Kenneth Callahan

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, Opus 1708, Subtle Influence, acrylic on archival paper

Link to the solo exhibition at the Morris Graves Museum of Art  Full Circle.

correction: Since I did the interview the following blog was posted from [posted 13 March 2016], I have checked on a few things and it seems my memory conflated two very different instances of meetings with Callahan. I first met him in the mid-60s and do not remember which show or which year, but it probably was not at the Henry Gallery as I stated in the interview. Ah the phantoms of memory. The rest of the description below pertains to that first meeting. The Henry comes in when I and my mother later also met Callahan at his retrospective at the Henry in 1973–after my second year in college– and Callahan  gave my mother a signed copy of the exhibition catalog, Universal Journey shortly after.  We visited his studio at Long Beach throughout the rest of the sixties,  Our last visit was in 1971.

Q: Did you ever meet any of the Northwest Four?

ReeL:  They were pretty much before my time  with the exception of Kenneth Callahan.  My mother knew him.  He had a studio on the ocean near Long Beach near a place my family went when we went to the ocean. My mother would take me along and we’d walk down to his studio.

But I first met Callahan at a retrospective he had at the Henry Gallery at the University of Washington. It was just an ordinary day, not an opening or anything and my mother and I were practically the only ones there and there was Callahan standing in the middle of one of the galleries.  My mother took me up and introduced us..  He was very dignified looking with snow white hair and very neatly trimmed beard.

Q: How old were you?

ReeL: I don’t remember, no more than 12 or 13, maybe 11.  I was thinking,, great, some woman comes up to Callahan and bothers him with an introduction to her kid, it seemed like such a stupid intrusion to me.  Then my mother tells him that I want to be a painter. Callahan looks at me and says “So young?” and to my total surprise, Callahan seems to get interested.  We get into a discussion about  painting and start going up to his paintings and discussing each one.   I’m asking how he does this and that and he tells me and then he’d ask me something, sort of a test, and I’d answer and we’d go on like that. When we get through, Callahan turns to my mother, and says to her, “Maybe he will become a painter. Maybe a pretty good one.”

Later he learned that my mother did water color and some acrylics.  So he invited her to his studio and we’d go to Long Beach once or twice a year and visit his studio.  She also went to another water-colorists studio near by, a Charles Mulvey, who did very conventional seascape watercolors much in the vein of my mother’s.  Technically proficient, but very conventional and nothing I was interested in. I also didn’t particularly like Mulvey’s studio, it was all set up for selling, while Callahan’s was a magic wonderland as far as I was concerned, full of half-done work with big swaths of color across them, in the state before he started putting in all the figurative stuff.  I liked his partially done work better than the finished work, They all started out as these relatively bold abstractions.

Carroll Dunham

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, Opus 1715, Ma Jolie, acrylic on archival paper

Q: Did you see the Carroll Dunham show in LA?

ReeL: Yes.

Q: What do you think?  Both of you have had long careers moving back and forth from figuration to abstraction and back again, with a certain looseness and drawing-oriented direction to your abstraction and a clear awareness of cartoon sources in relation to your figurative work.  In the end he swerved off into a deep dive into figuration while you swerved off into abstraction and a rejection of figuration.  Both, after a relatively long time exploring the opposite direction.  You both, in  your past work were often focused on very specific things for often very long periods of time. Now you both have a very coherent focus that you both seem to be using to incorporate  new motifs into your work.

ReeL; We’re very different. But I like his new work.

Q: That’s another similarity between the two of you: you’re both very generous in your appreciation of other artists and have at times written, quite positively, about artists whose work differs quite  widely from your own.

ReeL:  I suppose so.   I can appreciate how he works, how he paints. I like a lot of artists.  He deserves his current success.  It seems to me the similarities you are reaching for are more or less happenstance, nothing to get concerned about.

Sleeping with the Dragon

Erik ReeL painting
ERik ReeL, Opus 1714, Amethyst, acrylic on archival paper

Q: What do you think of Alex Israel?

ReeL: Someone has to do that.

Q: Meaning?

ReeL: Artists like Israel, Koons, to some extent Warhol play  necessary roles, though Warhol did a lot more than what we’re talking about.  A certain scale is required to offset the other side of the coin.: the Putins, Assads, Imins, and Stalins of the world.

Previous ages did not have this.

Q: Have what?  An artist who could equal the scale of their politicians?  What about a  Rembrandt or, perhaps, more appropriately, Rubens?

ReeL: No, Not the same.  There was no one in their day, none with the means to do things on a scale equal media-wise to what a totalitarian government does, and have it  ripple out for decades.  The artists have the advantage that their work ripples out for much longer, for decades longer than any dictator, and can span beyond the single countries that dictators typically rule, but in the more circumscribed sphere of art, media and image.  On another level, its more of the pen is mightier than the sword thing, and someone has to play that role on this much larger scale.

Q: so you are saying there is a matter of historical scale?

ReeL: Yes. And I am taking into account Adorno’s famous remark, which is, at bottom about a certain sense of perspective and scale.  A rose is nothing compared to a concentration camp. You can’t violate the scale of reality and lose perspective: there are scales beyond art, but also, art is not necessarily powerless. On a more internal and personal scale, you have people surviving concentration camps because of their connection to music, a memory, and many survivors end up with special connections to art.  There is humanity underneath it all.

But still, at a cultural level there is a need to deal with things in terms of the new scale of media and a global landscape that is far beyond the scale of previous epochs.  So you need a new form of Trickster, someone to play a certain set of roles, and today, there are a lot of artists more than willing to do that, or at least attempt that. But that is not the only purpose, nor even the prime purpose of art.

Perhaps the phrase “purpose of art” should be  in quotes. One could say that art has no purpose.   That it is  useless.

Q: Do you believe that?

ReeL: No. I believe it has purpose.  But it has to do with the creation of culture and how an individual locates themselves in a meaningful way within that culture, or whatever culture they find themselves in.

When there are global and totalitarian forces at work, you need someone to work at a greater scale in order to create sufficient room, meaning freedom, for everyone else.   But you also need others to work at a sufficiently intimate scale and depth as well. Otherwise you end up playing into the totalitarian forces, which ultimately have the power to co-opt everything on that scale. That is what Totalitarianism is about, trying to control, or at least co-opt everything, at that  scale.  So you need the  Koons and Israel, the artists who run entire factories and a media machine; but you are in a very dangerous place if that is all you’ve got.

Q: I don’t know. I think you may be missing something there.

ReeL: Well yes.  Tricky territory in this context to deal with this briefly.  A lot is missing.  All I am saying here  is that you need people playing at this large scale and you also need people working at an intimate scale that is finely nuanced,  You need the freedom generated by the large scale actions and you need individuals  freely doing what they feel is meaningful in an intimate manner and helping wake that up in others. This is more where my work comes in.  It is a very intimate kind of work. It speaks to subtle and intimate places in people and helps wake up something in them that is beyond everything working at the larger scales.  You need something deeper than branding.

