Over more than five decades, Robert Reed investigated formal abstraction through the media of painting, drawing, printmaking and collage. One of the most understudied artists of his generation, Reed developed a unique visual language that originated in childhood memories and manifested as elegant and playful abstract paintings. A sensitive and unconventional colourist–as a student he assisted Josef Albers–Reed grounded his paintings in spatial awareness developed through drawing and collage.
Born in Charlottesville, Virginia in 1938, Reed grew up with his mother and sister and attended segregated schools until the age of 15, when he graduated early from high school. In 1959, he received his BS from Morgan College in Baltimore before moving to New Haven to study at Yale, where he received his BFA in 1960 and MFA in 1962.
After graduating, Reed taught at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design (1962–1965) and Skidmore College (1965–1969). In 1969, he returned to New Haven as Associate Professor of Painting at the Yale School of Art, where he would continue to teach up until the month of his passing in 2014. Over these 45 years, Reed served variously as Dean of Undergraduate Studies, Dean of Graduate Studies, and member of various academic committees. As the school's only African-American tenured full professor, he tirelessly advocated for applicants and students of colour.
Reed worked consistently and privately out of his New Haven studio for his entire adult life; he rarely discussed his own practice, even with close colleagues and friends. During his lifetime, he mentioned being influenced by Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence, as well as artists he knew personally, such as Josef Albers, Philip Guston, Jon Schueler and Neil Welliver.
Reed often created titles according to a unique system in which related works shared similar prefixes (such as Plum Nellie or Galactic Journal). Each family of works occupied him for several years, sometimes more than a decade, and represented an evolution in his visual interests.
Reed's work is in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Detroit Institute of Arts, Walker Art Center, Yale University Art Gallery, and Bayly Art Museum at the University of Virginia, among others.
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In 1973, the artist Robert Reed celebrated openings for three exhibitions in New York: one at the Washburn Gallery in Manhattan, one at the Webb & Parsons Gallery in Bedford, and one at the Whitney Museum of American Art. It was a major year for Reed, a former student of the visionary Bauhaus abstractionist Josef Albers, and also the first and...