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Interview: Joan Reutershan

Updated: Aug 3, 2022

Red Night Lights (40°41’2.4” N, 73°58’29.748” W)


Acrylic, marker, foil, electrical and artist tapes, mirror, construction tape, polymer pieces and silkscreen ink on canvas

36in x 24in on canvas

ca. 46in x 35in on wall

1. Could you introduce yourself? Where did you study art and when did you first see yourself as an artist?

My name is Joan Reutershan, I am an urban landscape artist. I live in Brooklyn and work in Long Island City. My BFA (2017) in Studio Art is from Hunter College, where I was a Kossak Painting Fellow. I also earned an M.A. in Art History from Hunter. My art has evolved markedly over the years, and for me study is ongoing. Presently I’m a member of NYC Crit Club, and explore new themes and develop my work in conversation with NYCCC peers. I think even solitary studio practice is highly social and I love stealing other artists’ insights and techniques.

2. Why do you focus on the streets of Brooklyn as your source of inspiration for your art? What makes Brooklyn different from Manhattan or Queens, for example?

I've always felt an intimate connection to place and am driven to explore it, understand it, especially the multilayered registers of daily life available to me where I live. I've sought out venues where I felt I could learn about the life of my times. New York City was a magnet from early on, and really the City has been a constant teacher. The mainstream of American consumer society was evident here in full force, as were the alternatives--feminist, queer and protest cultures--that nurtured my desire for a more just world. I originally moved to Brooklyn because I thought it was more about humans than about enterprise, and I painted my love of the streets with their calming relationships between architecture, trees and sky. But this early work was nostalgic, an escape. I didn’t need to move to face reality, however—because the neoliberal real estate boom of post 9.11 New York brought the issues of development and gentrification to my Brooklyn doorstep. These same phenomena are present in Manhattan and Queens, but my home borough is where I viscerally encounter the challenges of the 21st Century.

Digi-Dog, Powered by the Cloud, but Chased out of Town by the People


Acrylic, marker, construction netting, charcoal, artist tape, reflective foils, fluorescent plexiglass sample squares, police caution tape, subway tape on archival digital print on canvas

33 in x 22in x 3in on canvas

ca. 40in x 34in x 3in on wall

3. Does your art comment on gentrification? What would be a healthier and more equal alternative to gentrification? Does your art comment on this possibility?

I became involved in various neighborhood lawsuits near Downtown Brooklyn, fighting developments that were furthering gentrification. We opposed zoning changes which price out longtime, often Black, residents. My life as an activist coexists with my art. Political change happens in streets and legislatures and budgets. Those arenas are where I work that part of my life. Recently I developed a social practice art project tagging trees with paper ribbons of the same fluorescent colors I use in my paintings to identify dozens of trees slated to be cut down for an ill-conceived "redesign" in nearby Fort Greene Park. This art practice directly addresses gentrification. My collage painting, on walls, is not an unmediated political statement, I don't expect art to do what political action does. My painting is inflected with my hopes and presents a certain consciousness that perhaps can be inspiring and energizing to the viewer, and it helps me believe in transformation and change. So my activist and art lives nourish each other.

4. What does the checkerboard pattern in your art represent? Is it similar to the works or style of Laura Owens at all, who deals with 1980s aesthetics relating to the digital aspects of our lives? Or is it closer to a chess board like Joan Miro's paintings?

The checkerboard, or a silver silkscreen pattern of dots, dashes, or of 0s and 1s, are a foundational layer in all my paintings and signify for me the pervasive presence of the internet, the hyperreality that is ubiquitous in the world and our brains. The "sameness" of line quality I choose in my drawings and paintings, as opposed to an expressive or volumetric line, acknowledges the digital reduction of all facets of our experience. On the surfaces of my canvas I combat the digital landscape with layers of materials from paint to collage to store-bought and found objects, many of them artificial, tacky and shiny. This materiality vies with the digital for weight and importance, and though the silvery patterns constantly find their way to the surface, I want materiality to win! My iconography is most frequently derived from the "ground," the street, another way I have of opposing overbearing heady digitality with the presence of the concrete, brick-and-mortar world. Not that there aren't positive aspects to the metaverse, but it is enveloping us and the powerful manipulate us through it with magnified voices. So yes, Laura Owens is an inspiration, but so is Joan Miro, I love his dynamic, sensual work.

Green Pizza with Olives and Sticks (40°44’9.11” N, 73°59’27.9” W)


Acrylic, marker, foil, plastic sheeting and dowels, police tape, polymer pieces, plastic mesh screen in shape of artist’s hand, and silkscreen ink on canvas

36in x 24in x 1.25in on canvas

ca. 47in x 34in x 1.25in on wall

5. Is graffiti element an important aspect of your work? Do you embrace or reject graffiti? What are the reasons why you might embrace or reject graffiti?

