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.

Morning Light

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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.

 

Fratres

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.

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.

The Key of Dark Green

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

Symphony in dark green.

Blues

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].

Opus 1663

Erik ReeL painting, # 1663
Erik ReeL, acrylic, opus 1663

You can see that I was on quite a roll from opus 1660 to 1663.  Since the general process per painting takes at least about 5 days due to drying and setting times of the paint,  I tend to work on several, up to a dozen, at a time, .

Ironically, I tend to do an oil painting in less time than a similarly-sized acrylic, partly because I use a lot more layers in the acrylics as I exploit the substantially greater transparency of the polymer medium.

All papers are not created equal

Erik ReeL, painting, #1662
Erik ReeL, acrylic on paper, opus 1662

The Opus number refers to my current studio log, which was started at the end of 1999. So opus 1662 means that this is the 1,662nd work I’ve done since the beginning of 2000.

This painting is on 30 x 22 inch [75 x 55 cm] archival printmaking paper. I am using liquid acrylic paint, pastels and pencils and charcoal and a lot of acrylic medium as well as paint.  The papers I use the most are Magnani Pescia  [crown watermark grade] and Italia,  Rives BFK, Lana Royale, Rives de Lin, DS Lenox,  and Fabriano Artistico hot press which is the only watercolor paper I typically use.  Magnani Pescia, crown watermark, is by far my most favorite paper.

Unfortunately, this paper seems to be no longer available in the United States. There are people in the USA who say they are selling it, but they are not selling the watermark grade, which is the best grade and the grade I use. It seems that the people in American who order this paper cannot tell the difference between the lower grades and the crown  watermark [or top grade] paper, so the mills and suppliers ship them the lower quality stuff, charge them the same price as the crown watermark paper and they, in turn try to fob this stuff onto us, the artists, and charge the higher price as well. There are seven versions of Magnani Pescia. This follows a longstanding, but growing trend in the USA of art suppliers substituting lower quality items for long-available quality items.

Fortunately, in some cases,  there are conscientious, usually smaller, more specialized, suppliers entering into the game who either have started producing their own art supplies  here in America, or still try to get the original, quality merchandise. If you are an artist, I encourage you to seek out and support these suppliers, especially if they are local. On the other side of things, some of the best supplies can only be obtained from their source in fairly large quantities: quality stretcher bars from China, art paper from Italy, etc., usually can only be ordered in quantities of at least a shipping container or railroad car at a time.  You’d think with globalization, it’d get easier to obtain internationally produced items, not more difficult.

Opus 1661, Into the Darkness

Erik ReeL painting, #1661
Erik ReeL, opus 1661, acrylic on paper

My acrylic on paper paintings are almost like a visual diary. It is in these works that I work out my ideas on an ongoing, almost daily, basis, before going into the larger works on canvas.

I have a general process that takes  at least 5 days, depending on drying time and the number of layers I use in a piece.  There can be as many as 30 layers to the paint, once in a while more.

I work with liquid acrylics and a lot of medium. It is like working with liquid color . I like a lot of transparency in the paint so the light penetrates deep down into the paint, enriching the colors.  Similar to when you polish wood  and it brings out the grain and depth of the wood.

Opus 1661 is a particularly deeply layered piece, almost impossible to reproduce accurately digitally. But it stil looks good.

Unlike the live image perceived by two eyes, each seeing a slightly different retinal scan and then processed in the brain, and thus extremely sensitive to depth, whether something is scratched in or scumbled on top,  and enhanced by our memory as we move into and away from the image obtaining new visual information regarding surface, color, and process, a digital image is created via a single lens, set a specific distance from the painting, and then takes all data and reduces it to a single number, without any consideration for layers underneath.  Thus a digital map of the painting is significantly reduced from what our brain processes during a live encounter with the image. Bottom line: if you like the digital image of these pieces, you’ll love the  work live.

Picasso, again

F4Picasso again:

“Painting is not intended for decorating apartments … it is an offensive weapon of war and a defensive one against the enemy.”

[from Daix, Picasso]

Picasso, like Einstein and Gandhi, gets a lot of quotes attributed to him that are not his. But this one, captured in similar form in more than one instance and published by two people who were very close to Picasso [Daix, and Francoise Gilot] is certainly authentic.

People who want to give more heft to something they want to say, rather than claim it themselves, like to attribute what they are saying to one of these three, even if the quote has no relationship, or is even contrary, to the ideas and beliefs of these three giants.

