Robert Reed was a Black abstract painter and teacher who continued the modernist Bauhaus approaches to colour. Reed was taught by Abstractionist Josef Albers, but made work in a larger scale infused with an exuberant sense of decoration, embracing a complex style of overlapping geometric forms.Read More
Initially raised in Charlottesville and attending a segregated school, Jefferson Elementary, then Burley High School, in 1958 Reed graduated from Morgan State, an historically Black university in Baltimore. He then went to Yale School of Art, where he was taught by the legendary Josef Albers, completing a BFA (1962) and MFA (1965).
While at Yale, Reed had the opportunity to attend Yale Norfolk Summer School of Art, which he subsequently referred to as a pivotal experience in his artistic development. At Summer School Reed met Özer Kabas who arranged for him to work as an assistant in Albers' studio. Here Reed learned how to mix colour precisely, when preparing the silk-screening ink for colour plates in Albers' 1963 book Interaction of Color.
This knowledge became the basis for the Foundation Course that Reed was to teach throughout his 45-year career. At Yale School of Art Reed was the sole Black professor in its 145-year history. His very positive experiences at Norfolk Summer School led him later to regularly take his undergraduate students there for teaching weekends.
For his paintings, prints, drawings, collages, and constructions, Reed used abstract symbols, colours, and textures from remembered symbolic fragments he encountered in his everyday experiences when he was younger. Influenced by other colleagues on the Yale staff like Jon Schueler—a painter of hot atmospheric skies—and visiting tutor Philip Guston, Reed favoured large, complex compositions, busy with movement and intricate, tumbling geometric forms.
Usually, these prolific works were in vibrant colour, but occasionally they were restricted to black and white. Such energetic works include Plum Nellie, Sea Stone (1972); the San Romano Series (1979); Power of Ten, No Count (1996); Galactic Journal: Rose Hill Drive (2005); Galactic Journal, Washington Park (1999–2009); and Le Relais Du Postillon, Florence Room 2012 - Untitled #28 (2012).
Reed always identified with the Black experience, and he acknowledged the indignity and constant grinding down caused by white oppression. However, because he was a passionate abstractionist who avoided didactic art and narrative, his achievements were initially overlooked during the Black Arts movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Reed stated, 'I think of myself as an artist who is Black. An artist who goes to the same well as Black identity artists for metaphors for experiences that I have had in the stereotype Black experience.'Greatly influential as a teacher, Reed made a considerable impact on the work of artists including Stanley Whitney, Tala Madani, Rachel Rose, and Tschabalala Self.
Robert Reed participated in many solo and group exhibitions.
Solo exhibitions include: San Romano Series, Pilar Corrias, London, UK (2019); Subjective Spaces: Drawings and Collages by Robert Reed, Palmer Museum of Art, Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania, US (2019); Robert Reed, The Yale School of Art, New Haven, US (2015); Robert Reed, The Martin Museum, Baylor University, Waco, US (2013).
Group exhibitions include: Experience and Expression, Detroit Institute of Art, Detroit, US (2021); Spilling Over: Painting Color in the 1960s, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, US (2019); Sharing Wisdom: Robert Reed and Blinn Jacobs, Fred Giampietro Gallery, New Haven, US (2018); Enrico Riley and Robert Reed, VOLTA Art Fair, New York, US (2018); New Genealogies: 2016, Yale School of Art, New Haven, US (2016).
Awards include: Yale University, William Devane Medalist (2014); National Academy of Design fellow, New York (2009); College Art Association Distinguished Teaching of Art Award (2004); Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts, Minneapolis College of Art and Design (2001); National Council of Arts Administrators Award (2000); Virginia Center for the Creative Arts residency (1987).
Robert Reed's work appears in many major private and public collections, including those of the following institutions: Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; National Academy Museum, New York; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut; Fralin Museum of Art, Charlottesville; Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans; Detroit Institute of Art, Detroit; African American Museum, Dallas; Martin Museum of Art, Baylor University, Waco, Texas; Perez Art Museum Miami, Florida.
John Hurrell | Ocula | 2022