Jae Carlsson, who used to write for the online art mag ArtDish and the old-style print mag, Art Forum, among others, once referred to Erik ReeL’s recent work as “micro-stories told via tetches of color, via efficient tag-memes of emotion …” and though I at times wonder what Carlsson meant, precisely, there is no doubt in my mind that ReeL is onto something about tags, tagging, and marking and that he has definitely defined a new meme in his recent practice. I hesitate to use the word “painting”–though there is painterly enough use of paint in this work–for the marks of most interest, the “tag memes” if you will, are clearly drawn, incised, scruffed, smudged, and more or less drawn rather than painted. But then they are painted, that is, brushed, until they are blurred, semi-erased, distorted, or obscured.
Though intriguing enough technically, the real interest here is the visual richness created by seemingly the simplest of means. There is a nuanced play into and out of depth, with color, rhythms, and half-hinted forms throughout the visual field. Many pieces approach some sort of writing-on-the-wall-of-God field-like painting, others veer off into near minimalism; but everywhere the persistence of a mark, a near-sign, the almost-signified, but never explicit, takes us up into a sustained visual meditation on the marks themselves.
We become witnesses to our own curiosity, but remain as clueless as if we were witnessing the garbled messages from some alien race in a nearly unknown language. I say “nearly” since there are always signs that we think we recognize floating across these spaces: letters, numbers, Greek letters, genitalia, crosses which do not seem too Christian, mathematical symbols, and every so often, full words and phrases–often also the titles. And they are spaces, even though the completely abstract surface is clearly rendered as a surface, the color and treatment of each mark produces a sense of floating depth-of-field, a space, through which the individual marks move, slowly, or with more energy, their course and speed dictated by their shape, color, frequency, and mutual juxtaposition.
In the end, I think not so much of some sort of meditation on the act of mark-making, or some pre-linguistic tagging, and definitely not as a critique of materialism, as others have suggested, but I feel a sense of music, of large orchestrations, where each mark is a note or sound, with tone carried by color and nuance. But it is not a linear unfolding like real music, for the orchestration spreads across a surface and into depth, as if music had an additional two dimensions available to unfold into. Music notation for an alien race with two more dimensions than our poor four-dimensional Einstienian souls have to work with. Or maybe this is the critique of materialism after all, materialism being the philosophy that only recognizes physical, material substance as reality and denies the existence of any hierarchy of Being ascending into higher spiritual dimensions. The painting, if given the chance, over time, captivates. No matter what you think it means, it works. It makes you think, question, muse. It is the kind of painting you get lost in, or you don’t get it at all.