Particularly peculiar are the quotes attributed to Picasso which discuss some aspect of art in terms of God, or mention the word “God”. It is well known that Picasso never used the term “God” and was at best agnostic.  He did make some comments that are extremely antagonistic to any religious sentiment or  belief in God. He also produced some art that amounted to a scathing critique of the Church and religious belief.

Hovaness

Erik ReeL, 1873
Erik ReeL, opus 1873

 

Today, 8 March, is  the birthdate of the great American composer, Alan Hovaness.  Hovaness is one of a small circle of composers who have [unknowingly] influenced my work. He, once said of his own work,

“Simplicity is difficult, not easy. Beauty is simple.  All unnecessary elements are removed — only essence remains.”

Almost a credo for my own mark-making.

Museum of Contemporary Art

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Erik ReeL, 1816, acrylic on paper

The exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Santa Barbara has two of the three largest works I’ve ever exhibited in California [approximately 9 x 5 feet], and a collection of my works on paper which are rarely exhibited.  The work has its own room to itself and so has the feel of a solo show inside a very strong group show.

The exhibition will be up until the end of the month, 29 March.

For a review of the show click here.

Erik ReeL at Museum of Contemporary Art, Santa Barbara

“Perhaps the strongest showing of work in this exhibition comes from Erik ReeL.”

Nathan Vonk
Santa Barbara Independent

see full review

Erik ReeL art 1832
Erik ReeL, 1832 Ascension, acrylic on paper 30 x 22″

Abstraction vs Representation

1354
Erik ReeL, #1354, acrylic painting

 

Perhaps Picasso said it best:

“From the point of view of art, there are no abstract or concrete forms; there are only forms, and they are all lies that are more or less convincing.”

That Coding Thing

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, #1294 Galisteo, acrylic painting, 54 x 48 “

I was once asked if there was coding in my paintings.

I answered “Yes.”

But it was not a simple “yes”– for coding implicitly means explicit and narrow referentiality and thus, in my terms, to be avoided or discarded.

But then, later, in the end, I actually do sneak in personal codes with explicit intentions and references, thus violating what I say I am doing.

Most of these insertions are sexual and/or personal, and thus private.

Then there’s the issue regarding believing what artists say about what their own work means: It’s called the intentionalist fallacy.

It is a true fallacy, believe me.

Geometry is Insufficient

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, #1293, acrylic painting

My current paintings use a highly constrained visual praxis: For the most part, I primarily use simple open and closed convex curves of genus 0 or 1. This is a severely constrained set in light of all the possibilities.

Occasionally I throw in a non-constrained deviant, or something that is more of a mess, a scribble, than a mark. Again, I have no “pure” intentions, nor reductivist ambitions, here. I am more interested in discarding the referentiality of Modernism and Post-Modernism, the baggage of the whole mimetic tradition.

This is also, of course, why this work is explicitly post-Structural and post-Conceptual.

Notice, too, that amongst the referential modes I reject are the highly regularized patterns, geometries, and rationally predictable “formats” of that wave of abstraction we first saw emerge in the late 60s and 70s and to a certain extent, still emerging in Los Angeles and later, again, amongst the Post-Moderns, especially as tilings–to say nothing of the Modernist grid, and its “formats”–are all considered references to external systems to be avoided in this new endeavor.

Geometry is insufficient.

It’s Endless

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, #1291, acrylic on paper

Once I stripped all extraneous referentiality out of my paintings, instead of encountering the expected: a minimalistic, reductivist abstract modality, I quickly discovered richer, non-reductivist, possibilities that presented a seemingly endless range of emotional responses and readings.

This richness exists in part because there is a similar range of open possibilities in how the human mind appropriates marks for its own meanings and cognitive purposes, even without a specific spoken-language or any of its possible representational schemes.

What was clear at all stages was the fact that it was possible to create profoundly different emotional responses within a surprisingly highly constrained visual idiom.

Thus, again, we come to: Oh. Wait, there’s more that can be said and done.

Proto-language

 

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, #1289 Swedish Fishing, acrylic painting

The possibilities I became interested in  concerned exploring what could be called proto-linguistic possibilities. Especially in the sense that these marks were, in part, the super set of marks from which many human cultures pulled the marking set developed for representing marking systems with explicitly mapped meanings.

