Beginning

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, opus 1700, acrylic on paper

Early in January 2016, I did an extended interview online, the transcript of which is posted here in part in the Interview category. Except for this first post, the posts are listed in reverse order due to the nature of how blogs are posted chronologically, that is, the earliest are at the bottom of the blog file. To read the interview posts in the order of the actual interview, go to the end and work forward.  However, due to the nature of interviews, they can pretty much be read randomly.  There is a certain building of context toward the end of the interview, but most posts stand on their own and deal with a single question.

Q: To get started, I’d like to explore a few aspects of your background. You emerged from Seattle and the University of Washington School of Art right at the end of a particularly significant era in the history of that University’s art department.  At that time it was one of the strongest painting departments  in the world with 17 faculty, two of which were from the famous Black Mountain Arts school. In the previous decade it had produced Chuck Close and Dale Chihuly, and had a  direct connection to the Northwest “mystics” School of Tobey, Graves, Callahan, and Anderson via George Tsutakawa.  Yet, even though you’ve always been focused on painting, you were also quite active in the Seattle Performance Art scene of the time. Why was that? What was going on there? What was it like there at that time?

ReeL: There was tremendous cross-arts collaboration, interaction, and pollination.  Remember this is the city where John Cage met Merce Cunningham  while Martha Graham was at Seattle’s Cornish School of Allied Arts before they all went to New York. They had already set the collaborative tone.  By the time my generation came along, the young dance, theatre, fine art, and music scenes  [music from nascent Grundge to New Music to formal composers] were in constant communication with each other, attending each other’s events and helping each other.

There were people like Stuart Dempster, an ongoing member of the core music group that worked with Merce Cunningham, who were at the University and active in the local arts community. Dempster encouraged everyone to reach across media and ignore boundaries between the various arts.. This ignoring boundaries was an attitude congenial to my own approach to things. I’ve always thrived on diversity.

Q: And the visual arts scene?

ReeL: We had a healthy and thriving gallery scene, with the core older galleries like Foster/White who had handled the Northwest School and first launched Chihuly and many others, New galleries supporting the youngest artists and one of the best alternative spaces in and/or. Eventually the museum also started supporting the younger scene. For example, I was repeatedly asked to lecture there whenever I had an exhibition or an idea the curatorial department thought was interesting. They let me use their slide library and access their collection at any time.  Little things like that to make things easier.

With the collapse of the old port, the adjacent area, Bell Town, was converted from old Seamen’s bars to a thriving arts and cultural scene. Many of us, including myself, had our studios there or close by in the industrial spaces opened up when the shipping moved to the container port south of downtown. I shared a space with another painter on Virginia, about six blocks up from the Virginia Inn, on the fourth floor of an old furniture warehouse looking into the 30th floor of the downtown skyscrapers.  We had over a 1000 square feet with twelve foot ceilings and a sleeping area.  I was living on two to three hundred bucks a month.

[more to come]