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]

Painting Technique

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, opus 1762, acrylic

Q: I’d like to move on to your technique.  At this point it seems you’ve established a distinct working method involving some very specific techniques. When did you start working in this way, or in this direction.

ReeL:  From the very beginning actually.  There were hints of it in how I combined dry and wet media in that first oil I did when I was twelve. That piece that got kicked out of the student show when I was 15 and put into the professional show was in some ways, technically, a forerunner of my current technique. Then I experimented with a lot of other approaches, often returning to develop this technique further.

When I left college and was involved with the and/or alternative space in Seattle, a bunch of us Continue reading “Painting Technique”

What IS the Question?

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, opus 1761, acrylic painting

Q: I realized I had started to ask a question about Schopenhauer, but we got completely sidetracked. I’m trying to remember what we were saying.

ReeL: I don’t think we got started on anything, other than that Schopenhauer is one of the few formal philosophers who said a lot about art in his major works, but wasn’t a specialist in aesthetics or art or anthropology or anything like that.

Q: Yea, So what can you say about Schopenhauer?

ReeL: There’s quite a lot to be said about Schopenhauer, but I’m not Continue reading “What IS the Question?”

Kandinsky

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, opus 1737, The Lack of a Certain Geometry, acrylic on paper, 2013

Q; So what about the spiritual in art? Why do you think Kandinsky had it wrong?

ReeL: Sir Herbert Read talked about an art of internal necessity. Kandinsky says this internal necessity is spiritual.  I don’t necessarily think that is true for everyone. For some, yes; for others, definitely not.

Kandinsky had a specific bias that blinded him to certain alternatives. But that’s OK, those alternatives were not relevant to his own art.  It just makes his essay a bit less universal. As we know, Kandinsky had been associated with the Theosophists, so he was pulling core ideas along these lines for his  famous essay from an earlier publication written by two theosophists. Kandinsky had to have had access to  this publication as it was written by a couple of Theosophists he had to have been aware of … in this publication they proposed a new kind of more truly spiritual painting that was totally abstract, in fact, non-objective.

But they weren’t painters, or at least painters anywhere near Kandinsky’s abilities. Consequently, their samples–their book had color illustrations of samples of this new type of painting they were proposing–their samples were not that persuasive as paintings. Kandinsky was a thousand times better painter, so his breakthrough is still a breakthrough, irregardless these other historical precedents. It is more a tale of how things never really arise from nothing. There are always precedents. It is the genius who sees new possibilities within all the mess that is already here.

Q:  Wait a minute. What?  [Are you talking about] Non-objective painting before before Kandinsky or Malevic? Continue reading “Kandinsky”

Art in Public Schools

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, opus 1760, acrylic painting

Q: What about art in school, before college or art school?  How was that for you?

ReeL: Art in school? Right. I don’t remember doing much painting in school before my last year in high school, other than finger painting, and very rarely, poster paints for what I considered really stupid projects.

It was mostly crafty projects, making stuff with paper and glue, and little idiotic holiday projects, all of which I hated. Totally turned me off.

Q: I wonder if any school teachers will read this. It sounds like if you had depended on the schools getting you interested in art, they’d have flunked Continue reading “Art in Public Schools”

Scenes

 

 

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, opus 1758, Sin Bad, acrylic painting, 2013

Q: I’ve heard that you had a somewhat unique situation as a kid with your younger brothers, in terms of how you played and a possible preparation for making art. Could you explain a bit about that?

ReeL: When I was six, I invented this thing we called “scenes”, where on a long strip of shelf paper a couple yards long cut from rolls my mother always kept around for lining the bottom of our shelves, I’d draw a scene, or schematic background, of say a landscape and then draw on typing paper figurines to cut out and play with on that background. In this way we could create any environment and people it with anyone or thing we wanted. Dinosaurs, spacecraft and super heroes, monsters and fabulous beasts, Continue reading “Scenes”