These sets with explicitly mapped meanings include marking sets such as:

– alphabets, syllabaries, hieroglyphs, runes, and brush-characters, etc used to represent written language, that is, as the full written representation of a spoken language;

– or quasi-linguistic systems such as hobo-signs, trail signs, rail signs, or battle-signs; which, though they have explicit meanings, do not cover an entire spoken language;

-or specialized highly abbreviated notational systems such as those employed for music, movement, and modern mathematics [as opposed to, say, medieval mathematics, where the formula and relationships, with the exception of integer numbers and their basic arithmetical operations, are written out long-hand in Latin or Arabic].

Once inserted into the paintings, and frequently distorted, the marks are not intended as representations in any of these systems, but rather as human marks prior to their subsequent adoption to a specific written language, thus  “proto” in the sense of “prior to” or “preliminary to” a spoken language.

New Year

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, #1292, acrylic painting

Happy New Year everyone!

The End of Historicity

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, #1287, The Wheel, acrylic painting

There were painters who I felt had  come close to what I had in mind such as Twombly, especially in his graphite and paint work of the 70s. But these painters and their mark-making were always eventually subsumed by historical, literary, even mythic referential concerns that I not only considered retro-grade–if not outright Romantic in a specifically unnecessary way–but as compromising the more radical aspects of the marks as marks.

Not that this is evil or anything. In Twombly’s case, for instance, it is usually a personal and  refreshing tactic to bring in latent emotional and historical content that deepens and expands our experience of the image. It works, but is also contrary to what I wanted to do.

The truth is, this referentiality, this re-presentational, representational modality detracted from the, what was to me,  more core, possibilities of exploring marks for their intrinsic mark-making characteristics as marks in and of themselves. This leads to exploring marks in terms of cognitive processing, rather than history.

Yet, there is a line not to be crossed on the other side as well: when, instead of deeper forces and cognitive processing, a sort of emotive, self-absorbed, bathos-logical processing leading to amorphous content-free therapeutic effusion is indulged. The superficiality and emptiness of the results of this approach are frequently all too apparent.

A key test: when work descends to this level, it can be exhausted in minutes, if not seconds; while people stand for hours arguing in front of mine, or call me months after buying a painting to tell me how much more they have seen in it.  In short, there is living proof of the depths, richness, and  communicable meaning to be found there..

The Monster … Again

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, #1284 Dos Equis, acrylic painting

Another set of questions involves exposing the underlying Materialist philosophical underpinnings of Post-Modernism: the primary Post-Modernist strategies that lead to either pictorial or concrete art praxis.  Two orientations that exclude the possibilities of improvisational painting that celebrates its non-thing-ness., its anti-materiality. Post-Modernism embodies the materialist bias moving art toward concerning itself with things in a physical, material world, in a near-totalitarian Consumerist social context.

Within this context the choice remains to consume, or exploit art’s marketable and hence monetary value, that is, its value as an exchange for materialistic goods. This includes attempts to aestheticize experience itself in a manner supporting a culturally privileged set of statii, such as associating its appearance in a museum, or alternatively, its status on the street, to what is “in” or the “next new thing,” that is, to having status in and of itself, or its status as some sort of “avant garde” activity, in spite of the long known bankruptcy of this notion, with all the historical linearity and presupposition of privileged status that implies.,

Post-Modernism itself has become a brand, a designation of privilege, like some “Good Housekeeping Seal” of approval, a specific cultural status to be accepted by a specific caste– the “advanced” cultural-scentii with its anointed  cognoscenti, arbiters, and provocateurs.

Ecce Homo

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, #1282, acrylic painting

Painting as exploring mark-making itself; mark-making freed of all its referentiality to the material world, to history, to story-telling, to materialistic pretension.

One question that immediately arises: What makes mark-making specifically human, and if human, hand-made [as opposed to human and human-machine-made]?

Another is: What if everything else is stripped away and we only see marking? Marking without explicit representation anywhere? Specifically, marks on a flat– and thus “to be read” surface, thus de-emphasizing, even denying,  its material thing-ness?

More to Do

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, #1280, Swedish Fishing, acrylic on linen

Eventually I, too, came to feel that in painting there was still more to be done, that there was meaningful,  and possibly visually arresting, territory yet to be explored.

What remained, I felt, was a certain exploration of mark-making itself.

Mark-making freed of all its referentiality to the material world, to history, to story-telling, to materialistic pretension and dysfunction.