In the end, Koons and Israel are more about branding. The Nazis were champions of branding.  So it is probably necessary to have counter-forces there, but ultimately there is always the danger of feeding only the dragon, the dragon guarding the motherlode of treasure and wealth laying beneath it.

Q: So, I suppose, the question we need to ask is: who are the dragon-slayers?

ReeL: Yes, who are the dragon-slayers. A lot of the time I’d say these artists are doing something else.  It’s never too black and white. Even in something as old as the Beowof myth the haziness of it all is acknowledged: Beowolf warned us long ago against sleeping with the dragon, or the serpent mother.  It’s not easy to avoid. In Beowolf,  she could take on an extraordinarily beautiful appearance as well as disarm any human weapon.

Q: So you feel the  Beowolf story applies to artists like Koons and Israel.

ReeL: Oh, yea.  Without a doubt.

Q:  In Beowolf, isn’t it the offspring that ravage the rest of civilization?

ReeL: Yea,. you have to watch out for those offspring.

But the real message is: Don’t sleep with the dragon to begin with.  But not so easy. These artists are often clearly not slaying the dragon, they are sleeping with the hag, and, as in Beowolf, they come back and lie, wanting us to believe they tried to slay her.  In reality we, like Beowolf, know that she is also the undeniable temptress of wealth and supreme beauty capable of any seduction,  incapable of being slain.

Morris Graves Museum Show Opens

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, Opus 2033, Hidden, acrylic on paper

The Erik ReeL: Full Circle solo show at the Morris Graves Museum of Art in Eureka [see side bar] will open this Saturday.  The show has already been up for two weeks.

There is also a music festival going on at the museum this weekend, so there should be lots of interesting things to do.

The Death of Painting

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, Opus 1711, acrylic on archival paper

Q: What do you say to the claim that painting is dead?

ReeL: People still wonder about that?  I won’t deny that there are a lot of dead paintings out there.  I always thought Thomas McEvilley’s The Exiles Return, Toward a Redefinition of Painting for the Post-Modern Era answered that question in 1994.   And that’s for the Post-Modern era.

After Post-Modernism, the role of painting is possibly even more significant.  So I don’t consider it a relevant issue today.

Q: What about your own work?

ReeL: Personally, that is, in terms of my work, I never considered it an issue.  There are issues interesting to me and which have always been central to my work as an artist that have to do with unique properties of two-dimensional imagery.

To fully go into it, I could talk about that for probably about eighteen hours or more. That’s a whole book in itself.  The role of mapping,  the whole thing around signs and signification, marks and marking, surface and boundedness.  It goes on and on and in many places is quite technical.  Though this whole area is core to my work and how I think about it and generate it,  I have almost never met an observer  who needed any of this to have a fulfilling and deep experience of my work, or who was even that interested in most of it, for that matter.

On another level,  I covered some of this ground in my earlier blog posts on this site:  Specifically,  there is an inherent materialism in all things three dimensional and there are unique possibilities for moving against materialism within a two-dimensional practice.  This is a core to why I do art in the first place.

America, being an extremely materialistic society, tends to be a bit deaf to these issues, but that is fine with me.  A good deal of American art, for example, spent several decades trying to make painting as three dimensional as possible and there are still people who think this way. That mentality has never been relevant to what I am trying to do, or to what I am interested in.


Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, Opus 1709, EPI, acrylic on archival paper

Q: Do you feel you are part of some sort of artists lineage from the NorthWest School?

ReeL: Somewhat, due to my experiences as a kid, but by the time I was 15 I could render very realistically and then shifted when I took up pen and ink the next year. So I was progressing in a very different direction.

But my primary concern was with color.  I was struggling with color–frustrated no end–and this lead me to look more closely at Klee and Matisse.

Q: But then you went to the University of Washington and the courses with Tsutakawa and …..

ReeL: But that was not the main thrust of my interest.  By the time I was 16 I was troubled by  my difficulties with color.  At Washington, I lucked out on this score.

At the University of Washington back then they did something  no one dares do now: they closed off upper division art classes to all but those who passed a sophomore portfolio review.  Nowadays they’ll take anybody willing to pay tuition.  Since I was coming in as a transfer from a Mathematics major,  I  submitted a portfolio.

They waived my first two years of coursework and waived my sophomore portfolio review requirement, but the counselor suggested that there was a special session of one of the first-year design classes that I might be very interested in taking: Dick Dahn, who had been a student of Albers at Yale, converted his design class into essentially the same class as the one based on Albers’ Interaction of Color book, which had just came out .   I took it and it was a revelation and great help to me.

A couple years later, when I was studying with Rainer Crone, he introduced me to a curator who was putting on a big retrospective of Klee.  We hit it off and he had full access to the Klee Foundation archives in Bern and other Bauhaus sources.   He gave me translation transcripts of all of Klee’s  unpublished notes on color and his courses at the Bauhaus., as well as some notes by Itten on color.

I already had a copy of Klee’s published work, the Sketchbook and so forth, and Itten’s book.  I took this material and what I got from Dahn, plus the work of the Dutch color theorist Frans Gerritsen and put together my own color class which I taught for the next 11 years.

Then as I got interested in computers and realized that designers would  soon be working with color on computers, I added a section on hexidecimal representation of RGB color and so forth– this was before there was any computer software for graphic designers, it was all still “blue line” layout.

Q: What’s that? What’s blue line?

ReeL: It’s not important. As you see, no one today has a clue even what it is. It’s how you did layout before computers.  Anyway, the other instructors where I was teaching kept asking why I was doing all the RGB hex stuff, and I would say, because by the time these students get out they’ll be using computers, and they’d say, how do you know it’ll be done this way?  and I’d say, well, it’s by far the best way to do it, if you were implementing this stuff in software.

Q: Was it?

ReeL: Yes,. I turned out to be right.  And the switchover to computers came the next year, sooner than a lot of faculty expected, so a lot of my students got huge head starts over their peers. Ironically, I ended up being considered an expert on color, when it had started as a major problem for me.

Consequently,  I  feel there is more of an apostolic succession from Itten and Klee to Albers to Dahn to myself as far as formal training and background.  A very different orientation than the Northwest School.  That also turned out to be a much stronger preparation for abstract work and the kind of work I am doing now.  Then, in this century, I did end up doing a series of Technicolor Tobey’s and here I am now exhibiting at the Morris Graves Museum of Art with work that has some degree of affinity with  the Northwest School.

Q: Oh!  You answered my original question. I thought we were off on a completely unrelated tangent there.


Coming Full Circle

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, Opus 1707, RHO, acrylic on archival paper

Q: Getting back to the Northwest School, do you feel any direct influence from those painters?

