures work. This piece will focus on the Flower Paintings.

INTRODUCTION. Roland Reiss’ Flower Paintings answer the question, How does one make paintings in a digitalized culture? They do so by hacking still lifes, the most innocuous genre imaginable.

First, he pays homage to the genre. He paints his flowers with consummate skill. He revels in their paint handling, their composition, their color combinations, and their texture. In his hands, the word bouquet acquires a fourth definition to account for a visual dimension: 1. Arrangement. 2. Odor. 3. Compliment. And, now, 4. Mesmerizing beauty.

At the same time that he acknowledges the genre’s fabled past, he upgrades it. To quote Shakespeare, Reiss reminds us that the past is prologue. Thus, the way to make painting relevant is to expand the medium’s conceptual and visual framework.

A conceptually vigorous figure/ground relationship animates each piece. He plants the flowers in the foreground. In the early pieces, he fertilizes the backgrounds, sometimes in color, sometimes grayed out, with Monopoly board game-sized silhouettes that refer to a cornucopia of art history. Matisse’s Dance, 1909 – 1910. Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Wedding Portrait, 1434. Modern Architecture. And Modern Sculpture. The lush monochromatic backgrounds of later pieces in the series suggest Abstract Expressionism and Post-Painterly Abstraction.  

But canny Reiss goes further. By graying out the earlier work’s Monopoly board game-sized silhouettes, the paintings become, not still lives but Vanitas paintings for a digital age. They remind us of the brevity of art styles. Ars longs, vita brevis, but the styles are a friggin’ kaleidoscope. Like digital data, they don’t disappear. They just become archived.


Roland Reiss: Unapologetic Flowers and Small Stories at the Claremont Museum of Art features selected flower paintings from a series that began in 2007 and which continues to this day. It will also feature a selection of Miniatures that date from the mid-1970s-90s.

Unrepentant Flowers and New Miniature Tableaux at the Diane Rosenstein Gallery features two series of flower paintings: Unrepentant Flowers and American Still Lifes. It will also feature six new wall-mounted Miniatures.

WHY DO THEY MATTER? These flowers show how, in the long term, the only thing constant is change itself. Just ask Paul Klee: Peace on earth is an accidental congestion of matter. (…) The work of art, too, is first of all genesis; it is never experienced purely as a result.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT THESE PAINTED FLOWERS? A presence that blossoms just below their surface. This presence includes Reiss’ material intelligence (prowess with a brush), his art historical knowledge (he knows precisely where’s he’s coming from, where he is, and where he’s going), and his poetic sensibility (a consequence of material intelligence, these works blossom off the canvas. When images can be mashed-up and easily transmitted, presence becomes precious.


Claremont Museum of Art. Human Nature, 2012. Punctuated with colorful floral splashes linked together with skeins of art historical references, it looks schematic. Really, though, it’s an art historical taxonomy. The skeins are grayed out. They look like the grayed-out items listed in drop down menus that you can no longer access. In digital terms, as noted above, they’ve been archived.

Diane Rosenstein Gallery. American Still Life II, 2014. Made from oil, acrylic, and vinyl, it’s a riot of texture. Personally, I’d subtitle it Rhapsody in White. Think of it as a gritty Giorgio Morandi filtered through the palette of Cy Twombly executed with the brushstroke of Jasper Johns. Its blossoms might be long gone but the piece exudes monumentality and gravitas in its passage through eternal winters.

WHO SHOULD SEE IT? Anyone who wants to bask in mini-retrospectives of a local treasure’s recent and relatively recent work.

THE VERDICT? Seriously, you even have to ask?


The Claremont Museum of Art’s hours are 12 - 4 p.m., Friday - Sunday. The show runs until July 8th. The Museum is located at 200 W. 1st Street in the Claremont Depot, Claremont, CA  91711. For more information, call (909) 621-3200 or visit here.

The Diane Rosenstein Gallery’s hours are 10 a.m. - 6:00 p.m., Tuesday – Saturday. The show opens April 28th and runs until June 2nd. The Gallery is located at 831 N. Highland Avenue, Los Angeles, CA  90038. For more information, call (323) 462-2790 or visit here

On display at the Claremont Museum of Art.


Fleurs du Mal II, 2008, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 52 inches 

Roland_Reiss_Human_NatureHuman Nature, 2012, oil, acrylic, and vinyl on canvas, 64 x 48"



Pacific Dance, 2014, oil and acrylic on canvas, 44 x 44 inches



Parasidium, 2009, oil and acrylic on canvas, 68 x 52 inches


Roland_Reiss_Sunflowers_At_NightSunflowers at Night, 2013, oil and acrylic on canvas, 68 x 52 inches



The Primaries: Blue Amaryllis, 2015, oil and acrylic on panel, 68 x 52 inches



The Primaries: Red Amaryllis, 2015, oil and acrylic on panel, 68 x 52 inches



The Primaries: Yellow Amaryllis, 2015, oil and acrylic on panel, 68 x 52 inches


On display at the Diane Rosenstein Gallery


Unrepentant Flowers: Mars Black, 2017 oil and acrylic on panel 30 x 24 inches



Unrepentant Flowers: Turquoise,, 2016, oil and acrylic on panel, 30 x 24 inches



American Still Life, 2014, oil, acrylic, and vinyl on canvas, 68 x 52 inches



American Still Life II, 2014, oil, acrylic, and vinyl on panel, 63 x 52 inches