Whispering in a Loud Room

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, opus 1721, Five Double-Oh Three, acrylic on paper

Q: Speaking of veering off into subtlety. What about you? Your recent stuff has veered off into a lot of subtlety.

ReeL: Yea, I keep hearing that out of New York: “It’s too subtle for me” thing, except for say, Luhring Augustine, who basically say, “interesting, original, but you’re not famous enough.”.

Everyone  wants stuff that hits people over the head so it can pop out at Fairs, where everyone is walking around in this sort of zombiehood, numbed from the overload of all this stuff. Art Fairs are an incredibly degraded environment for seeing art.

So they need something obvious to hit you over the head. It may not hold up under extended viewing, but it gets your attention in all the visual noise.

Q: I’ve heard that the real test of a great work of art is the opposite: that it should hold up over extended and repeated viewing. I know that is true for me. The really good stuff seems to grow on me. I want to go back to see it again and again. Or I may even be put off by it at first and have to get my head around it in a new way before I can appreciate it.

Other stuff, I grow tired of quickly. Maybe first glance it strikes me, then I see that it doesn’t really have that much there.  I think there is more and more attention being paid these days to the one-hit, momentary wonders. But maybe that is how it’s always been and I am just getting more discerning as I get older. I mean, the seventeenth century, for example,  essentially missed Vermeer and preferred Rembrandt’s earlier, grander stuff rather than his late, much subtler masterpieces.

ReeL: There might have been an issue of exposure there. His early stuff was well-known; a lot of the later stuff was not that public in his time. Same with Vermeer, he wasn’t that well exposed in his own time, while everyone knew who Hals and all the seascape painters were.

Q: I’m not sure that detracts from my point. Where is a lot of the exposure coming today, but not the Art Fairs? We’re living in an age where loud has long predominated over subtle. You can’t whisper in today’s art market. So maybe those New York dealers are trying to tell you something you need to hear. I get the feeling you are not that concerned with anything called “today’s art market,” that you are more interested in following a specific, personal investigation concerning your take on two-dimensionsl imagery, what others have called your “pre-linguistic markings.”

But what’s the point if no one sees it?   Look at how much your exhibition history has been involved with alternative, not-for-profit, and museum spaces. More than a few of your recent shows I’ve seen, the work, even if it is in a pop-up space where you have full control and could sell whatever you want, the work has not even been for sale. Your last three shows have been in museums. You’ve virtually avoided the commercial gallery world almost entirely, including Art Fairs.

ReeL: Well, in a way, I’ve hardly exhibited at all.

Q: What do you mean? you’ve been in over a 100 shows, with maybe over three dozen solo shows. You just haven’t used commercial dealers and galleries that much.

ReeL: Well I’ve been around awhile, I’m 63 and have been painting professionally since I was 15, so it doesn’t take much exhibiting to get 100 shows, if you’ve been at it almost a half century. That doesn’t work out to too much. . I’ve really made very little effort to exhibit, and for long stretches of time, not exhibited at all.

Q: Now that you are in your sixties, are you interested in changing that? You’re work needs to be seen.

ReeL: Yes, I want people to see it. It is time to get it out there. But I’ve spent so many years on the outside, quietly enjoying the freedom of my privacy that I’m not sure I can change my ways. I like being left alone. There’s a distinctly reclusive side to my nature.

Q: Yet, you get along with people, you seem to enjoy people. I’d never guess you have a reclusive side, other than I see that you do not push your work out there at all. But your work deserves otherwise.

ReeL: Yes, the work deserves otherwise. I want people to see the work. People need to see the work. But I’m just not that interested in all the rah rah.

Q: The rah rah?

ReeL: Yea, all the rah rah rah.

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