This article was originally published in the June 2017 Princeton Echo.
Whether it’s used as an adjective or verb, the word “brave” has the same meaning: having courage or acting fearlessly. It also perfectly describes visual artist Meredith Remz and is the name of her current solo exhibition at Small World Coffee on Witherspoon Street.
In Remz’s case, brave is the natural desire to be audacious and courageous through art-making. “So often in our lives,” she says, “we are faced with choices and decisions which could very well lead to complete freedom or downright paralysis. Creating art is similar in that I don’t always know what will be on the other side. While that feeling is surely intimidating, it is also incredibly fascinating and liberating.”
Remz approaches her collage-painting as a sculptor, allowing the latex and acrylic paint to fall from her unconventional painting tools, such as spoons and spatulas, onto the canvas. Using a spatula, in particular, gives the piece the desired texture, density of paint, and fluidity evident in her paintings.
“When I paint, there is a result, a destiny if you will, that I can in no way predict,” says Remz, who often starts a work by applying glue to the canvas and then has to wait for it to dry before seeing the picture. Essentially, she is sculpting with paint to create landscapes that are eye-catching and bold.
“When you don’t think about it, that’s when it’s going to get good. You just close your eyes, do it, and let it go,” she says. In other words, one needs to be brave.
Remz grew up in South Brunswick, the youngest of three children, but only by a matter of seconds; her twin sister came out first. Her father is a geologist and her mother, who has a degree in psychology, works as a substitute teacher.
“I wasn’t book smart as a kid,” Remz recalls. “I struggled a lot with learning, and the only reason that I got through science class was because I was able to draw these elaborate pictures. I did very well in art class, but even when I was in art school, I always had to put a lot of effort into it. It never came easy.”
What did come relatively easy was tinkering. As a kid she was a pro taking screws out of furniture, a skill she must have inherited from her grandfather, a TV repairman. “My father always said the golden hands went right through him and straight into me because I understand how to take things apart and put them back together.”
Remz attended Mercer County Community College with no clear direction. She changed majors several times — from photography to visual arts to sculpture — yet her talent was evident, and she was recognized with a scholarship to attend Rutgers’s Mason Gross School of the Arts, where she majored in sculpture.
While at college she learned the invaluable lesson of cultivating friendships with fellow artists, something she implemented for her gallery opening at Small World by inviting a jewelry artist to display her work. “If I can encourage or inspire someone else or help them get to where they want to be, that’s important to me,” she explains. “It’s important to be around other artists, be inspired, and network.”
So how did a sculpture major become a painter? Back in 2007, when she was living in San Diego and managing a retail store, Remz came down with a case of double pink eye. For two solid weeks, she had to stay home, where, at the time, there were only limited art supplies. So to pass the time she started making collage-paintings.
Her experience in retail, as well as her mother’s influence, taught Remz how to market herself. “My mother is very creative,” she says. “She’s a great cook, and presentation is everything to her. And that has definitely rubbed off on me.”
At Small World her bio is strategically placed throughout the cafe, with her contact information and Facebook link clearly marked. There is no mistaking who the artist is or how to get in contact with her.
She also gives credit to her time working as a carpenter for Mrs. Fixxit Home Repair in Hightstown, where she was trained in sheet rock, tile, and carpentry. Today she applies those skills to constructing frames for her work.
But it has been her full-time job managing Steven S. Cohen’s architectural firm, based at 63 Moran Avenue, that has had a huge impact on her creative life. Aside from having access to a large-scale printer, she has also learned how to approach and assemble each exhibit with the eye of an architect. With each show she takes photographs of how her pieces are arranged and then puts them in a binder. For the next show she refers to that binder to help her remember which pieces look good in a particular arrangement. She also photographs other artists’ work to see how certain colors, such as orange and red, look on a wall. And if her art is on display in a multi-use space, she takes pictures of people doing their own work close to hers.
“What I love about Small World is that people are studying for their Ph.D. in front of my work,” says Remz, who is showing her work for the third time at the popular coffee shop. “Relationships happen here. It has a good vibe, and I like that.”
In creating her vibrant, attention-grabbing work, Remz draws inspiration from her experiences with contemporary and industrial design as well as Mother Nature. Trees and nature are a central theme in her work. The show also includes collage-paintings utilizing the famed tigers in front of Nassau Hall and several impressive photographs that she took on a visit to Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies.
Remz explains that her schedule was really tight getting this show together. She had about six weeks to finish making the art and then needed time to frame each piece. All the while, she thinks of what her thesis advisor told her: “You’ll know you’re an artist if you keep creating after college.” So she’s constantly prepping the next canvas to work on it later.
In addition to the show at Small World, Remz’s work can also be seen at Princeton Pi & Yogurt on Nassau Street, CoWork Connection in Lawrenceville, and Boro Bean in Hopewell. Five of her paintings and sculptures are in the permanent collections at St. Peter’s Medical Center in New Brunswick and Carrier Clinic in Belle Mead.
There’s one more sign that Remz was thinking of making that reads “Please feel free to straighten paintings.” If a painting looks crooked, feel free to fix it.
And if you want to touch the work? Be brave. Go for it.