David Reed “Heart of Glass”

With a week to go, I finally visited the exhibition of David Reed’s work, entitled “Heart of Glass” at the Kunstmuseum in Bonn.  I am never sure how to approach non-representational art, some of which appeals quickly while other work has no impact, even on second or third “meetings”.  I decided to focus on mark-making and how this creates surface texture.  This facilitated a way into Reed’s work because I was able to appreciate the range of his techniques and the ways in which he creates illusory three-dimensional surfaces.  Although I had been unsure what to expect, through having a focus I was able to quite quickly engage with his work, finding in it beauty, movement and depth.

The works in this exhibition were largely produced in the last 25 years and most, it seems, are privately owned.  Examples of earlier work did not have the same appeal as more recent paintings.  Reed works primarily in oil and alkyd on either polyester or canvas.  All of his work is large-scale and he is fond of airbrushes.  Several workbook pages were included in the exhibition.  He plans meticulously in pencil on large format graph paper.

Reed’s work is numbered, very few works are named.  There were difficulties in relating information about paintings to specific paintings due to the way in which the exhibition is presented and so I am going to present Reed’s paintings without titles, unless I am certain, and within the context of mark-making.

The painting below (524-2) is the first that one encounters on entering.   This painting is one that Reed didn’t work on continuously and it was created altogether over a period of 5 years, beginning in 2004.  These airbrushed scarlet tubes folding in on each other like deflated inner tubes of a bicycle are alternately hidden and revealed beneath the roughly applied green paint, which creates patches of light swell as darker depths.  The red “square” on the lower right seems at first like an approaching train but it serves to bring the submerged red to the surface and so provides a colour balance between the paint layers and helps the eye search for and connect with other brighter red areas closer to the surface.    The green “square” similarly directs the eye to the places where the green does not overlay the red and appears as a pure colour. The purple streak on the upper left provides a contrast and catches the eye because the colour does not appear elsewhere (except partly concealed in two more parallel vertical stripes).  Close to, the red tubes reflect light as they twist and turn and are reminiscent of satin.  The fabric-like textures of the surface recur in Reed’s recent work.


The painting below could not be identified.  It appealed because of the range of botanic marks: petals, leaves.  Light and shade create a sense of layers such as would appear in dense foliage.  There is also a contrast between colours, as well as smooth and jagged edges. In common with other of his paintings, Reed seems to create textures on surfaces which he then cuts into and uses as collage elements.


Here is another work that appears to comprise several surfaces assembled in a collage.  I like the veiling of lower paint layers that he achieves with translucent layers which lie on the surface.


As my intended focus was on the use of marks to create surface texture, I looked closely at a number of paintings and selected parts of these to photograph as a record of textures that I would like to explore further.  Specific aspects of Reed’s work that I admire are shown in the images that follow, which represent only small sections of paintings.

I chose the two images below for the shimmering gossamer effect that Reed achieves by wiping wet surface paint off a base layer.



I longed to touch the surface of some of his work to see whether they were as three-dimensional as they appeared.  Peering at them from the side, I could not see any indication of a raised surface…  The gossamer effect is seen again here as the base colour (yellow) comes through the green surface suggesting the way in which taffeta silk reflects the light.


The image below came from the same painting as the green “comma” above.  I didn’t spot marks like these in any other painting that I saw today.  They remind me of a bird’s wing.  I am not sure how they were made.


More luscious red tubes and a very textural chocolate shape.  This also appeared to be collaged but it was difficult to discern how it had been assembled – which surfaces were collaged on which?  I tried to photograph the chocolate surface close-up but the camera wouldn’t oblige in any realistic way so here it is in its gallery context.


Here are the red tubes closer to.  If you can get past the resemblance to intestines or fishing bait… the translucency is intriguing.  How many layers are there?


and even closer ..


In the next image, depth has been created using layers of varying density in which paint appears to have been dropped and maybe brushed, sprayed or allowed to run down the canvas.  The layers convey a sense of looking through branches into a sunset or a fire. Again, there is veiled colour which neutralises the brightness of the red and prevents it from dominating while tying the darker greys to the brighter background.


Here is the painting from which the extract above comes.  Reed has produced several works in a long, narrow format, both vertical and horizontal.


I selected the painting below for its contrasting impressions of torn paper or fabric and smooth folds in the corners and edges, a satin antique frock eaten by moths. Once again, Reed’s use of light creates a three-dimensional effect through multiple reflective surfaces.


In this work, the black painted surface has been scraped away in places to reveal an intense blue underpainting. A night sky that retains the memory of daylight.


In this fragment of a painting, Reed has created a paint run beneath a broad line of white paint applied with a dry brush.  It leaves the viewer with a sense of the sun setting over a landscape.  It struck me as one of his more powerful marks.


Here is the complete painting.  Seen in the context of the whole, and on a gallery wall, it creates a completely different impression and feeling in the viewer.  Night swallowing up a landscape.


Finally, here are two more translucent images that seem to float over the viewer and invite them to dive in….   The first is a small segment of a larger work:




Kunst Museum, Bonn David Reed Heart of Glass – Gemälde and Zeichnungen 1967 – 2012 (28th June to 7th October, 2012).  Exhibition flyer.

The photographs here are my own.


4 thoughts on “David Reed “Heart of Glass”

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