Graffiti is one ever evolving language of the streets I traverse every day. It captures my attention and I enjoy it without reserve. I appropriate it often. Its energy feels like a reliable antidote to encroaching control and commercialization. The tradition of graffiti art is an inspiration for me from Basquiat to JR to the unknowns of street art today. Graffiti is one sign system among others, like urban design and pragmatic street/construction signage. My work often combines these various languages.

6. Why do you get rid of the traditional street view of Brooklyn and just focus on materiality and process of layering? How is your art different from a typical painting or photograph depicting the streets of Brooklyn with a traditional view?

The format of the landscape or cityscape as a genre relies on a particular set of conventions—the relationship between the ground plane, the architecture /tree plane, and the sky plane. This archetype expresses a hierarchy of order, whether they are paintings by Cezanne or Hopper or the ancient Greeks. My sense is that late capitalism, neo-liberalism, the age of the Anthropocene and climate crisis have exploded this stasis. And so I rejected this cityscape prototype and I wanted to posit an alternative that evoked the fragmented, jumbled, perplexing composite of the contemporary city. My goal is not to depict but to evoke contemporary urban life, layering a jumble of iconography, colors, mediums and discrepant materials, but also presenting landscape as an open field of possibilities. My work is perhaps unnameable in its strange combinations of things, references, registers, but in its outsider structure, point of view and insistence on hope and joy, I think of it as queering the urban landscape.

Outer Boro Blues (40°41’56.04” N, 73°56’40.38” W)


Acrylic, marker, artist tape, police caution tape, vandalized construction netting, plastic sheeting, masking sheet, reflective foil with image of photographer/artist, glitter and silkscreen ink on canvas

36in x 25in x 1in on canvas

ca. 46in x 36in x 4in on wall

7. What is the core message of your art? Do you want your art to be a mirror for the New Yorkers to reflect on, to see their world and experiences on the movie stage that is your canvas? Is there a goal or an objective that your art pursues in terms of social or political change? Or do you see such goals to be meaningless and futile? Are play and experimentation important concepts to your art?

I addressed the way my art and activist lives nourish each other in Question 3. The apparent incommensurability of reality and my/our hopes is perhaps a core message of my art. I/We have to survive with this and persevere. I express this in my art through references to the colliding material and digital worlds, constructing tensions between chaos and design and combining references to both “high” and “low” art. If my work is a jumble of idioms and materials, it is nonetheless dependent upon rhythms and rhymes that are energizing, poetic and hopeful. It is less a mirror, a document, than a question, a provocation, a transformation.

8. Could you talk about your color choices and how you arrive at the abstract shapes and compositions? What guide the formal elements in your art? Would it be your artistic instinct or the myriad of things, colors, and patterns that you observe in your everyday life as a citizen of Brooklyn?

Even though my work often appears illegible, I appropriate many aspects of observed urban reality, and one of them is color. Each painting originates for me with a kind of a color shock coming from something I see, a graffiti, a street sign, a digital display, a found object. Though my combination of marks and imagery is not mimetic or logical, I do create relationships between things through an analogous palette and a circular composition. Other formal practices include turning the canvas around and using chance procedures, appropriating abridged, “cut up” parts of things and patterns seen, and layering them. These processes allow me to arrive at a set of marks that read not illusionist, but perhaps as energies that can lead to new combinations and transformations.

#921.3 Magenta Mile


Acrylic, marker and silkscreen ink on shaped, unstretched canvas on board

ca. 22in x 18in

9. Who are some of the artists who inspire you and influence your work?

More and more, as my art evolves, I find myself conceptually attracted to Dadaism Surrealism and related art. Sophie-Taeuber-Arp, Jean Arp, Francis Picabia of course Marcel Duchamp and Hannah Hoech, but also Leonora Carrington, are some historical inspirations. Inscrutability and illegibility make more sense to me now than recognizable worlds. In terms of contemporary formal inspiration Charline von Heyl, Laura Owens, and Trudy Benson are my go-to artists. But also Jean-Michel Basquiat and his techniques, with their origins in William Burroughs and his “cut-up” techniques. A favorite Hunter College artist from my cohort is Hannah Beerman. I love her wacky materiality.

Urban Aggregate #106


Marker and artist tape on gray paper

19in x 25in

10. What are your dreams and goals for the future?

I hope my artwork evolves into an ever more effective language of forms, colors, materials and mediums, and that I can dialogue with artists whose work comments on our culture in relevant ways. I want to relate to viewers by facing and pondering questions together, yet celebrating hope and joy, for example in affirming the way a queer critique can open up alternative perspectives on our society as a whole.

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