John Reuter: Second Impressions, Polacolor Image Transfers and Singapore Infrared

The Polaroid 20×24 camera is legendary for producing large scale, exquisitely detailed and lushly colored instant imagery. It has been championed by artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Chuck Close, Joyce Tenneson, and William Wegman. It has been used in editorial spreads for Vanity Fair and advertising shoots for Absolute Vodka and Mikimoto Pearls.

One artist took a different approach. Hired in 1980 to run the 20×24 camera for Polaroid’s program John Reuter was interested in a different characteristic of Polaroid film. It had been known for several years that the if the Polacolor negative was removed form its intended positive early, it could be rolled into a different substrate, most commonly printmaking or watercolor paper. Reuter, who learned of the process from Rosamond Purcell, had been actively working with this process, called Image Transfer since 1978. While he was able to master the process with smaller formats of 4×5 and 8×10, his initial experiments with 20×24 were a disaster. Hardly any of the dyes stuck to the 22×30 sheet of watercolor paper, leaving a blue stain in a faint shadow of the image details.

Reuter continued with his 8×10 work throughout the early and mid 80’s but never entirely gave up on the holy grail of the 20×24 format. In 1983 and 1984 he began to have some success, but more from a change in attitude rather than perfecting the technique. He began to embrace the partial failures of the transfer process and make that part of the finished piece. By 1987 he found subjects more suitable for the process, first collage pieces but then statuary for his visits to Europe. Many came from the Pere La Chaise Cemetery in Paris and later the Elgin Marbles in London and figures from Brescia and Venice Italy. The colorless statues in sometimes deteriorating states were the perfect match for the transfer process, allowing Reuter to work off of the partial transfer rendition and add color and line that did not exist in the original. Drawing on inspiration from pastel masters such as Edgar Degas, Odilon Redon, Lucas Samaras and Francesco Clemente, Reuter created expressive interpretations of already expressive imagery found in the original statues.

Wishing to push the visual experience of the process further Reuter increased the scale of the imagery to nearly 4×5 feet by spreading the image over four panels. These large scale pieces have the look and feel of fresco panels and this exhibition marks the first time they have ever been shown together.

Complimenting the Image Transfer work is large scale imagery of another kind. Reuter moved on from the transfer work by the early 2000s and began to explore the landscape, first in analog with the Holga camera and Polaroid back, producing 8×8 cm negatives that were scanned and printed. These paved the way for a one of a kind series of infrared landscapes that Reuter created while on an artist’s residency trip to Singapore in 2009 and 2011. While at first glance these two bodies of work seem to be done by entirely different artists, the expressive approach to infrared with eccentric coloration and tonal palette is very much at home with the sensibilities of the hand worked Polaroids.