David Reed
American, born 1946

#471, 1999–2000
Oil and alkyd resin on canvas, 110 1/4 x 34 1/8 in.
Museum Purchase

When David Reed moved into his first New York studio in 1971, he and other artists of his generation faced a challenge: how to keep the medium of painting vital when images were traveling more rapidly than ever before and many modern art movements seemed exhausted. Convinced of paint’s infinite potential and determined to "make the paintings they say can’t be made," he set about creating a singular form of abstraction.(1) His energetic, color-saturated works draw upon a range of sources, including art history, landscape, and film. 

At first glance, the free-form arabesques of color and decentralized composition of #471 resemble 1950s abstract expressionist paintings by Franz Kline and Jackson Pollock. But Reed's flat surface, combining straightedge and curvilinear elements and showing little trace of brushwork, suggests this canvas is the product of painstaking labor and deliberation--in contrast to the spontaneous approach taken by those two painters. The undulating ribbons of hot red on the left and pale pink on the right, made by applying paint with a spatula to produce varying degrees of translucency, assume a three-dimensional, photographic quality. Resembling high-contrast enlargements of drapery folds in Baroque-era portraits--a subject that fascinates Reed--they add illusionistic depth, suggesting that he thinks of abstraction in symbolic and experiential terms.

Reed, an avid moviegoer, readily admits that film has changed the way he sees both art and the world.(2) Many of his horizontal images bring to mind the sweeping panoramas of Technicolor westerns, and he talks about the vibrant palette of the vertical #471 in cinematic terms:

I was trying for every possible extreme of color—light and dark, warm and cold, the extremes of hue in the red and green. I also had some idea that if I could glaze the same hue over a paler version of that hue, I could end up with a “super color,” a kind of neon-glare-y quality that makes me think of Superman.(3)

Reed recalls hearing the art dealer Nicholas Wilder observe that the painter John McLaughlin’s geometric abstractions always ended up in bedrooms because their owners wanted them to be the last things they saw at night and the first things they saw in the morning. At that moment, Reed says, he realized he wanted to be a "bedroom painter," an artist whose work people live with intimately. Ideally, his paintings would be "part of normal life, seen in private moments of reverie."(4) To that end, he has made works, such as #471, that serve up equal measures of painterly smarts and sumptuous delight, mirroring the complexities and pleasures of everyday life.

--Toby Kamps
Curator
The Menil Collection, Houston


1. Reed, telephone conversation with the author, October 20, 2009.
2. David Reed, “Journal,” in New Paintings for the Mirror Room and Archive in a Studio off the Courtyard, exh. cat. (Graz, Austria: Neue Galerie Am Landesmuseum Joanneum, 1996), 13.
3. Reed, e-mail to the author, October 21, 2009.
4. Arthur C. Danto, “Between the Bed and the Brushstroke: Reading the Paintings of David Reed,” David Reed, exh. cat. (Cologne: Kölnischer Kunstverein, 1995), 71.

David Reed (American, born 1946), '#471,' 1999–2000. Oil and alkyd resin on canvas, 110 1/4 by 34 1/8 inches. Museum PurchaseArtofOurTimecatalogue,publishedin2010

 

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