David Reed


View of “Heart of Glass,” 2012. Photo: Mark Golamco.

The California-born, New York–based painter David Reed is a colorist known for his vibrant oil and alkyd paintings of endless ribbons and folds—a daily practice that is both biographical and conceptual. “Heart of Glass,” a retrospective of the past forty-five years of Reed’s output, is on view at the Kunstmuseum Bonn until October 7.

THE EXHIBITION IS in a big, sprawling space. It terrified me at first. Since I had once seen a Blinky Palermo show in the same galleries, I felt especially nervous. It’s on the second floor and there are skylights in every room; it’s the first place where I’ve installed my paintings in so much daylight, and it was exciting to be able to do that. The paintings seem animated, an effect of your eyes having to adjust to changing levels of brightness from the skylights.

The layout of the rooms is a classical style, with a big central gallery and a number of adjacent galleries. I decided that I wanted each room to have a very particular feeling: When visitors walk in, they feel an atmosphere, a mood, so the entry into the paintings is through emotion rather than my history or the formal history of painting. Too often in museums you have to work hard to get to that feeling. There’s no good way to enter. But if you can get through all of that and finally get to the painting, something else happens. I want a catalyst so people can participate and have particular experiences rather than conventional ones. All of my attempts at making these different kinds of installations are a way to help to get to those more intimate, personal experiences with painting.

Originally I thought the central gallery would have a lot of drawings and that it would be like a big crazy studio, but the show’s curator Christoph Schreier thought that was a bad idea and in the end he was right, so there are large paintings in the first, central room and all of them are on white grounds. The idea was that everything here would float, that all the marks would seem to travel around the room, and you wouldn’t know where the paintings began or ended—you’d wonder, how far can a painting go?

I call these my “vampire paintings.” It’s this idea that a vampire doesn’t see himself reflected in a mirror, and perhaps that’s also what it is to look at an abstract painting. What do you see reflected? Not yourself, but something else, something strange. It’s like swimming or any other experience when you lose the contours of your body, and you don’t know where you are.

The installation in the central room is filmic, in the sense that in film boundary edges aren’t the end, instead implying continuation. I wanted the show to do that. We hung one painting into the only corner, and some of the other paintings are hung all the way to the edges of the walls. You can look through into the next room and it’s as if the painting is going through into that space. Fabian Marcaccio called it a traffic intersection for painting, which I liked.

Another, smaller room, toward the back, is full of works I made in 1967 in the desert around Monument Valley. There are four sunset drawings that follow the course of the sun as it sets. I tried to finish each drawing as the sun sank below the horizon. I’ve never shown them before. I was a twenty-one-year-old with a Volkswagen Beetle and I would nail an easel to the side of it, and go out and paint in the desert. One day I noticed a cave on one of the mesas, and I thought I’d go there and rest and get out of the sun and have lunch. When I got there, looking out of the cave’s opening, it seemed very familiar to me. There was a spring on the side, and I cupped my hands and drank from the spring, and it all seemed so known to me that I decided I had a special connection to this landscape in the Southwest—maybe I had been reincarnated from a Navajo who had been there. It wasn’t until years later when I saw The Searchers by John Ford that I realized this same cave is in the film. I thought of it as a kind of media baptism, to realize how much I had been affected by the media and how much it had informed me, and how I had to pay attention to that.

After we installed, my assistants and I had a chance to do some tracings of marks in the paintings. So now we can do stencils of some of the marks and use them again in new paintings. I like this idea of the same mark being able to continue through the years.

— As told to Lauren O’Neill-Butler