ERIC RHEIN - VISUAL ARTIST Eric Projects & Exhibitions Gallery The Leaf Project Contact
Mission Artist Statement Tributes Images


Leaves was conceived through a mystical experience in the hills of New Hampshire in the fall of 1996. Through the course of that summer, I had been brought back from the borders of death to a state of health. Due to my compatibility with the protease inhibitors, and the grace of a residency at the MacDowell Artists Colony, I stepped into a creative and spiritual initiation. While wandering the paths of the reforested farm that comprises MacDowell, I was moved to tears at being welcomed into that vibrant community; when, not even a year before, the state of my health would not have permitted the experience. My senses were as acutely open to the sights, scents and sounds of the earth as they had been during the weeks following my HIV diagnosis almost ten years before.

Enveloped in autumn, I sensed the presence of those I loved who had died of complications from AIDS; it was as if their spirits were supporting me while I learned to walk again. I began picking up fallen leaves that recalled unique qualities of those who had left their physical forms.

I captured young, blond Scott with the bright green eyes-in the form of an elm leaf-fallen prematurely, its green not yet vanquished by the gilding of age. To his right lay Carlos, a tattered birch leaf, and Australian Tim, a golden maple-both members of Scott's "chosen family." There was fair Pam, her colors yellowing into a withered oval. One by one, I picked up leaves until a host of kinsmen was gathered in my arms.

Back in my studio, I laid the leaves out on newsprint and recorded their silhouettes in ink-eighty six in all. With single lengths of wire, I delicately drew their forms, and then hooked them individually into white sheets of paper. The "portraits" reflecting all walks of life, were pinned to the wall in a unified group like the limbs of an extended family tree.

Leaves continues to grow, with the inclusion of tributes to friends who have died since my own gain in health. Creating tributes to people I've known who have died of complications from AIDS is an active acknowledgement of my ongoing relationship with them. In death, they continue to be the teachers that they were in life, generously sharing with me the gifts of their individual attributes.

Eric Rhein