The added bonus, for me, was that this also placed such painting against the materialism buried deep within the culture around me.  Painting that stood against materialism in both radical and subtle ways.

Witold Lutoslawski

Erik ReeL painting, #1297
Erik ReeL, #1297, Ascent, acrylic on canvas, courtesy private collection

The German philosopher, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling [1775-1854] in his Philosophy of Art [1802-3], said that “architecture is like frozen music”  , a sentiment famously echoed by Goethe in 1836. Since Paul Klee, a similar equivalence has often been proposed for describing abstract painting.

For many, much architecture and most painting has probably felt to fall far short of the musical, though I suspect it also depends on what music one is listening to.  For me, my painting has been directly inspired by and in some cases explicitly linked to specific music. I’ve mentioned elsewhere the inspiration I’ve received from the jazz of  Miles Davis, Monk,  Ornette Coleman, and others.

One composer whose music feels very close to my present work is the mature work of the Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski [1913-1994]; in particular, his aleatoric  ad libitum technique that dominates his Chain compositions,  piano concerto, and the third and fourth symphonies.  This is especially true of much of my work on paper, which constitute a virtually daily visual diary and reservoir of ideas for my larger works on canvas.

There is no explicit connection between us, but I can often hear his music in my own paintings.  There is an openness and freedom in his music that I seek to express in my improvisational work.  Both of us, I suspect, have our inner dread of the predictable and pre-determined.

Rebar Opens

The Museum of Ventura County presents Rebar, a solo show of my paintings curated by Anna Bermudez in the museum’s new satellite space in the Tool Room at the Bell Arts Factory, Ventura, California.  The show runs from 7 November to 29 December 2014.

I will do a walk through at the Tool Room on Saturday 22 November at 4 pm.

photo © Antonio Crutchley
photo © Antonio Crutchley

There was a slide talk on my life and work at the Museum on Wednesday 29 October. There will also be a reception at the Tool Room during the Ventura First Friday artwalk from 6-9 on Friday 5 December.

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Ruins of Runes

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, #1393 Silence, acrylic on canvas

In 2014 Sean Riehl produced a video, The Visual Language of Erik ReeL, featuring me talking about my work. The following text is taken from that video and lightly edited for reading.


I am primarily an improvisational abstract painter. I like the idea of layering in the painting, when you work within the painting’s own reality, it’s own field, a conceptual field. I got that free-form thing that Tobey was doing where the marks are made on top of each other, and there’s the evidence of the hand, and the marks just layer over the top of each other and it’s a field.

1.
About ten years ago I noticed people doing all this stuff on whiteboards where they don’t always erase very well. Or people do things on billboards and signs and there’s graffiti and then they repaint or overpaint the surface, and there’s evidence of these layers of intention.

In the modern world we have all these instances where people are writing and making their mark, and then there is also someone else who is trying to come along and erase them, and they do a lousy job of erasing them, or they half erase them, and so marks get made over marks, and it becomes this archeology of mark-making.

I became intrigued with that as a foundation for painting. That is how I got into my current stuff.

With each subsequent layer, it becomes this layering that starts to obscure things in a way that actually makes it more interesting. So someone else comes along and sees that, hey, there was this activity that has occurred in this space, but we can now no longer simply read it, there isn’t any clear language, it is not decipherable in any clear way. It’s as if we’re looking at the ruins of our culture, the ruins of mark-making.

2.
In the fossil record, when homo sapiens appear, one of the more dramatic things that you see, besides the tool complexity, is that everything is marked. Everything is decorated, marked, formed. There is something very critical about leaving your mark to these early human beings. Even a very utilitarian piece of something has to have something that is either pointing to something beyond itself or a personal mark.

3.
Whenever humans are confronted with a reality that feels too inhuman, that feels too threatening or that becomes too impersonal –like a lot of urban reality — you see things evolve like graffitti.

I remember the first time I went to New York, someone where I was staying said, “ah, the graffitti on the trains is terrible!” … then I saw a couple of trains that had been bombed [=sprayed entirely with graffitti], and they were beautiful. It was amazing, the self-expression and all this human marking in a reality that’s quite cold– it’s all metal, dark, dirty, you know the subways, yet there’s these beautiful colors and all. It’s just our impulse.

So a lot of my work has to do with those fundamental impulses to mark, to make signs.

