David Reed at Peter Blum

David Reed, Working Drawing for Painting 575 (2008), mixed media on paper, 17″ x 22″; courtesy Peter Blum

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Given the state of the economy, it’s worth pondering the timing of David Reed’s exhibition at Peter Blum Gallery in Soho. It is, we are told, the first time “anywhere” that the veteran New York painter has exhibited drawings—studies done on graph paper and covered with sketches, measurements, color swatches and hand-written notations. Fans of the artist’s abstract canvases—cinematic exegeses on the primacy of the brushstroke—did a double take upon learning that Reed made drawings. Who knew?

The willingness to go public with them could be attributable to the relative affordability of works-on-paper—relative, that is, to the encompassing (and expensive) paintings for which Reed is best known. But cynicism shouldn’t be an obstacle to the attractions of following an artist’s running commentary on paintings-in-progress, of watching him sort through the vagaries of his art and re-think pictorial strategies.

Several sheets contain ruled geometric structures, compositional underpinnings offering evidence of Reed’s debt to the great California painter John McLaughlin. But the drawings also point to less austere precedents—a reproduction of Domenico Vezziano’s St. John In The Desert is affixed to one page; elsewhere, Andy Warhol is listed as a possible inspiration for “new color ideas/sequences.” Reed’s notes mention studio visits, failed color choices, technical issues (“worried about the [paint] drying in this heavy humidity”) and, less frequently, the world outside. “Saw the end of the world,” Reed declaims after recalling the “clear golden light after 9/11.”

Then there are the signature ribbon-like brushstrokes rendered in the signature Jolly Rancher palette—sickly sweet lavenders, icy blues and livid, pinkish oranges predominate. Stained halos of oil surround each mark, evidence that Reed left the surfaces of the drawings unprimed. This characteristic is likewise apparent in an independent suite of small works, wherein the artist’s chilly dramatics are downsized into prettified totems of color, light and texture. Would that the pieces were without the nagging strain of self-consciousness they so assiduously try to transcend. But this is a light and lively exhibition all the same.

© 2010 Mario Naves

Originally published in the February 10, 2010 edition of City Arts.

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