The Pulse of Life

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL studio, canvas stretched on wall

After all the events of the last few weeks, it now feels like months ago when I was listening to the horrific events that unfolded at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, not able to get the images out of my mind.

Especially one young man’s description of his ordeal, hiding in a bathroom stall with 17 [seventeen!!] other people, all wounded, all slowly bleeding to death as they waited over two and a half hours for help [two and a half hours!].  The shooter came around and shot into the stall, but remarkably, never entered it.

The young man said he couldn’t get the smell of the blood out of his mind.  He shot video from inside the stall and sent to friends so that they would know that they were all alive and give some clues to any potential rescuers.  Why did they have to wait almost THREE HOURS for help? Only five made it out alive.  Just heart-rending. Horrible. Horrible.

Continue reading “The Pulse of Life”

Early Drawing

Erik ReeL drawing
Drawing of Shostikovich, by Erik ReeL at age 14, pencil on paper, 1966

When I was a kid, my one great refuge was the  public library. In those days it had two floors, the first floor was for kids, the second for adults.

I tried desperately to get check-out rights to the adult section when I was in elementary school, but to no avail:  the librarians reneged on every agreement [like reading all the books on a given topic in the young adults section and I’d get access, which I did, but still no access …].

This taught me very early on  one very important  non-intended consequence: that for a lot of adults, including, and especially those in power, their word meant nothing and that  they were not to be trusted.

Finally I turned 12 and could get a full library card. One thing I had not anticipated is that the adult section had a great music section containing Classical LPS, and even more difficult to get otherwise in my neighborhood, a full range of jazz LPs: all of Miles Davis, even Ornette Coleman.  I was in heaven and pretty much  checking out LPs at my max quota on an ongoing basis.

One of the things a lot of these LPs had were photos of the musicians, composers, and conductors on their back covers and sleeve inserts. So I started drawing from these LPs. My primary tools were a black pencil, a pink pearl eraser, and paper, sometimes I used colored crayola crayon. From about 5th grade to 7th grade I  developed a certain naturalistic  approach to drawing that culminated in  the drawing style you see here in an example from the summer before I entered 8th grade. I was 14.

I’ll post a couple of drawings from the next summer in my next post.  Without the intrusion of school, summers allowed me much more time to draw, so most of my drawing during these years was done during the summer.  Ah, the life-long battle to obtain time and space to create my own work.  I do not remember a time or age I did not feel that all else was an imposition and a hindrance to what I felt I was supposed to be doing.


Making Things

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, Urban Forest, opus 1722, acrylic on paper, courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbra

Q:  Frank Stella once said that when he started he just wanted to make things, it was only later that he realized he was making something people called art.

ReeL: Yea, right.  Wonder what he thought Joseph Stella was doing.

For myself, I was never interested in making things. I wasn’t interested as a kid, in school or anytime after.  I was always intrigued by our ability to read a flat surface, to construct meanings from what was on it, to see a flat surface  in a very non-thing-like way.

Materialists and highly materialistic cultures are enthralled by things and making things.  The world is too full of things already.

A painting’s status as an object is NOT the most important aspect of a painting –at least a painting that is any good, that is.  The most important aspect of a painting is whether it has significant meaning. The most important aspects of painting are quite independent of its status as an object, and in many cases are involved with how significantly  it is non-object-like.

New Beginnings

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, Opus 1699, Beginning, acrylic on paper

I did this  painting, titled Beginning New Time, right after meeting Rhonda Hill, my wonderful wife.  We met in a gallery one afternoon, talked for a bit, then went our ways after arranging to meet later early that evening at a friend’s bar for a light dinner.

Neither of us can remember what was said exactly in that first conversation, but we were both intrigued.  Proof, once again, that it is the feeling and character that matters, not the exact words.   It was the beginning of the most remarkable relationship of my life; a relationship that has more than fulfilled all the promise of those first magic moments.


Letter From the Front

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, opus 1697, acrylic

Letter from a painting,

Come to me with your freedom. I am a sanctuary where we meet, you and I, and go together to find another. Drop the burdens of the day-to-day world, that prison full of delusions, that material world that dulls and engulfs us.  I refuse to build walls for that prison.

Tyrannized by photographs, we forget the camera does not see what we see. Why be so literal? Today triflers talk of realism and what a shabby “reality” it is! As if a machine knew our secrets. What does an object know of a dream? a caress? the soft whispering in the night?

it is not enough to be pretty and decorate people’s lives. I am here to keep you from being crushed by life. I celebrate the remaining ruins of time, feelings left in place after death. I am a surface catching the reflections of all that has passed by, the debris of a vision, a graphic cypher of a ghost, a final testament to mortality, thrown against walls, shattered against time, the confines of an artist’s touch, laying bare in the light, bearing witness to my Fall to those who come after.

Color in My Painting

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, opus 1695, acrylic 

Color is central to my painting, including the deeper foundations and interactions that lead to structural coherence, a construct  somewhat influenced by the raga systems of the Indian subcontinent which link color combinations in painting to specific harmonic structures in music are tied to a mood, time of day.  These are somewhat analogous to the Western concept of a musical mode, except that distinctly different ascending and descending scales are recognized within the same rag.

I’m not sure there is such a direct link between painting and music, but certainly a somewhat analogous structuring is possible, something musical, as a structuring principle.

After 2008, my ideas on chromatic structure have moved toward something closer to Stockhausen’s vocabulary of harmonics where fundamentals set the shifting harmonic content for an extended improvisation. Increasingly this has morphed into the use of small clusters of chromatic “notes”, or signs, to produce shifting chromatic relationships, much the way harmonic relationships shift within a complex rhythmic structure as in the music of Kamran Ince and other younger composers.

In broader terms, these approaches are not unlike the use of shifting harmonic structures in a free improvisation of flamenco by, say, Paco Pena, or the modal improvisations of Ornette Coleman and Miles Davis. Similarly, I conceive of painting as a free improvisation in the moment, suiting my mood, but conducted within a precise, deeply studied and rigorous set of chromatic relationships that are known beforehand. I call these sets of relationships chromatic modes: each mode being made up of one or more color clusters or “scales” [though of course the analogy fails when one tries to impose progression and resolution or any other attribute dependent on time], or, as I prefer to say, fundamentals [this is where Stocckhausen’s ideas come in].  That is, these clusters or fundamentals may be further tempered, or fine-tuned, by nuanced additions of other pigments to create the final mode of the painting.

These chromatic structures are inherently abstract, and personal, though, as in Indian rags or Western musical modes, they tend to suggest a certain range of moods and situation.  On top of these chromatic structures I superimpose and ground them with signs reduced to iconic form, to the point where they often can be read in more than one sense..  A multiple visual trope if you will, or as the Max Ernst would say, a multivalent sign. Or deny sense altogether.