Babs Reingold is a conceptual artist well known for exploring themes of beauty, and the environment, which come together in her latest body of work, Hair Nest. Some artists paint, some draw, some make sculpture, some take photographs and others work in video or installation. But artist Babs Reingold has worked in most of these media. She creates work about pertinent topics like climate change and human aging but also, perhaps more intriguingly, her work is steeped in process. And regardless of her subject matter, she’s been practicing and perfecting her own unique process for almost 30 years.
In our studio visit chat, we listened to Babs reflect on the passage of time and how she documents changes in the human body and landscape. One aspect of this theme that recurs throughout Reingold’s work is hair loss. In one particularly haunting body of work that includes Fall Out: Beauty Lost and Found, A Question of Beauty and Time Finite, she confronts her own hair loss, which she began documenting in 2005.
It’s a fascinating exploration of the nature (and loss) of beauty, and her attempt to recapture and resurrect it through a variety of media, and of course, a painstaking and thoughtful process.
I’ve been complimented on my hair all my life, setting a synergy in place between it and beauty. Once hair loss began, self-doubt was close behind. The hoarding of this loss on a daily basis became a chronicle. As I fashioned each day’s loss into a doddle, a personal calligraphy evolved. This granted my loss an entirely different existence. What was once troubling was now a message on the contextual relationship of beauty. My hair was enduring, aesthetic, and flexible. In its latest incarnation, it is a nest.Babs Reingold
In works like the Hair Doodles, delicate and beautiful graphite drawings on paper, Reingold creates these beautiful compositions based on strands of hair she’s lost, along with date notations of the day and year of the hair loss. At first glance, they appear just as elegant, abstract line drawings. However, with these works, Reingold fuses performance (the act of collecting and documenting the hair), with the process of cataloging the hair loss in Ziploc bags, and then creating the drawings. The Hair Doodles exemplify her “process” and demonstrate Reingold’s commitment and patience to her work.
Before settling down permanently in St. Petersburg’s Old Southeast neighborhood, Reingold spent many years living and working in New York City, and occupied a studio space in Bayonne, New Jersey. Thus, she spent countless hours at gallery openings and museum exhibitions and had the art world right at her front door. You can see the influence of the many artists she admires in her work, and how she’s able to incorporate elements into her own unique visual narrative. She references the work of Petah Coyne, an artist who she cites as having inspired her to migrate from painting to sculpture, as well as Eva Hesse, Louise Bourgeois, and Kiki Smith, just to name a few. You can see these influences in works like Elaine, a small wall sculpture that combines organic elements like wood and hair, with perilous elements like nails.
Babs’ early work explores gender codes and the issues around women in contemporary society through the subject matter of women bodybuilders. Her series After Venus is multi-layered in its metaphors and visual references, but here we see her interest in wanting to communicate these works in more than one medium, from oil paintings to graphite drawings to monotypes. Origin in Alizarin is a fabulously expressive oil on canvas and a rumination on the trajectory of the female body through history. In the background, the classical ideal of the female form represented by Grecian figures holding shot puts, and in the foreground, a contemporary woman bodybuilder. The juxtaposition of these two extreme body types is both thought-provoking and empowering. The painting feels like a study but it really shows Reingold’s ability to lay out a composition, sketch figures, and create drama. It’s a prime example of how she lets the viewer into her process.
You can see Reingold’s latest work on display at the Tampa International Airport Gallery until Feb 28, 2021, and Reingold will also be part of the Creative Pinellas Annual Fellowship Exhibition in Largo FL from November 12–December 6, 2020,