Mem­ber of the Washington Color School of ab­stract paint­ing

The Washington Post Sunday - - OBITUARIES - BY MATT SCHUDEL matt.schudel@wash­

Paul Reed, whose vi­brant geo­met­ric paint­ings were part of the ex­hi­bi­tion that launched the Washington Color School, a style of ab­stract art that flour­ished in Washington in the 1960s, died Sept. 26 at his home in Phoenix. He was 96.

The cause was con­ges­tive heart fail­ure, said his daugh­ter, Jean Reed Roberts.

Mr. Reed was the last sur­viv­ing mem­ber of the six artists fea­tured in 1965 at the old Washington Gallery of Mod­ern Art. As the ex­hi­bi­tion moved to other art gal­leries and mu­se­ums around the coun­try, its ti­tle — “Washington Color School”— came to stand for a new move­ment of ab­stract paint­ing.

The founders of the group were Mor­ris Louis and Ken­neth Noland, and the other artists in­cluded Thomas Down­ing, Howard Mehring and Gene Davis, whowas a child­hood friend of Mr. Reed’s. The Color School re­mains the only ma­jor paint­ing style to orig­i­nate in Washington.

Although the pain­ters worked in­de­pen­dently — Mr. Reed never met Louis, who died in 1962 — they were united by sim­i­lar­i­ties in their styles and artis­tic goals. They were seen as an off­shoot of the larger “color-field” move­ment of the 1950s that in­cluded He­len Franken­thaler, Bar­nett New­man and Mark Rothko.

The Washington artists, in­clud­ing Mr. Reed, of­ten fol­lowed a strict geo­met­ric ap­proach in their work, as they sought to move away from the “ges­tu­ral” man­ner of ab­stract ex­pres­sion­ist paint­ing, in which the move­ment of the artist’s hand across the can­vas was ev­i­dent in ev­ery brush­stroke or drip. To them, the uni­fy­ing el­e­ment was color.

“I wanted to make color the gen­er­at­ing force,” Noland, who died in 2010, told The Washington Post in 1977.

Noland be­came known for his paint­ings of cir­cles and chevrons, Louis and Davis for their col­or­ful paint­ings of stripes. Mr. Reed fa­vored sharp-edged pat­terns of cir­cles, lines and an­gles, and there was of­ten a cere­bral qual­ity to his work.

Us­ing the newly avail­able acrylic paint, of­ten di­luted with wa­ter, he al­lowed lay­ers of pig­ment to over­lap one another on the can­vas, cre­at­ing bold ef­fects of con­trast.

In his “Disc” se­ries of paint­ings from 1965, a dense cir­cle of color ap­pears to pul­sate in the cen­ter of the can­vas like the sun in an eerily bright sky. The paint­ings re­sem­ble in­tensely col­ored flags.

He also painted stripes in in­ter­lock­ing grid pat­terns, re­sem­bling plaid, and later turned to ir­reg­u­larly shaped can­vases that pre­sented the il­lu­sion of three­d­i­men­sional ob­jects.

As the Washington Color School be­came es­tab­lished, the works of Louis, Noland and Davis were snapped up by mu­se­ums and pri­vate col­lec­tors. The other three mem­ber­sof the school were not so for­tu­nate. By the 1970s, chang­ing artis­tic tastes led some crit­ics to dis­miss the move­ment as cold and out of date.

Mr. Reed did not have a ma­jor ex­hi­bi­tion for 25 years.

“It was al­ways dif­fi­cult,” he told The Post in 2011. “I have to sell. It’s cu­ri­ous. I’m just about poverty level. Here I am, this fa­mous artist.”

His ca­reer be­gan to re­vive with a ret­ro­spec­tive ex­hi­bi­tion in 1997 at Amer­i­can Univer­sity, fol­lowed by other shows at mu­se­ums and art gal­leries in New York and Santa Fe, N.M. His works are now in the col­lec­tions of the Na­tional Gallery of Art, the Smith­so­nian Amer­i­can Art Mu­seum, the Art In­sti­tute of Chicago and other mu­se­ums.

Mr. Reed painted al­most ev­ery day at the stu­dio in his home in Ar­ling­ton, Va. He sub­tly changed his style through the years, us­ing pho­to­graphic im­ages for a kalei­do­scopic ef­fect and paint­ing with thicker pig­ment and more whim­si­cal vis­ual pat­terns.

“Through­out the [1960s] he was one of the ‘school,’ ” Washington Post critic Ben­jamin Forgey wrote in 1997, “but he also main­tained his own iden­tity. Then and now, you would never mis­take a Reed paint­ing for some­one else’s.”

Paul Allen Reed was born March 28, 1919, in Washington. His fa­ther was an elec­tri­cian and his mother a clerk at the Washington Navy Yard.

Mr. Reed, who grad­u­ated from the Dis­trict’s McKinley High School, was in­ter­ested in art from an early age. Af­ter a se­mes­ter at San Diego State Univer­sity, he came back to Washington and worked as a graphic artist at the old Times-Her­ald news­pa­per, then stud­ied at the Cor­co­ran school.

Dur­ing World War II, he was a civil­ian graphic de­signer for the Army Air Forces. A hear­ing dis­abil­ity pre­vented him from serv­ing in the mil­i­tary.

He later worked for an advertising agency in New York be­fore re­turn­ing to Washington in 1952. His daugh­ter said he de­signed the fa­mil­iar logo of the Amer­i­can Au­to­mo­bile As­so­ci­a­tion, with three A’s in­side an oval.

He be­gan paint­ing in earnest in the 1950s and had his first solo shows at art gal­leries in Washington and New York in 1963. He be­came con­nected with the Washington Color School through his friend­ship with Davis, who died in 1985.

Mr. Reed was the art di­rec­tor at the Peace Corps from 1962 to 1970, then taught at the Cor­co­ran from 1971 un­til the early 1980s. He moved from Ar­ling­ton to Phoenix in March.

His wife of 73 years, Es­ther Kishter Reed, died in 2012. Two sons, Robert Reed and Thomas Reed, pre­de­ceased him. Sur­vivors in­clude a daugh­ter, Jean Reed Roberts of Phoenix; 10 grand­chil­dren; and six great-grand­chil­dren.

Dur­ing his decade at the Cor­co­ran, Mr. Reed was a pop­u­lar teacher who al­ways em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of learn­ing from the past.

“All good paint­ing comes from pre­vi­ous paint­ing,” he told The Post in 1965. “If you can get beau­ti­ful color that pro­duces plea­sure, you are in the great tra­di­tion of paint­ing.


Paul Reed, pho­tographed at his home in Ar­ling­ton in­March 2011, shortly be­fore he turned 92, was the last sur­viv­ing mem­ber of theWash­ing­ton Color School when he died in Septem­ber in Phoenix.

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