D.wigmore explores Paul Reed’s color and transparency work from 1962 to 1967
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Paul Reed is one of the six original members of the Washington Color School, which began with Morris Louis (1912-1962) and Kenneth Noland (1924-2010) and grew to include Paul Reed (1919-2015), Gene Davis (19201985),Thomas Downing (1928-1985), and Howard Mehring (1931-1978).
The artists were defined as a school by the 1965 landmark exhibition Washington Color Painters, curated by Gerald Nordland at the Washington Gallery of Modern Art.these D.c.-based artists used recently developed acrylic paints directly on unprimed canvas, embedding or staining the color into the painting surface, to create a new sense of color. Juxtaposed against the raw canvas, the glowing matte color appears to float off the painting.the artists experimented with pouring, sponging, rolling, and blotting to see how color creates movement and depth.while some worked intuitively and others mapped out their compositions, Gerald Norland in his exhibition text noted there were no accidents with the Washington Color painters—even in Louis’s flowing Veils there was order and gravity. Our exhibition of Paul Reed’s work from 1962 to 1967 shows his exploration of color and transparency to achieve movement in evolving series: first with biomorphic shapes in circular motion (1962-1964), then in geometric structures (1964-1965) that crystallize into grids (1966), which then twist and stretch into shaped canvases (1966-1967). At the time of the 1965 Washington Color Painters exhibition, Morris Louis had passed away and Gerald Nordland said Reed was “the only painter who continues to explore the possibilities of transparency which were set out originally by Morris Louis.” Like Louis, Reed worked in an experimental approach through series to investigate the properties of color through layering of paint, which required great skill in handling.the progression in Reed’s compositions is evident in a diagram of thumbnail sketches showing his series from 1962 to 1971.The earliest works rely on biomorphic shapes to provide movement (such as #12, 1962).The forms are then simplified to large geometric shapes to explore transparency and color (such as Disk Painting #29, 1965). In 1966 Reed moves to grids and bands as a neutral form to hold color (such as Intersection XII, 1966) and emphasize the interaction of overlapped colors.
The variety within Reed’s series is unique among the Washington Color School.thomas Downing was the next most varied. In Reed’s 1994 oral history for the Archives of American Art, he describes his process with each series in three steps. First, he draws shapes until he settles on a form that will hold his envisioned color exercise. Second, he works in collage and colored tissue paper to see how the color and transparency might work. Third, he applies the form to canvas, now intuitively seeing where he can take the color. Once he has achieved the most complex and sophisticated colors for that form, the series is over. Reed said all his ideas were built on lessons learned from previous forms. With color interaction performing
D. Wigmore Fine Art, Inc.
Paul Reed (1919-2015), Topeka XVIII, 1967. Acrylic on canvas, 60 x 32 in., titled, signed and dated verso.