Reisha Perlmutter, “Ojo de Agua” (“Eye of the Water” ), 2023. Oil on linen, 38″x60” (Courtesy: Reisha Perlmutter).

Artist Reisha Perlmutter’s work explores the relationship between body and water in a stunningly beautiful, majestical way. Her latest exhibition, INCANDESCENCE, now on view  in New York City, takes the viewer beyond the surface and into another realm on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. The show, mounted at 685 Third Avenue in partnership with BentallGreenOak and produced by DK Johnston, is a mixture of paintings, photography, and one short film. The work focuses on illuminating the space between shadow and light, blurring the delineation between subject and environment, and the ideas of beauty and liberation. 

In the works of art on view —eight paintings and five photographs—Perlmutter tells the story of the main character Ruby Vizcarra, set against the spectrum of color and depth of the Cenotes of the Yucatan jungle. The connections to the subterranean bodies of water provide a vivid backdrop of imagery. Here, specifically, the paintings are inspired by Cenotes—natural links to water–nestled in the wilderness of the Yucatan. Light from the sky burst through the openings, creating a spectrum of color and reflection. Perlmutter was inspired by the variation between the Cenotes and the thematic resonance of light, resulting in the release for the first time of limited-edition fine art prints from this exact cave. The breadth of the artist’s creative expression plays harmonically within the two unique landscapes of the Cenotes. Here, the artist speaks to us about her latest body of work.  

Elizabeth Hazard: Tell me about the body of work you will show?

Reisha Perlmutter: Over the past several years, I have become greatly interested in all that we choose or choose not to see as it relates to humanity and the destruction of the ecosystems that sustain our species. In addition, I am intrigued by the ambiguous moment of connection between humans and the environment, where the stories of a woman and water are intertwined. This series of paintings and the film explore the idea of the invisible. The reference for the series originates in the Yucatan jungle, where the female subject Ruby, is inextricably woven into the world of the Cenotes. Light is a primary character in the works as its presence and absence blur the delineation between subject and environment. The paintings and film play with moments of ambiguity and clarity, where the idea of beauty takes form as sound, breath, color, and light.

EH: There is also a film component. How does this play into the art?

RP: I am thrilled to be working on this film because I feel that the opportunity to document the process of creating this work is pivotal to the work’s story. Film allows for an expansion of my artistic language. Sound, movement, and the passage of time are elements that become more present and visceral with the moving image and documentation of my process.  Conceptually, something vital to my work is the physical struggles inherent to holding my breath, maneuvering my camera underwater, and being at the mercy of everything that is not within my control. It’s probably my favorite part of my process and is something I can communicate much more clearly with this film.

Reisha Perlmutter, “Cristalina”(“Crystalline”), 2023. Oil on linen, 38″x 60” . (Courtesy: Reisha Perlmutter)

EH: Your work explores the connection between women and water. Can you tell our readers what drew you to this idea and what have you learned as you explore this notion through your art?

RP: I was initially drawn to the idea of women and water as my meditation. Many of my earlier works were almost exclusively self-portraiture. I found a sense of detachment and connection to myself that transported me back to core childhood memories and self-examination. The contractions beneath the water were my impetus to continue in this direction. There is humility and power in the fragility of time without breath, a moment infused with peace and conflict. 

My work moved from myself to others, almost as a case study of curiosity. I was searching for the universality of a feeling, and I naturally began painting other subjects. However, time and the evolution of my work have allowed me to realize that much of what I am drawn to is the great paradox of the complexity of simplicity as it relates to my imagery.

EH: Tell me what initially brought you to your craft, and how has it evolved over the years? 

RP: Art as a visual language has been my form of communication since I can remember because it can speak without context or language. I have an insatiable desire to push myself to feel and perceive the world around me in non-linear ways. I find myself pursuing this artistic quest by searching for alternative or more realized ways of communicating recurring ideas.

EH: How would you describe your overall process? 

RP: At the moment, the first word that comes to mind is all-consuming. There is no delineation between my life and my work, which is maybe a beautiful thing and or a terrible thing. It’s certainly exhausting at times. My work and process are a reflection of my life and the desire to find a connection between disparate ideas and perceptions.