ReeL: I was very influenced by Morris Graves and Mark Tobey and Kenneth Callahan as a kid growing up in Seattle.  Guy Anderson wasn’t exhibiting that much by then, though he had a lot of visibility with some public commissions like his large painting at the Opera House, which I saw when I was about 11 or 12 or so.

At one point I told my mother that I wanted to do a “technicolor Tobey” when I grew up.

Q: A technicolor Tobey?

ReeL: Yes, Technicolor films were a big then at that moment and the Northwest School — and just about everyone else painting in the Puget Sound back then–were working a lot with palettes that were as grey and dreary as Seattle’s weather: a lot of umbers, and ochres, black and white and a touch of burnt sienna. Very grey and brown. I was thinking of Tobey’s “white writing” paintings,  how fun it would be to do them, but with a full palette, in technicolor, so to speak.  My mother thought that that was hilarious.   And Graves heavily influenced how I approached painting when I was an early teenager.

Q: Aren’t you having a show at the Morris Graves Museum soon?

ReeL: Yes, it will be up March 12th and open on the first Saturday in April and run til the end of April of this year [2016] .  I am looking forward to it, coming back to the institution that has Graves’ estate, which includes two Tobeys as well as his work. It will be like coming full circle, back to my roots. And the people at the museum have been wonderful.

Jae Carlsson

Erik ReeL, Opus 2074, acrylic on paper, 2015, at the Morris Graves Museum of Art.

Q: How did Jae Carlsson change your art?

ReeL: It’s not a direct thing. Jae was not interested in “reviewing” art or anything like that. His scope was much wider. In a sense he was interested in consciousness; how humans work, how the mind works and how that leads to culture and civilization. How does all that work deep down inside and in its most nitty gritty manifestations.

This led Jae to penetrate things deeper than a lot of other people; to see things others missed; to get below surfaces.

Remember, this was all at a time when the art world, the greater art world was for the most part obsessed with surfaces, with strict formalist analysis of purely material, completely external concerns.   Even the word “consciousness” was often meant to be some sort of relatively superficial awareness  of the external manifestations of history or a shallow, materialistic realization of things.

About this time Jae and I collaborated on a zine. This was very early in the zine phase of things; when we started the word “zine” didn’t even exist yet.  I say “collaborated” but it was really me making a few minor contributions to a project that was primarily driven by Jae’s vision. He did some very experimental stuff in it, even invented entirely new systems of punctuation. Things like that.  If I remember right, it was even distributed as samidzhat behind the Iron Curtain.  It is quite sobering to realize that people are willing to risk their lives, or at the very least some severe torture, just to distribute your publication.  It definitely throws a whole new light on things.

Q: I suspect a lot of our readers may be too young to remember the Cold War and not know what  samidzhat is.

ReeL: It was underground publications and literature distributed illegally behind the Iron Curtain at great risk.

Q: What was this zine about?

ReeL: I’d say it was critical theory before Critical Theory.

Q: So, back to my question, how did he influence your art?

ReeL: Oh, what I was getting at is that Jae’s approach put an emphasis on consciousness, on how the mind works, how cognition plays a part in the creation of something, and how this becomes culture or a civilization. It was a very different approach from  say, McEvilley,  who was very much into looking at beliefs and the cultural substratums as these structures and influences that then re-generate culture over and over again.  This led McEvilley to become a tremendous esxpert on religions who could then extend this expertise to key insights in the visual art of his time. Jae’s approach seemed to me to take one toward constructs that were determined by how cognitive processes worked on very deep levels.

Q: I’m not sure I follow. How would you characterize the difference between the two?

ReeL: When I read McEvilley, I get the feeling that I am reading someone who would have been very comfortable walking around in India three thousand years ago, but he’s a totally contemporary guy at the same time. When I read Carlsson I get the feeling I am reading someone visiting us from the 22nd century, some place we haven’t quite gotten to yet, and he’s giving us a few hints about how we might go about getting there in better shape than we are now.

Probably why Jae seems to me to be so impatient with Post-Modernism; he gives the impression that he finds it quite tiresome and oddly archaic, not quite as advanced as it should be.  He seems one of the few around that seems to see clearly beyond it.

Q: So, again, how did he change your art?

ReeL: He helped me realize the extent it had to do with cognitive processing; how my mind works, not necessarily anything to do with the material surfaces of the external world, but with consciousness itself.

This was, eventually, quite freeing, and brought me to my present work.


Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, opus 2076, acrylic on paper, at the Morris Graves Museum of Art

Q: What was your involvement with the Seattle Art Writing or SAW group?

ReeL: It took a few meetings to get any direction. I remember at an early meeting the painter, Andy Keating, now working in New York, saying that writing  was like pulling teeth.  There was a strong interest in improving the quality of written discourse in and about the Seattle scene, but also a clear awareness of the difficulties involved with taking writing to that level.

This led to the awareness that the group should direct its energy toward developing and supporting any writers who wanted to take on this challenge.

We began having meetings where writing was distributed to everyone then workshopped at the next meeting. At first we met weekly, but too many people couldn’t handle that pace. Eventually only Jae and I met weekly.

Q: Did it work?

ReeL: on a couple of levels, quite well.  Within a year there were half a dozen new writers from the group writing for publications around the region and even outside the region, sometimes in publications that had never had good art writing in them before.

The thing that really made SAW work was the presence of Jae Carrlsson.  Jae was not only a great and keenly perceptive writer, but it became quickly evident that he had an extraordinary kind of editing talent.

Jae could transform someone’s entire vision of what writing could be. He certainly did that for me.   Under his guidance, I came to a completely new understanding of writing.  This ability of his is partly linked, I feel, to why he is such an engaging writer on art, of why so many like to read what he says about artists’ work. Jae has this uncanny ability to get inside of what an artist or writer is trying to do and then take it further.

And I don’t mean any succumbing to the “intentionalisst fallacy” that so much many today fall for.

Q: What do you mean by the  “intentionalist fallacy”?

ReeL: the intentionalist fallacy is the mistaken belief that what an artist or creator says his work is about or means is  what it actually is about, that what an artist says his intentions are is in fact what they are doing.

Q: But people do that all the time. We pay attention to a lot artists’ statements.

ReeL: Yes, well the intentionalist fallacy and the fallacy of assuming that an artist’s work is autobiographical, that, say when they write they are necessarily  describing their actual experience are two very commonly  committed fallacies. People create things, that doesn’t mean they have a clue as to the significance or meaning of what they create. It is a fallacy and usually a great error to take an artist at their word. Not to mention that sometimes they are consciously and deliberately misleading you anyway, for their own purposes.

What Jae tended to do was look at the internal evidence within the work,  its milieu and context and get at what was possible and then try to elucidate that or help the writer or artist see it for themselves. A lot of people’s writing and art improved immensely under the light of Jae’s observations and since that time a lot of people have come to appreciate that.

Q: Sounds like normal contextualist criticism to me.

