Black Mountain

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, Opus 1703, Brush Field, acrylic on paper

Q: There was one other University of Washington  faculty member when you were there other than Jacob Lawrence that was from Black Mountain: Robert C. Jones.  Did you study with him as well?

ReeL:  At the University of Washington at that time there was what some students called The Triumvirate, after the Roman political system. This was the trio of Michael Spafford, Michael Dailey, and Bob Jones, who were close to each other and their students and who, along with Lawrence, were considerably more open in their approach than the rest of the faculty. I tended to take  their classes.

I enjoyed the classes with Jones and Dailey, but I was drawn most to Michael Spafford. He and Lawrence were the only faculty members I kept contact with after I left the university.

Q: Cy Twombly also came from  Black Mountain. Before you jump off and assume I am going to equate your work, I must tell you that I once heard a curator at the Menil, who had put your work into one of his shows, brush off that comparison with a remark to the effect that “except for the difference in medium, context,  and approach, and that one uses historical references while the other eschews referentiality, and they are of two completely different generations and mileaus and that if you see their work in person there is no discernible resemblance, I guess you could say that there is something in common between Twombly and ReeL’s painting.”

ReeL: Like two faculty members?

Q; Were Lawrence and Jones at Black Mountain, too, while Twombly was there?

ReeL: I have no idea.  There is a shared interest in history between all four of us, albeit totally different epochs.

Q: I have a theory about your work and the Twombly thing: it seems to me that the  people who say your work looks like Twombly’s are people who have not seen one or the other’s or both your work live, in person.  In person you can clearly see that you two approach painting very differently.  In reproduction, it is very difficult to see this. How would you characterize the difference between you?

ReeL: I’d say topics versus topology.  Twombly is mired in referentiality.  He  restricts his work to having to refer to specific historical and personal events, topics, if you will, something outside the painting,  I reject referentiality; I stay primarily inside the painting.

But don’t get me wrong, I love Twombly’s paintings.

Q: What do you mean by “topology”?

ReeL: Topology, mathematics.  In terms of topology, mathematics, for the most part I use only open curves of genus zero and one, once in a while a genus two curve.  But I’m not sure this is a useful  way for anyone else to approach my work.

Q: How should we approach your work?

ReeL:  I have my internal approach, a well-developed visual language, underlying my work,  something entirely inside the painting. This is the technical ground for my painting; it is not necessarily how a viewer receives or could —or should– see and understand the work.

Q: How should one see and understand your work?

ReeL: By prolonged seeing, multiple viewings, taking it in, fully, with your whole being, without trying to figure it out with the narrow intellect.  Beware over-intellectualization.

Q: Ah, there is more to the world than our philosophy ….

ReeL: Yes.

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