4.
There are lots of proto-alphabets and sign systems out there that people have studied where people got to the point where, “well I do this mark, and I do this mark and eventually I try and end up with a language.”

I was looking for a visual language. I knew when things were really starting to click, when I would reach a point where I’d make just a couple of marks and suddenly the whole thing just comes together. Then you know that there’s something working there in terms of consciousness that says, “Oh, this does something, and before it wasn’t doing anything.”

5.
At my last exhibition [at the 643 Project Space] a critic talked about certain kinds of reality, such as the formations in reality caused by subatomic particles, or at the other extreme, the deep space field observations from Hubble with their clustering of galaxies and all. He kept saying that when he looked at my paintings, he kept seeing those kind of structures. These structures that seem almost chaotic, but they are actually being governed by deeper physical forces that make things pull together or repel.*

So even though I’m saying that I’m trying to create another reality, there’s this strange way the paintings are echo-ing these structures and visual realities of these other things; even though I said I’m not “re-presenting” anything, I’m not representing anything — maybe it’s not like a chair or something– but I seem to be representing these macro and very small realities.

* see Jae Carlssen, Tabula Rasa, catalogue essay for the Erik ReeL exhibition at the 643 Project Space, April 2013.

Technicolor Tobey

1253
Erik ReeL, #1253, Technicolor Tobey, acrylic on canvas

When growing up in Seattle with Tobey’s late “white writing” paintings, with their ochres, blacks and whites–the whole “Northwest Mystic” school used color like that– I dreamed of doing a Tobey in full color.

“When I grow up,” I said, “I’m going to paint a Technicolor Tobey.”

So that’s what I did.

The Materialist Monster

Sometimes there are a whole lot of people tired of feeding the materialist monster.

Materialism in the streets, U.S. Army M1 tanks in Tall Afar, Iraq,  3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon, U.S. Air Force. (Released)
Materialism in the streets, U.S. Army M1 tanks in Tall Afar, Iraq, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon, U.S. Air Force. (Released)

Especially when they see all this material wealth bent on dropping bombs on other people, or driving tanks into their living rooms …

while millions  subsist [WHO says billions] without drinkable water, adequate medicine, or sufficient food, but within reach of a cold beer, soda, or cigarettes.

The question arises, if the world’s wealth and will can get refrigeration for beer, soda, and supply cigarettes to people, how come we can’t refrigerate medicines, or food or get these same people decent water?

 

The End of Inner Life

w1377
Erik ReeL, #1377, acrylic on paper, 22 x 15 “

In the world today we are confronted with relentless pressure to externalize everything, to live for the external world and its purpose. In America, with our traditions of pragmatism and materialism, this pressure is particularly deep-seated.  Every part of you is to be re-imagined into something that serves an external purpose, image, or use.

It is a totalization, where only that which is external has meaning. You only count if you are involved in, or focused on, or seen in, or known within, an external context.

Our electronic and media environments and devices only accelerate and extend this externalization. People become lost to any sense of their inner self. The external continually interjects and distracts us from the inner.

I paint for your inner self, for your inner experience.  My greatest fear is that people will become unable to even relate or see art in this way anymore. That they will become emptied out to the point that it is no longer even possible to sense that someone, an artist, or an image, is speaking to or trying to interact with their inner core.

The final result of all this externalization is an emptying out. Once you are fully external, you are empty, hollowed out. It is an emptying out that no amount of additional external inputs can fulfill.  At that point, you will have to seek art that speaks to your inner life, or you will be no better than dead.

 

Swinging 4

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, #1277, acrylic on paper

Abstraction. New endpoints. Subsequent diversion into pictorial means. So it goes.

Around a personal praxis or process that insured a unique image vocabulary, at each point the initial impetus to abstraction is driven by something genuinely new, quickly followed by a sense that everything possible has been done so far as is possible via abstract imagery.

Once this endpoint is accepted, artists move off into more pictorial– or, alternatively, into non-two-dimensional concerns. The latter initiating what one could call the “concrete” alternative.

So we move off into the pictorial or the concrete. Either way, re-affirming the deep-rooted Materialism within our culture.

Then, something happens. Someone, someone tired of feeding the materialist monster, someone fed up enough with our material world, says, “Wait, I see there is more to be done.” and further, “I don’t want to refer to anything in this material world; I am sick and tired of feeding the materialist monster.” From there it is less than a quark to total abstraction.

We seem to be at such a point again.