ReeL: Yes,  but this was  at the height of the high formalism era; not many people were looking at things that way at the time.

Jae also pointed out things such as how Harold Bloom’s machinery was a possibly fruitful and  effective machinery  for looking at visual artists as it was for the late Romantic writers he applied it to.  Jae encouraged people to read “Kabbala and Criticism” and “The Anxiety of Influence.” Some curators and critics eventually came around to that view, but more than a decade later. Jae was way ahead of his time on a few things..

But the biggest thing for me was that Jae transformed how I approached my writing in a way that helped me integrate everything into a more unified thought process internally. Instead of fighting against my painting , everything began to work together.

Eventually, in the end, Jae had a huge impact on my painting as well, though he never directly sought, at least as far as I could tell, to do so.


Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, opus 2091, acrylic, 2015

Q: After you graduated from the University of Washington, you gravitated toward the and/or alternative space and did something there with their publications?

ReeL: It was close to where I lived and I could walk over there and use their library. I began helping out with their mailings,  but eventually ended up re-designing their calendar and their mailing publication, the and/or Notes. I even attended their staff meetings for a couple of years, though I was never on staff. Just helping out. It was a great group of people.

Q: But didn’t the Notes start publishing art criticism under your direction?

ReeL: Yes. There was  a natural evolution. The entire and/or staff was interested in getting better art writing injected into the scene, and there was a small community, most of whom had met each other at and/or events or in its library  who had problems with the level of published art discourse in Seattle at the time.  The critic at the main daily paper was terrible, but there were two critics already working who had potential, but were often constrained by their editors. Someone had to help open things up.

One of the people who was a driver for some new momentum, but not directly connected to and/or was the writer, Jae Carlsson, who I first met in the and/or library.

So the first thing the and/or staff did  was allow more discursive writing into the Notes itself. We were trying to promote a forum for developing alternative voices as well as the art exhibited.

Soon after this and/or invited Peter Frank and Edit Deak out to do a workshop on art criticism. Frank was running a publishing project in Chicago at the time that was getting a lot of attention, and Deak was at Art Forum and had just published the first piece in America on Francesco Clemente.  Deak later moved on to Vanity Fair and drifted out of art writing altogether.

It was a great workshop, Jae and myself and the and/or staff wanted to continue the momentum from the workshop. That led to the founding of the Seattle Art Writing or SAW group.

Not Quite Boolean

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, Opus 1706, Love Is All There Is, acrylic on archival paper

Q: OK. I’m still reeling a bit from what you just said about Walter Benjamin and machines.  For one thing, I had to go and take a look on your website at a lot of your art again.  I saw entirely new things in your painting now than before.   I had no idea the non-pattern thing was so important.  I’m thinking about your work entirely differently than before.

This leads me to a question I am not sure that I know how to ask.  How do you know for sure?  I mean how do you know a machine could not do what you do?

ReeL: A machine may still be able to mimic my work superficially, but I suspect there will still be a way to tell the difference.  No matter what, machines are still limited to algorithms.  That is a very specific and interesting limitation.

Q: OK, I have to admit I do not know much about algorithms, or even what they are, really.  What is important here?

ReeL: Fair. We now know there are subtleties, and unexpected nuance.  I’ll try to illustrate with a simpler problem: The problem of generating a random sequence.  Technically, an algorithm cannot generate a random sequence.

Q: Why not?

ReeL: Almost by definition. If it did, the sequence would not be truly random.  It would have a pattern, the pattern imposed by the algorithm.  So as far as algorithms go, patterns are key. This is why my previous statements emphasized patterns and my requirement to paint free of algorithmic reproduction.

Q: So if no algorithm, no machine?

ReeL: No, not quite. The case of machines is  more complex than the problem of agorithmic generation of random sequences. A machine can get a random sequence in other ways, for example, by detecting and recording a natural process that is known to be random, like the decay of an appropriate  radio-isotope.  You see, machines can detect and record, as well as calculate.  This is part of their power to mimic. Machine mimicry goes beyond calculation, but generation is still limited to the realm of algorithms.

This is in part why Turing did not see the whole implications of artificial intelligence as we know it today. Turing was primarily interested in algorithms, calculation, and the kind of problems a very fast calculator could tackle, and the problems associated with constructing instruction sets, or what we today call “code” to direct those calculations.  Turing did seem to have seen the possibility  of the code itself being generated by a machine. So in that sense,  he saw a crucial piece of the current situation.

Q: So the machine, since it can do things other than calculate, adds more complexity to the problem and Artificial Intelligence uses this full complexity and greater potential of the machine.

ReeL; Yes, essentially. The trans-algorithmic realm of machines adds  new wrinkles.

Q: Are there other artists dealing with these issues?

ReeL: On one level, yes, all the time. For example, as far as the limitations of algorithms, this is an area that a lot of today’s musicians have more awareness of in terms of the arts.  They may not think of it in the way I talk about it, but they experience its consequences all the time.  For example, we still have music machines that use live recordings of real musical instruments as a basis for their synthesized sounds: it still is often better to  digitize real phenomena, that is, detect and record, than to generate, that is, calculate  from scratch algorithmically.

Ask a good music engineer about generating really good sounding synthetic percussion tracks.  A  lot of times they’ll manually alter the track just off the beat or the strict algorithm to make it sound more natural. There’s a whole art to it. In this case, people go out of their way to preserve the human mind behind the machine.

Q: Apart from all this, didn’t someone named Boole cover a lot of this much earlier? Hasn’t some of this stuff been around a long time? Since the nineteenth century?

ReeL: Yes, he basically invented Boolean algebra, or what he called the “mathematics of thought”.  And Boole was aware of machines, such as Jaquard looms, that could work with instruction sets. Ironically, Boolean algebra,  turned out in one sense to be far more important mathematically than he dreamed–it’s fundamental to understanding what is called Universal Algebra, that is, most other algebras at a certain  abstract level–while as far as machines and electronics go, it turns out it is not quite as all-encompassing as he thought. Originally, it was thought that Boolean algebra could at least  represent all electronic circuits.  It turns out that is not so. There are relatively simple recursive circuits that cannot be represented by Boolean algebra, yet are relatively easy to construct physically.  This was not discovered until much later, long after Boole.  And recursivity is a big part of modern programming and Artificial Intelligence.

Beyond Benjamin

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, Opus 1705, Get Off, acrylic on archival paper

Q: Do you, then. consider your work Modernist or Post-Modernist?

ReeL: Neither. No, it is quite different. Maybe not so easy to get at in an interview,  I have many more disagreements with Modernism than those we just alluded to.  Yet, Post-Modernism is tainted by other conceits that have been cleaned out of my work.

Q: Such as?

ReeL: Besides my war on its referentiality, on a more mundane level, there are a lot of patterns in Post-Modernist paintings. Notice that there are no patterns in my work. More significantly, it explicitly cannot be produced by a machine, an artifical intelligence, or any mechanism that depends on algorithms. It is fundamentally of the human hand.

