Erik ReeL was born in Seattle in 1952, attended Whitman College, majoring in mathematics; the University of California, at Berkeley; and the University of Washington in art history and studio art, graduating summa cum laude in 1975. He studied art history with Rainer Crone and Ettlinger, painting with Jacob Lawrence, Michael Spafford, Bob Jones, and Michael Dailey, color with Richard Dahn [a student of Albers], sumi-e with George Tsutakawa, and Chinese brush with Hsai Chen.
In the 1970s ReeL wrote on art for Vanguard, ArtExpress, High Performance magazines, ArtWeek, a weekly arts column for the Bellevue Journal-American, as well as reviews for a variety of publications, and was the arts editor for the Seattle Voice city magazine. He sat on the Seattle Arts Commission Special Task Force for Media, and the Special Task Force for Educational Institutions in the Arts. During this time ReeL created and participated in a number of Performance Art pieces performed primarily within the Puget Sound region around Seattle and exhibited paintings with the original Jackson Street Gallery located upstairs at 123 Jackson Street. For half a decade he taught art history, color theory, life painting, and design at the Seattle Central Community College before leaving Seattle permanently in 1984.
This commenced almost a decade where ReeL refused to exhibit his work with the exception of a modest solo exhibition of drawings at the Mazey Hickey gallery in Seattle. ReeL began to exhibit again at the end of the twentieth century in fairly modest venues with a terse, figurative, post-modernist style. In 2009, ReeL started stripping out all references to the material world in his painting, pushing the work into a position clearly critical of the “hypermaterialism” of contemporary society. This was soon followed by strong, successful shows, first at the 643 Project Space, then the WAV [Working Artists of Ventura] space with fellow painter, Nash Rightmer and a solo show at the Studio Channel Islands Art [SCIART] blackboard gallery. These shows were followed by a string of museum shows, starting with the Museum of Ventura County Rebar show; followed by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Santa Barbara’s group show, Out of the Great Wide Open, where ReeL was given his own room, constituting, in essence, his own solo show within the group exhibition, culminating with a solo show at the Morris Graves Museum of Art. In a presentation at the Morris Graves Museum of Art, Portland art critic, Jae Carlsson [Art Dish, ArtForum] pointed out ReeL’s visual and philosophical connections to earlier Seattle painters Morris Graves and Mark Tobey, while at the same time indicating that ReeL had pushed things beyond Post-Modernist limitations.
In a certain sense, with these connections to earlier Seattle precedents and his influences from the Black Mountain Arts School via Jacob Lawrence and Bob Jones, with later influences from Cy Twombly after a meeting and exhibition of Twombly’s in New York in the late 1970s, ReeL’s current work could be seen as a continuation of both the Northwest School “Northwest Mystics” of Seattle and La Connor, and the core Black Mountain School painting traditions all rolled up into one, even though he does not practice or exhibit in Seattle, nor has had any direct interaction with the Black Mountain Arts School per se.
In 2012 ReeL met and two years later, married Rhonda P. Hill, who has been a key influence in both his art and in persuading him to exhibit his work to a broader public. He currently maintains a studio north of Los Angeles, above the ocean in old downtown Ventura, California.
photo: Erik ReeL and Nash Rightmer at 643 Project Space installing Tabula Rasa show, 2013, photo: Rhonda P. Hill.