David Reed, one of New York’s best abstract painters, is presenting more than sixty recent working drawings and color studies at Peter Blum’s long, rectangular space in Soho. The drawings themselves are filled with information and speculation; done on graph paper, they record the artist’s musings and concerns for individual works: phrases such as “thinking of Resnick” and “thought at first that this would work—no longer sure,” as well as highly specific, technical considerations of color, crowd his working sheets. Yet, as interesting as these notes are, the heart of the exhibition lies in the small number of oil and alkyd paintings on show, which are wonderfully clear and distinct examples of Reed’s style. Luckily, we can see in the same exhibit the results of his plans in paintings that continue the New York tradition of abstract, expressive art.
Showing off the artist’s methods enables Reed’s audience to ponder the kinds of decisions he makes as he goes about constructing his art. For one painting, with a working title of #571, Reed devotes four pages of directed thought. On the top of the first page we see four dabs of color; beneath them, written in pencil, are notions about color—what to use that will work. In the middle of the page is a rough graphite sketch of the painting’s forms, with notes about the work’s color and structure on either side. Reed’s art has always been about the innate expressiveness of the brushstroke, even when he was painting landscapes at the beginning of his career. This concern with the tactile results of the brush is again taken up in the second working drawing, in which a column of three of the four yellows dabbed on the first page is painted over his easily recognizable twists and twirls of light and dark. While the result cannot be called a finished work, its exploration of color and structure demonstrates his thinking process very well.
Still, as I have said, it is not the technical aspects the viewer turns to in this vivid show; instead, all the written work leads up to images marvelous in their vibrant hue and overall effect. Reed remains a painter above all else, and his efforts over many years show him to be a superb practitioner of his art. Today, many feel painting is no longer valid as a vocation; nevertheless, it remains stubbornly alive in the hands of serious artists like Reed, Sean Scully, Louise Fishman. Their work is neither anachronistic nor overly historical because they have found a personal idiom that resonates with the past while moving forward in the present. While no one knows which way painting will turn, Reed does an excellent job of keeping its energies contemporary. It should go without saying that painting is neither a folk art nor a scholarly activity. Fortunately, we have painters who continue to prove that true.
Reed’s lyricism never seems overstated—in Color Study 43 (2009), roughly 16 by 8.5 inches, we are confronted with a rough column consisting of ribbons of paint, primarily curves and turns of green over red, with a couple of patches of dark blue in the upper right and a slim purple pole going down the middle of the composition. It is an emphatically explosive piece, whose imagery is linked to an appreciation of the brushstroke’s own forthright energies. The overlaps of paint, done on illustration board, result in a complex play of forms that is at once volatilve and restrained. Color Study 45 (2009), painted on museum board, is 12 by 8 inches in dimension. Again, the orientation is vertical, with curling waves of green painted over a red column. On top of the green is a small, double black-and-white emblem, with a black brushstroke on a white ground and beneath it, a white brushstroke on a black ground. It is exciting to see abstraction bring forth so much undeniable beauty in a current idiom. Reed shows us that there is still much to be done in the field of nonobjective art.