Yet, it’s psychological, it deals, in part, with cognitive processing., with what underlies our mind workings.  It is pre-linguistic, if you will.

Q: I’m not sure I follow.  Couldn’t this be considered another sub-cultural approach within a Post-Modernist outlook?  Post-Modernism is devilishly broad and amorphous  in its  definition.

ReeL: I feel there is a profound and important difference in orientation.  I seek the un-machine-like. Imagery that is without pattern. This drive to differentiate from an artificial intelligence is so far outside of the questions sought after by either  Modernism or Post-Modernism that it isn’t  even on their maps. The future will demonstrate how crucial this distinction is and will be for the future of human culture.

Q: OK, so you are asking different questions. Which questions?

ReeL: I am interested in a profoundly different set of questions than either Modernism or Post-Modernism.  I am  interested in the non-machineness of art, what distinguishes us from machines. Now that we are more cybernetically aware, it turns out to not be so easy to do or see this.

Q: Why is this important?

ReeL:  Soon we will have Artificial Intelligences that will be able to mimic most of what we now call “art”.   For this reason, art, human art, is in a very real and important sense, not what anyone  says it is.   This is the Achilles heel of Post-Modernism that .Artificial Intelligence reveals,  once one more  fully understands its implications.    Machines can, and will, create much of what we now call “art”.   At some point, artificial intelligences  will call all this into question.

I also feel that these questions will be profoundly more important in the near future than they are today. For culture, for all humanity.

Q: Well this certainly puts a different spin on Walter Benjamin.

ReeL: I recently reread a lot of Benjamin’s essays. When I was studying with Rainer Crone in school we read a lot of the Frankfurt School.  This time around it seemed like a blast from a deep past. His thought now feels so old-fashioned, obsolete. True for much of what still goes on, but not for what I am looking for.

Q: Doesn’t Benjamin account for all of this? for what you are talking about?

ReeL:  No. Benjamin is responding to and critiquing an age for its inadequate understanding of machines; but for all that, he naturally assumes that there is still a human mind behind the machine.  It does not occur to him that the mind behind the machines may be itself a machine.

This was only natural; he couldn’t have done otherwise. Remember, Benjamin was writing before Turing.

Even Turing did not fully see what the future of electronics would bring, their ability to mimic, for example. He, up to the end, always characterized his machines as “calculating” machines, with very specific, mathematical, boundaries on what calculation meant, and the machines he worked with were, by today’s standards, quite primitive.


Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, Opus 1704, Stone, acrylic on paper

Q: So are you saying your work is primarily internal in some way?  As not depending on something external to itself, that it specifically denies referentiality?

ReeL:  My  work is built on what I call “psychic resonances”, like music, the marks and colors resonate with innate internal, psychic, aspects of human cognitive processing.

Q: I’m not sure I follow, Can’t a viewer bring in their own cultural references and personal associations?

ReeL: Yes, of course, that cannot be prevented. One of the fallacies of Modernist theory was that it thought such a clinical purity was possible.  This fallacy persists into late Twentieth century Minimalism and Conceptualism as well. One of the corrections of Post-Modernism was a greater awareness of how thoroughly we cannot escape our cultural screens and that we live in a culturally multi-valent world.  This was a very important and badly needed correction.

However,  the fallacy persists.  Unfortunately, Post-Modernism does not eliminate it, it mutates it into  something more easily overlooked, harder to get at.  Originally the Post-Modernist machinery of multi-culturalism was intended to end things like racism and, correctly, liberate us from a mono-culturally defined and linear history.

Q: And hasn’t it?

ReeL: Yes and no. The Sleep of Reason breeds Monsters.  Ironically we live in a Post-Modernist world full of race wars, genocide, and deadly divisive politics.  This is the dark side of Post-Modernism. It seems to have, in the end, at the grand scale, only magnified the cultural conflicts.

Q; So the monster bred by the reason of Post-Modernism is ….?

ReeL: It’s flip side: A retrenchment search for  identity. Then locking on, trying to preserve, seemingly and all too often at all costs, to that cultural identity, that identity that is supposed to moor us in our great multi-cultural sea, which, additionally,  dangerously locks us into a  too-narrowly defined cultural identity at odds, or worse, at war with all else around us.

Q: So you see this as the flip side of Post-Modernism?

ReeL: Yes, just as Fascism is, in an interesting way, the flip side, the dark side, of Modernism. Something that was explicit in the thought and writings of the Futurists, and, others, such as the later Ezra Pound.


Black Mountain

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, Opus 1703, Brush Field, acrylic on paper

Q: There was one other University of Washington  faculty member when you were there other than Jacob Lawrence that was from Black Mountain: Robert C. Jones.  Did you study with him as well?

ReeL:  At the University of Washington at that time there was what some students called The Triumvirate, after the Roman political system. This was the trio of Michael Spafford, Michael Dailey, and Bob Jones, who were close to each other and their students and who, along with Lawrence, were considerably more open in their approach than the rest of the faculty. I tended to take  their classes.

I enjoyed the classes with Jones and Dailey, but I was drawn most to Michael Spafford. He and Lawrence were the only faculty members I kept contact with after I left the university.

Q: Cy Twombly also came from  Black Mountain. Before you jump off and assume I am going to equate your work, I must tell you that I once heard a curator at the Menil, who had put your work into one of his shows, brush off that comparison with a remark to the effect that “except for the difference in medium, context,  and approach, and that one uses historical references while the other eschews referentiality, and they are of two completely different generations and mileaus and that if you see their work in person there is no discernible resemblance, I guess you could say that there is something in common between Twombly and ReeL’s painting.”

ReeL: Like two faculty members?

Q; Were Lawrence and Jones at Black Mountain, too, while Twombly was there?

ReeL: I have no idea.  There is a shared interest in history between all four of us, albeit totally different epochs.

Q: I have a theory about your work and the Twombly thing: it seems to me that the  people who say your work looks like Twombly’s are people who have not seen one or the other’s or both your work live, in person.  In person you can clearly see that you two approach painting very differently.  In reproduction, it is very difficult to see this. How would you characterize the difference between you?

ReeL: I’d say topics versus topology.  Twombly is mired in referentiality.  He  restricts his work to having to refer to specific historical and personal events, topics, if you will, something outside the painting,  I reject referentiality; I stay primarily inside the painting.

But don’t get me wrong, I love Twombly’s paintings.

Q: What do you mean by “topology”?

ReeL: Topology, mathematics.  In terms of topology, mathematics, for the most part I use only open curves of genus zero and one, once in a while a genus two curve.  But I’m not sure this is a useful  way for anyone else to approach my work.

Q: How should we approach your work?

