A painting done by a grandmother for her grandchild, at a birthday party planted an idea in curator Brett Yasko’s mind. The artwork reminded him of paintings by Joseph Yoakum he had just seen at the Carnegie Museum of Art.
“Why is one artist in this gallery and his work will be seen by thousands of people, and this other artist, her painting might be seen by a handful of people. It will sit on a night stand,” Yasko wondered.
That thought inspired the exhibition ‘John Riegert’ which opens June 24th at the SPACE Gallery. The exhibit features over 200 portraits of John Riegert, by various artists working with different media.
Showcasing artists ranging from undiscovered to well known, Yasko put this plan into action by inviting 400 artists to participate in the project. Expecting 20 to 30 responses Yasko was taken by surprise when over 200 artists agreed to take part.
“Before I could even get the thought coming out of my head, I knew it had to be John.”
The email invitation to participate explained the project. It also included a photo of Riegert but did not include any further information about him. However, Yasko made it available if the artists wanted to learn more about Riegert which helped them according to Yasko, “create really interesting, beautiful pieces of art.”
Yasko says Riegert, an artist in his own right, was the perfect subject because of his lack of embarrassment. Another benefit was his nature of making those around him feel comfortable.
Riegert, who is bipolar and has struggled with depression, was happy to be the subject for this project. He will also serve as its docent for the exhibit. Meeting and talking with the artists involved as well as those who come to see the exhibit.
Riegert hopes the exhibit continues the discussion on mental illness.
“It’s amazing some of these artists, talking to them about this mental health stuff,” says Riegert. “They’re like, ‘Yeah, I have it too.’ or ‘I’m glad to hear this because I’ve never heard anybody talking about it.’”
Yasko says the point of the exhibit is not to comment on mental health, rather than be about Riegert and what he has experienced in his life.
“The things that John has gone through and goes through are a part of the project,” says Yasko. “It doesn’t have an overarching theme.”
A self- portrait by Riegert will not be part of the exhibit. However, he will have some of his drawings on display.
The exhibit “John Riegert” runs from June 24 to September 4 at the SPACE Gallery.
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