New York

David Reed

Max Protetch

In 1974, David Reed began investigating the brushstroke in a series of vertical paintings. Between 1974 and 1980, he worked on a number of two-paneled, horizontal paintings. In many of these, he would make a white stroke against a black ground in one panel, and repeat it in the next one. In other paintings from this period, he would juxtapose one panel (dark against light or vice versa) with another (a monochromatic plane). If Reed’s early paintings were not always successful, it was not because they were lacking in ambitiousness, but because their seams were too apparent.

Since 1980, Reed’s accomplishments have slowly started to mesh with his larger ambition, and his best paintings of the past few years suggest that he has broken new ground. Yet his work has often been seen through the filter of old proscriptions and values. To fuss over whether his work is an ironic representation of the brushstroke (after Roy Lichtenstein) or an extension of color-field techniques (after Jules Olitski) is to fail to see its specific identity. Typically, Reed’s narrow paintings are either decidedly vertical or decidedly horizontal in format. The insistently frontal compositions consist of discrete bands (interrupted by rectangles) in which an apparitional brushstroke unfolds across the work’s entire length. These contained, interrupted, emblematic brushstrokes alternately evoke emulsions, liquid drapery, photographic close-ups, Hokusai’s waves, and baroque forms; at the same time, they stand on their own. A spatial realm and a physical surface, rich optical color and transparency, exist simultaneously, as if all the old ways of putting together a painting were no longer necessary.

Reed shows certain affinities with Jackson Pollock. But he avoids falling into the trap of generalizing Pollock’s approach or reacting against it. Part of his redefinition of Pollock is to transfigure gesture, so that it no longer has the mark of the individual. Reed’s paintings, for all their sensuality, are ghostly, incorporeal; they are interior landscapes. At a time when every individual’s private life is routinely compromised and invaded by an excess of information, the notion of preserving an interior landscape, much less making it public, is increasingly problematized. Reed chronicles the dematerialization of the individual and, at the same time, the individual’s resistance to this ongoing erosion.

John Yau