ReeL:  I have my internal approach, a well-developed visual language, underlying my work,  something entirely inside the painting. This is the technical ground for my painting; it is not necessarily how a viewer receives or could —or should– see and understand the work.

Q: How should one see and understand your work?

ReeL: By prolonged seeing, multiple viewings, taking it in, fully, with your whole being, without trying to figure it out with the narrow intellect.  Beware over-intellectualization.

Q: Ah, there is more to the world than our philosophy ….

ReeL: Yes.

Jacob Lawrence

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, Opus 1702, Winds of Time, acrylic on paper

Q: Didn’t you also study with Jacob Lawrence? How was Lawrence as a teacher? He seems to come from a very different world than the Northwest School and Tsutakawa.

ReeL: Yes, but he also was seeking to break out of the European art traditions.

Q: So you found continuity in a sort of form of rebellion?

ReeL: It was more a tendency to gravitate to the more philosophical instructors at Washington, and those that had a more technical training and depth to their approach.

Q: I wouldn’t have thought Lawrence fit into that category. I mean in terms of technical training. Wasn’t he self-taught as a painter?

ReeL: Lawrence was a truly educated man, self-taught or not. You know, when Gropius first formed his new school at Black Mountain after he’d been run out of the German Bauhaus by the Nazis, Jacob Lawrence was the only American on his first faculty. He said that Lawrence was the only American he felt who could teach at the level of the Bauhaus faculty at that time.

Q; I didn’t know that. Gropius was considered to have had very tough standards.

ReeL: Exactly.  I mention it more to emphasize how gifted  Lawrence was  as a teacher, a charismatic, natural teacher. I actually never took a formal class from him, but I was considered in his “group” so to speak.  He let us attend his critiques., come over to his place for these fabulous salons. There was a tremendously seductive confidentiality to  his manner, as if he were letting you in on age-old secrets handed down through the world’s cultures. We read Langston Hughes, history, read  poetry out loud.

Q: If you had to characterize Lawrence by a single event, quality, or characteristic what would it be?

ReeL: I hate questions like that.  Lawrence never tried to produce painters that painted like him.  In fact, as far as I could tell, he actively discouraged it, which was fine by me since we had very different orientations technically.  I was drawn to him  because his approach was more  philosophical, plus we shared a strong interest in history.  Besides,  he was an exceedingly likable human being.


Sumi-e and Tsutakawa

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, Opus 1701, Psychic Fire, acrylic on paper

Q:  At Washington, you studied with George Tsutakawa. What was that like?

ReeL: Yes, in the required water color class we had the choice of either the usual British and American water color society approach, which I found consummately boring, or Tsutakawa’s class, which was a formal “way of the brush” traditional sumi-e, or classic Japanese ink-paining class.

Q; You chose sumi-e.  Hadn’t Tobey also studied sumi-e?

ReeL: Yes. This brush technique was a core part of the approach of the Northwest School painters, especially the “flying brush” techniques, where a bold, broad scumbled-like swath of color was  sought, and  transferred well to the heavier Western paints. It was more of a mentality, not a strict application. Tobey was formally trained in it, but when you look carefully and at the full breadth of their work, you’ll see it is there in the brush work of Morris Graves, especially in his work in the 40s, and in the mature work of Guy Anderson and Kenneth Callahan, and of course in the work of the second generation with Tsutakawa and Horiuchi.  None of these artists was interested in preserving any sort of tradition. They were looking for ways to break out of the formal languages and approaches of the American and European art schools.

Q: So they looked East to non-Western sources.

ReeL: In part, yes. But in a way, Seattle is very close to Northern Asia., it’s part of the Pacific rim. One has to remember that for me, growing up in Seattle at that time, in casual conversation when someone said “East” they meant Asia, not New York.  New York was the “East Coast” — if you didn’t add the word “coast” people would assume you were talking about Tokyo or Singapore or something like that.

Q: So to go to the East, you went West, and the West was East of you.  Growing up and coming from the Bay Area, I can appreciate that.

ReeL: Yes, for us the East was West, and the West was East.



Ush Arbalosa

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, opus 2092, Ush Arbalosa, acrylic on canvas, 44 x 34 inches, 2015

Erik ReeL’s Ush Arbalosa, acrylic on canvas, at the BuenaVentura Artists Association 12 January through 6 February, 2016.

Opening reception on Saturday 16 January 2016, from 5 to 7 pm in downtown Ventura, at the BAA gallery across from the downtown post-office.

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.


Local Shows

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, at 643 Project Space, Ventura


For those living on the California Central Coast, I will be showing in the 30th Annual Open show at the Buenaventura Artists Association [BAA] on Santa Clara Street, kitty-corner to the main post office in downtown Ventura from 12 January to 6 February 2016.  We are also planning to show some works on paper at the Brayer Gallery on Thompson later this year, details to be announced when confirmed.



Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, opus 1698, acrylic on paper

Work ready for solo show at the Morris Graves Museum this Spring.  Looking forward to it. Details in sidebar.

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.

Literal Minds

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, opus 1696, acrylic

Nietzsche referred to literal minds as small minds.  The videographer and performance artist, Alan Lande, preferred the term “insects.”

Tyrannized by photographs, we forget that 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 the secrets of the heart. What does an instrument know of a dream? a caress? the soft whispering in the night? what is hidden from the moonlight?

What is poly-valent cannot possibly be rendered literally. Is this triangle a tree? a roof? a ray of light? a road moving into the distance? a shadow? a shrine? a pyramid? a leaf? a yoni? an arrow? a sign? a direction? a delta? Am I overlooking hills or lying between breasts? or both? or neither? Time to do something better than roar across concrete, drop onto floors, scream.


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.


Painting is a Reminder

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, opus 1694, acrylic

We paint so that culture can dream; for without that, civilization is unworthy of humanity, let alone the angels ….

Sometimes I am lost, but I know a flower’s perfume as I lay on the beach.

Painting is a bridge between worlds, a reminder, a pointer, a sign, a messenger, a call, a shadow, a hint, a promise, an echo, a scent of something beyond our everyday senses.

Even the great Aristotle, founder of the mimetic theory of art, a sorry misinterpretation of which is claimed as the basis of all realist styles,  said that it is a poor artist indeed who can merely copy nature.

My canvases dream and dream again, follow the rivers of their desires, their loss, their arrogance, their loves, their disasters. Mountains sing while horses weep; who knows their secrets?

What is wealth without a soul? Painting is here to remind us where to look, how to look, how to move between seen and unseen, move without time, A painting plays out its ambitions on a surface, collapsing down into the limits of materiality, to two dimensions [any further and it would be no more than a straight line].  In silence lies painting’s strength.

In the Words of Picasso

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, opus 1693, acrylic on archival paper

Picasso, like Einstein and Gandhi, has the misfortune, or good fortune depending on your point of view, that people attribute numerous quotes to him that they don’t want to take credit for themselves. This is ostensibly in order to give the thought or quote more significance or weight than it might otherwise have.