Swinging 3

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, #1275, acrylic on paper

In America as it came onto the edge of things, it did not take long for Tobey, then later Pollack and an entire generation or two [followed by another in Europe with Art Informal, Tapies, etc] to come up with an entirely new approach to abstraction. Approaches primarily centered on improvisation, an emphasis on scale, broadly brushed expressiveness, and a certain approach to materials and paint, process and gesture.

But once this abstract “expressionism” if you will is  seen as exhausted, a more pictorial means is sought, and used to subvert representation. Thus we see Pop emerge and pictorial tactics intended to critique media and advertising and other coercive modes of representational pictorial production.

But wait.

There’s more to be done, abstraction-wise.  After the pictorial retrenchment of Pop, we see a new generation of “format” abstraction, from Stella to Bridget Riley, where each “signature style” claims a very specific, rather small, highly constrained territory of format, technique, and idea.

This heralds a generation that sees the most ruthless reductivist tendencies since Malevich: All black paintings and minimalism exploiting both pictorial and constructive means of extreme visual reduction.

The 70s sees a matched triumph of an ancillary aggressively formalist art criticism emphasized in art magazines such as ArtForum.

From there things swing so far as Coplans  declaring the eternal triumph of photo-based, thus pictorial, imagery forever more, and the consequent rise of Flash Art magazine.

New endpoints. New subsequent diversion into pictorial means. And so it goes.

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, #1276, acrylic on paper

Swinging 2

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, #1271, acrylic on paper

Once Kandinsky and other modernists  go abstract,   the highly reductive Malevich and the Supremacists,  and  Mondrian find what seemed like suitable end-points for non-objective painting, that is, painting that is so abstract that it no longer has a motif, or represented object.

Mondrian systematically took himself step by step through the whole process, from an initial reduction from representation, through increasing abstraction of that representation from the motif, to the total abstraction of his signature style.  At the end of his life, he injects an abstract referentiality, if you will,  back into the mix in the final Broadway Boogie Woogie paintings..

Once the abstract end-point is found, it seems to shunt the next generation off into other concerns. To the Modernists, from there, it only remained to find abstract means to paintings that still contained recognizable motifs, or to move to more figurative and hence, pictorial, means, albeit for purposes that still intended to subvert traditional representation, such as the multivariate tactics of the Surrealists.

For Picasso, who lives and flows through several generations, he carries out these swings within his own work. Sometimes within a single day.  This has also been  a tendency in the current generation [Humphries, Josh Smith, Christopher Wool, Richard Prince, et al.].

 

Deep Field

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Erik ReeL, 1364, The Fall, acrylic on linen

In previous posts, I mentioned how people have interpreted my work as a critique of materialism and some of the ideas that motivated these interpretations.  But there is another, complementary way to look at meaning in the work and its structure.

This  approach was taken by the retired art critic, Jae Carllsen [Artforum, Art Dish], who pointed out that these compositions reminded him of both very large and vary small scaled structures that actually do or might exist in the universe; in particular, structures driven by complex, sometimes seemingly chaotic, processes.

Hubble, ultra-deep field, wikipedia
Hubble, ultra-deep field, wikipedia

Underneath the seeming chaos, there are subtler laws determining what we can see or know.  In a sense, the work presented a  deeper sense of representation.

From this viewpoint my paintings  are seen as some sort of corollary presentation of relationships echong either large cosmic structures, such as those we see in astronomy or …

 

Cloud chamber
Cloud chamber showing evidence of sub-atomic particles. photo courtesy wikipedia.

structures we know of only as we encounter phenomena on an extremely small scale, such as atomic and molecular, or even smaller, less visible scales.

In all cases these are situations where structures and interactions are primarily created by largely invisible forces. Forces that at first glance seem to be chaotic and without pattern, but in fact present patterns on a more profound plane of reality.

Erik ReeL, 1395, acrylic on paper
Erik ReeL, 1395, acrylic on paper

It has also been suggested that this approach lies  outside the schemes favored by either Modernism or Post-Modernism.  That it is something new in art.

Art history aside, what is appropriate, and encouraging to me, is that so many intelligent observers see how these works entail natural patterns and things that exist out there in the world, even though I draw entirely, in a free-form, improvisational manner, directly from inside my self.  In this sense, they are primarily congnitive, and an entry into a subtler connection between the cognitive and the external world. That is, they are about consciousness.  They are about what is inside us.