While the other kids in his third-grade class were expressing themselves with yarn and Popsicle sticks, Eric Rhein was designing miniature coffins to accommodate little figures of "sleeping" children. His instructor, dismayed, suggested work on happier subjects; undaunted the young artist ranked his creation as the most charming of the Art Hour's achievements. He describes the incident retrospectively as evidence of his "early fixation on the poetic sense of death."
At twenty-eight, Rhein has translated that youthful fascination into sculpture bound for exhibition this month in Artist Space in TriBeCa. His current works draw on past projects and continuing interest–four years of ballet training, jewelry design for Romeo Gigli and Geoffrey Beene, a mask-and-puppet design collaboration with New York City Ballet, and inspiration from a grandmother in Kentucky with a penchant for making burlap-and-cornhusk chapeaus. Also evident are his frequent trips to Europe and Japan, fertile scavenging grounds for a growing collection of fabric and miscellaneous objects he uses in his work.
Resting on individual stands, Rhein's pieces–tenuous skeletal cavities covered by silk and brocade, and metallic leather membranes–suggest highly mannered hulls reluctantly left by former occupants. Clustered in a tiny room of his East village studio, they resemble a small band of sinewy Renaissance Hollow Men stuck in a fashionable purgatory.
Rhein's work has been compared to the art of Calder, Duchamp, and Elsa Schiaparelli, and has gained a loyal following. Even Muriel Kallis Newman, whose great collection of Abstract Expressionist art will go to New York's Metropolitan, has an Eric Rhein (a gift from gallery owner Holly Solomon). Sipping seltzer in his studio, the artist seems satisfied with the direction in which his Art Hour impulses have taken him.