Kenneth Callahan

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, Opus 1708, Subtle Influence, acrylic on archival paper

Link to the solo exhibition at the Morris Graves Museum of Art  Full Circle.

correction: Since I did the interview the following blog was posted from [posted 13 March 2016], I have checked on a few things and it seems my memory conflated two very different instances of meetings with Callahan. I first met him in the mid-60s and do not remember which show or which year, but it probably was not at the Henry Gallery as I stated in the interview. Ah the phantoms of memory. The rest of the description below pertains to that first meeting. The Henry comes in when I and my mother later also met Callahan at his retrospective at the Henry in 1973–after my second year in college– and Callahan  gave my mother a signed copy of the exhibition catalog, Universal Journey shortly after.  We visited his studio at Long Beach throughout the rest of the sixties,  Our last visit was in 1971.

Q: Did you ever meet any of the Northwest Four?

ReeL:  They were pretty much before my time  with the exception of Kenneth Callahan.  My mother knew him.  He had a studio on the ocean near Long Beach near a place my family went when we went to the ocean. My mother would take me along and we’d walk down to his studio.

But I first met Callahan at a retrospective he had at the Henry Gallery at the University of Washington. It was just an ordinary day, not an opening or anything and my mother and I were practically the only ones there and there was Callahan standing in the middle of one of the galleries.  My mother took me up and introduced us..  He was very dignified looking with snow white hair and very neatly trimmed beard.

Q: How old were you?

ReeL: I don’t remember, no more than 12 or 13, maybe 11.  I was thinking,, great, some woman comes up to Callahan and bothers him with an introduction to her kid, it seemed like such a stupid intrusion to me.  Then my mother tells him that I want to be a painter. Callahan looks at me and says “So young?” and to my total surprise, Callahan seems to get interested.  We get into a discussion about  painting and start going up to his paintings and discussing each one.   I’m asking how he does this and that and he tells me and then he’d ask me something, sort of a test, and I’d answer and we’d go on like that. When we get through, Callahan turns to my mother, and says to her, “Maybe he will become a painter. Maybe a pretty good one.”

Later he learned that my mother did water color and some acrylics.  So he invited her to his studio and we’d go to Long Beach once or twice a year and visit his studio.  She also went to another water-colorists studio near by, a Charles Mulvey, who did very conventional seascape watercolors much in the vein of my mother’s.  Technically proficient, but very conventional and nothing I was interested in. I also didn’t particularly like Mulvey’s studio, it was all set up for selling, while Callahan’s was a magic wonderland as far as I was concerned, full of half-done work with big swaths of color across them, in the state before he started putting in all the figurative stuff.  I liked his partially done work better than the finished work, They all started out as these relatively bold abstractions.

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