Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 8, No. 6, 2009
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Robert J. Lewis
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the olive wood wonders of




© Rena MerenAs I read through some of my previous artists’ interviews, I realized that sculpture had been inadvertently short shrifted, which makes me happy to remedy that shortcoming with an introduction to an Austrian sculptress whom I met on a recent trip to Vienna.

Rena Meren is a multi-disciplinary artist. She has a studio in Vienna which she uses primarily for painting. But for three to four months a year she lives and works in the verdant Greek island of Thassos, the most northerly island in the Aegean; it is where she creates her beautiful olive wood sculptures.

For the past 15 years, Rena has been leading seminars in painting, sculpture and Qi Gong -- a five thousand year old Chinese discipline -- on her adopted Greek island. She discovered the island during a vacation and has spent summers there since 1985. Our interview was conducted in German which I’ve translated. We spoke about her methods, materials, her philosophy and how she came to work with the beautiful olive wood.

“On August 15, 1985, and for four days, fire ravaged the island of Thassos. When the smoke cleared the devastation was heartbreaking, especially for the now charred old olive trees.”

Rena loves wood and began to explore its possibilities found at the core or heart of those burnt trunks and roots. Under many centimeters of soot, she painstakingly and methodically scrapes and gouges away the damage to expose the undamaged wood where the structure becomes her inspiration for her sculptures. Sometimes, after a long days work, she will have managed to uncover only a small area of sinuous beauty. She creates with great care and reverence for the forms that have taken centuries to grow ; each cut, scrape, drilling and other interventions are carried out with great concentration and consideration. Rena says that she doesn’t alter the structures, she merely sets them free. It is through her special relationship with the antiquity of the wood she is able to unlock the forms and reveal the aesthetics that have been growing inside the trees for hundreds of years. She likes the idea that she is playing a small part in the preservation of our environmentally challenged planet, and regards manual labour as an antidote to our technology driven hectic times.

Although Rena works in many mediums, her olivewood sculpture is, for her, a form of meditation, joy and self-discovery. She creates very large sculptures that may take many months to complete so during that time she also works on smaller pieces and draws or paints from nature. The smaller works and the paintings and drawings from nature are a diversion from the labour intensive, physical demands required by carving the very hard, dense grained olivewood. Some sculptures are then cast, from the original wood, in bronze foundries.

Her sculpture forms remind me of the sweeping curves of Henry Moore, and Rena admits her affinity for his sculptures, but she has also been influenced, since childhood, by her friend and mentor, the famous sculptor, Josef Pillhofer, whose works can be found world wide. And although there may be similarities to other artists, Rena’s work is signature unique because each old olive tree contains its own particular story: like Thassosian leaves or Alpine snowflakes, no two are alike.

Rena is tireless and her creativity is not limited to the visual arts. She is the author and illustrator of five books that explore a variety of subjects including the Greek landscape that inspires so much of her work. She occasionally reads her stories at impromptu public readings; it’s only a matter of time before publishers discover her. Readers can learn more about Rena Meren on her website:


Art works © Rena Meren



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