In the case of Picasso, many of these quotes embody thoughts and beliefs that do not correspond to anything Picasso actually said or wrote, Worse, they often use  language or terms Picasso specifically did not like.  [Let’s remember that Picasso  wrote a considerable amount –he is even considered by some to be one of Spain’s greatest post-War writers],

One of the pecularities of this is that there are a great number of quotes attributed to Picasso floating around that mention or imply a belief in God,  a word Picasso refused to use, except in a manner that a true believer would not appreciate. Picasso  was after all, famously, an atheist.

However, he said a lot of interesting things, particularly about painting.  Here is a sample of Picasso quotes on painting:

“Everything is done for the moment and my own state of mind, and this is difficult to describe.  When I did Guernica it was a terrible time, but that is the way it was. Painting is so personal, a kind of autobiography one writes for oneself.”

“My misfortune–and my greatest happiness– is to be dominated by what I love. Everything I love goes into my paintings. Too bad if nothing goes together.”


“Down with style. It is the moment that is important.”


“It could be a step forward to realize that the rational picture of the world is also imagination; it has the same reality as a myth; it is a product of the mind; it si not more substantial than the mind.”


“I think the rational mind is a form of imagination. The weak point of the rational mind is not to think of itself as a form of imagination. The artist’s job is to bring back the consciousness that nothing is really necessary and that substantial things … are not any more necessary than imaginary things. They are just more substantial.”

“Not all societies have given such an importance to substantial things. Everything is real and everything changes. This is the basic idea, there are some things that are more substantial than others, but all things are real to the same degree. An artist is dealing with imagination and is dealing with things we think are not as real as gunshots, but they are as real as gunshots, and do have effects much as gunshots have.”


In the Studio

Erik ReeL in studio
Erik ReeL in his studio.  Photo courtesy Jonas Lara 2015

Jonas Lara, Nash Rightmer, and Erik ReeL in Erik ReeL’s studio, August, 2015.

Contra Determinism

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL Opus 1992 Guardians of the Gate,  acrylic on paper 30 x 22 inches, 2015

I don’t paint in a determined manner. I want to surprise myself.

Ah, the Yellow Green

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, Opus 1692, acrylic on paper

I hope on your screen you can see the yellow green markings in the lower center and to the left. They are necessary for the whole color effect and sense of this painting.  I realize it is always a risk posting work that is this nuanced  up into the 72 dpi world.

All the more reason to see it live.


Opus 1690

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, Opus 1690, acrylic on paper

One of my most complex works at this size.  I had reservations regarding posting it online as it has many layers and a subtlety that is not possible to see at 72 dpi.

Dedicated to the Woman You Love

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, Opus 1688, acrylic on paper

A month of San Francisco Bay area marriages. All women.  All the best to you all.

Morning Light

Erik ReeL, Opus 1685, acrylic on canvas, 18 x 12 “

This painting has been hanging in my bedroom for over three years, so that I can wake up to it in morning light.  Graphite and pastels in raw titanium white acrylic.  Live, it almost looks like an oil, except the ghost-like aspects of the pastel pigments in the more highly transparent acrylic medium would not quite work in oil, unless perhaps you were using a lot of alumina hydrate pigment in oil to get a much higher transparency without losing paint viscosity.



Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, Opus 1684, acrylic on paper

This is a special week between my wife’s birthday and our anniversary.  I cannot say–I will be forever incapable of saying–enough good and wonderful things about the woman who shares my life.  The joy and beauty of this relationship are beyond words, but right in front of us and in us at all times. I give thanks for her existence each and every day.  She is my greatest blessing and honor in this all too short life .


Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, Opus 1683, acrylic on paper 

Listening to Arvo Part’s Fratres, or at least six versions of it. When I put this on repeat and go to sleep on it, I always have wonderful dreams.

Highly recommended if you are in a bitchy mood and totally disgusted with the human race. I was going to say “mankind” but thought I’d better make it gender neutral. Then, on second thought, I really do mean mankind, as in all the mess  that men make of things.. so not so gender neutral.  Let’s be honest about who really makes war, and is the source of the vast majority of the crime,  cruelty, injustice, and violence in this world.

One reason I believe Part chose a masculine word, Fratres, for this peace. We men really do need to learn how to be brothers in this world and put an end to all the stupidity and war.


Dewey Redman, Cooking in London

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, opus 1682, acrylic on paper

Listening to Dewey Redman.  Not Joshua, but his father, Dewey, the better jazz man of the two, playing a set recorded live in London.

Dewey, unfortunately is not as well known in America, even though he is considerably the better artist, as he was forced to spend almost his entire career in Europe and not allowed to play in the US. This was back in the day when jazz players would lose their cabaret license if they played in Europe and not be allowed back into the United States to play. Oh, you could get back in, to see your relatives or something. But not play or record.

Of course, white musicians and singers playing in symphonies and opera companies during this time were allowed to tour anywhere and without any impact [other than extremely positive effects on their status and career]  on their right to play in the United States.

Of course it was a level playing field. Sure.  All equal before the law. One nation under God with justice and equality for all. Amen. Sure, sure, tell us all about it.

Some never came back, but stayed in Europe even after things got straightened out a bit. Dewey is playing this set in 1996. Not that long ago, jazz-history-wise. Some, like Ornette Coleman, just happened to play some of their best stuff in Europe before wildly appreciative crowds and often better pay.

Dewey sounds  great by the way [Dewey Redoman in London, recorded October 1996, distributed  on Palmetto Jazz] and, without irony, is playing in his own  integrated quartet [Dewey Redman on tenor sax, Cameron Brown on bass, Rita Marcotulli on piano, Matt Wilson on drums]..

Seeing is Believing

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, Opus 1681, acrylic on paper

Once someone sees  opus 1681, they are more likely to understand why many of my pieces can only be truly seen live. No digital manipulation or camera can capture the special nature of this piece, because its perceptual situation is intrinsically caught up in the nature of the cognitive processing necessitated by our two-eyed visual apparatus. You simply see things that are not there, or, more accurately,  invisible to a single-lensed  camera.

Follow the Money

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, opus 1680, acrylic on linen

Herodotus and Thucydides reveal that between the Persian and Peloponnesian wars, the entire Greek-speaking world for the most part had monetized virtually every bit of land and aspect of civilized life.

This determines a lot of how and why they did things, including wage war. In fact, it seems to be an integral aspect of the motivations in the ancient Greek world for the near perpetual warfare that finally engulfed and bankrupted them during the long and horrific Peloponnesian conflicts.

So Orwell’s grim vision of the future of Capitalism and its potential for perpetual warfare was prefigured already in Thucydides’ history. On the other hand, history presents us with one of its little ironies: that modern Greece has become the current focus and  challenge to Europe’s latest attempts at melding a peaceful world order with the Capitalist monetization of every aspect of society. Or is it just one more instance revealing that the project is inherently contradictory after all? And perhaps not an irony, but confirmation that the Greeks have held to a profound truth all along.

Sapien ex Machina

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, opus 1679, acrylic on paper

In the recent film Ex Machina Jackson Pollack’s concept of automatic painting is mentioned in conjunction with testing whether an Artificial Intelligence is displaying programmed behaviour or  willfully conscious behavior. It’s a subtly complex issue, both for AI and art.

The programmers in the movie also make the astute point that if Jackson Pollack had to be rationally aware of each action, its meaning, and its significance, it would probably have been impossible for him to make a single mark. Rational awareness, and rationality, has its own built-in limitations.


It is virtually impossible for a machine to create a truly random sequence, because its activity has to be programmed, that is, determined by something, or constructed via something that cannot be random called computer code.. Mathematicians have shown that even the so-called “random number generators” of computers are precisely not random.

In that case one has to exploit data from certain phenomena which exhibit specific tendencies to chaotic behaviour under certain conditions.  In this way, a machine might be made to generate what seems to be random-like sequences.  This turns out to be far more difficult than it would appear at first glance.

It is also very difficult for a human to make something that is not willful.  Certain states have to be attained or cultivated that permit more freely unmotivated behaviour or actions.  There is an interesting gray area or set of fringe situations where things seem to be somewhat random, but aren’t, but are completely program-free, even rational-free. It is this area that has become increasingly interesting as the search for AI continues and our exploration of the problem of human consciousness continues as we gain deeper insight into human consciousness, both ontologically and epistemologically, and the human mind’s awareness evolves of what, specifically, makes it a human mind.

This is precisely the territory that my painting explores.  I further constrict the limitations on randomness by consciously outlawing some of Pollacks devices, such as flung paint. Every mark is made via a deliberate action of the human hand, my hand, so that human intention is inherently involved. But all traces of rational structure and “programmed” process are also eliminated.

This is one reason I’ve never been much interested with what many have come up with in terms of mathematically or geometrically determined art. To me, such art is  exploring the very territory that is most irrelevant to  our future understanding of human, and on the converse side, artificial, intelligence.  If it is mathematically determined structure, then the problems above are solved, known, and relatively straightforward. It is in the cases where no mathematical or geometrically generated structure manifests that the demarcations and issues of human, or non-human intelligence get really interesting.

Painting and Thought for the Day

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, Opus 1678, acrylic on archival paper, 30 x 22,


Erik ReeL, Opus 1678, acrylic on archival paper, 30 x 22,

Art may be many things, but sometimes it is simply a reminder preserving a better frame of mind,  an alternative, a weapon on the side of everyday folks in their daily fight against drudgery, despair, despotism, disenfranchisement, and death. The five Ds.







Works on Paper

Erik ReeL painting #1677
Erik ReeL, acrylic, Opus1677

The great thing about works on paper like this is that they are easy and relatively inexpensive to ship to anywhere in the world.  Since they are on unsized or lightly sized printmaking papers, they roll easily and flatten out again easily, so they can be safely shipped in a tube.

The other thing about this work is that if someone likes a piece in digital view, they’ll love it live.  So it is easy to make a decision on the internet and order an original painting without waiting to see it in a gallery or museum [besides you   usually can’t buy the pieces showing in a museum anyway].

If you are interested in something you see here or in the Art page archives, drop me a line via my FaceBook page or profile [Erik Reel for profile; Erik ReeL for page] and I’ll give you an email box to communicate with me. I no longer post my email urls directly on this site because they get bombed if I do and makes the email box unusable.  Sorry.   Most of my works on paper are  $3,000 US [see pricing page for more information}

Those who don’t study history

Erik ReeL painting #1676
Erik ReeL, acrylic, Opus 1676

… are doomed to repeat it.  This last winter I re-read Herodotus. While things are never really exactly the same, it is a shame that Congress and the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the USA leaders had not read Herodotus before they decided to invade Iraq,  or if they had, did not pay a bit more attention to the fallacies engendered by the hubris of the Persians as they, disastrously, invaded Greece,

Herodotus basically not only explains what happened, he inserts enough philosophical commentary and “teaching stories” to map out most of the basic mistakes and psychological fallacies involved, and later committed all over again by the Americans and British in Iraq.

When will the human race learn?  Wars do not solve problems; they only create a new, and usually more extreme, set of problems.

Worse, war is unpredictable: so beware ye who start one.

Study in Blue, Green minor, Opus 1675

Study in Blue, Green minor, opus 1674

Erik ReeL painting #1675
Erik ReeL, acrylic, Opus 1675

The Key of Dark Green

Erik ReeL painting #1674
Erik ReeL, acrylic, Opus 1674

Symphony in dark green.


Erik ReeL painting #1671
Erik ReeL, acrylic, Opus 1673

Blues, a la Miles.

Painting for the Day

Erik ReeL painting #1671
Erik ReeL, acrylic, Opus 1671

An acrylic on paper for the day. Enjoy.

Something Different

Erik ReeL painting #1670
Erik ReeL, acrylic, Opus 1670

This painting, Opus 1670, is unique for me, done on a sheet of smaller and very fragile paper that allowed a slightly different working surface with its own unique possibilities. In spite of its lightness it has a certain weightiness and vigor that belie its fragile substrate.

The Third of May

Erik ReeL painting #1668
Erik ReeL, acrylic, Opus 1668

The Third of May, a famous date for the history of painting.  Here’s my Opus 1668,   a more positive and ecstatic tribute to the human spirit for today, even though we  may live in times no less dark than Goya’s.


Bearable Lightness of Being

Erik ReeL painting #1667
Erik ReeL, acrylic, Opus 1667

Also on lighter, thinner, more fragile paper than usual. This paper inspires a lightness and openness to the work, and is capable of very subtle coloring, hardly given justice by the digital gods.

Something for Spring

Erik ReeL painting #1666
Erik ReeL, acrylic, Opus 1666

Something for you for Spring.  Spring without Spring colors.  Think of pollen impregnating the world.

Also on thinner, smaller, more fragile paper than usual.

Exuberant Energies at Work

Erik ReeL  painting #1665
Erik ReeL acrylic, Opus 1665

In Opus 1665, I am using a paper I usually don’t paint on. Its very lightweight,  less than 130 Kg/m2 and does not take the same degree of textural effects as what I usually work on.  In some ways this makes things clearer. Exuberant energies at work here. Enjoy.


Morris Graves Museum Show

Erik ReeL painting #1664
Erik ReeL, acrylic, opus 1664

This came out of a continuation of the working sessions that created 1660-1663.  Even though I am posting this one on the web, it really has to be seen live, especially for the dark blue marks and background areas, to get the overall real impact of the work.

By the way,  I will be showing at the Morris Graves Museum in Humboldt county in 2016 [dates not set yet].