Christopher Reid has been featured in a 20 page article in LandEscape Art Review 2015 Special Anniversary Edition, an international art publication based out of Europe. He was selected as one of 9 artists from out of over 3,000 submissions from around the world.
In the 20 page Landescape feature article, Reid is interviewed on various topics, from the role of realist art in modern culture to his palette choices to considering demographics in preparing for an exhibition. You can read the article below or view the entire issue.
Marsh, pastel 24”x18
An artist’s statement
I am a realist painter drawing on the beauty I find all around me to create art. I am inspired by the way light falls on a form or filters through the atmosphere in a landscape. With the right light, even an ordinary everyday object can become a work of art. I want to share my vision with others. Too many people stumble through their days oblivious to their environment. I want to help others better appreciate their world by allowing them to see it through an artist’s eyes.
While plein air painting one day, an old man came up to me and said, “I have been coming here to drink my morning coffee most of my life and I never realized how beautiful it was until I saw your painting.” That is the greatest compliment I could hope for.
My creation process is intuitive and uses no shortcuts. The process itself is enjoyable and meditative, especially when I am painting outdoors en plein air. I prefer to work in pastel, watercolor, acrylic, and charcoal. I usually listen to the subject to determine the media. I challenge myself constantly by using different techniques and varying subjects and media. I further hone my drawing skills through weekly life drawing sessions with a model and frequent sketches.
I have always been orbiting an art career. I wanted to be a comic book illustrator in high school. Then I wanted to design 3d animation in college. After college I ran an advertising firm and did a lot of graphic design. I finally realized that the only part of any job I had ever loved was the creation and drawing. So it isn’t that I decided to become an artist, but that I finally stopped fighting it. Art is no longer something I do, it is who I am.
An interview by Josh Ryder
Christopher Reid’s paintings reflect the tradition as a permanent interplay between inscrutability and beauty: contradicting Adorno’s view that art acquires meaning in proportion to its lack of function, Reid’s gaze on reality provides the viewer of a functional service. His careful investigation of the epiphanic feature of the details of the environment we inhabit invites us to rethink about the way we perceive reality, and in particular, his stimulating work entitled Landscape Reflection clearly shows the interconnection between perceptual process and emotional dimension. I’m particularly pleased to introduce our readers to his art.
Hello Christopher and welcome to LandEscape. I’ll start this interview with some questions about your background. You have a solid formal education and studied fine art at The Savannah College of Art & Design, and at the UNCW. Would you like to tell our readers how these experiences influenced your development as an artist and how did they impact the way you currently conceive your works?
When I was a small child, my great- grandmother died and I saved her library of art history books from the trash. I already had a deep respect for books and liked the pictures. I reread the entire collection throughout my youth. I examined the photos of paintings by Caravaggio, Rubens, Bosch, Turner, Sargent, Titian, and the museums of the world. I learned to love art and figured out why certain paintings worked better than others. This was the beginning of my art education.
We all owe a great debt to our teachers, whether they be the past masters who inspired us or professors who introduced us to a new concept. We grow so much faster when we are able to learn from not only our own experiences, but from others’. In college I learned how to talk about art and better describe my thought processes while I am creating. When I taught art, I began to understand it on a deeper level and appreciate my teachers even more. As an artist, one must put in countless hours practicing, but an art education helps aim you in the right direction.
I entered art school wanting to gather as much knowledge as possible because art fascinates me. I did not expect it to develop my style or improve me magically without practice. In this way I truly benefitted from the strengths of a solid art education. I may not agree with some of the concepts I was taught, but I can appreciate how their introduction causes me to question and examine my own work.
Masonboro Airshow, pastel 18”x24 Watching the birds fly evokes a feeling of freedom and joy. I wanted to capture the experience of watching in awe on a beautiful day from a kayak at Masonboro Island. I combined several reference photos to create a swirling movement with plenty of variation. I had to represent birds with only a few strokes but was careful not to use the cliche ‘m’ shape that is so often used.
River Rocks, pastel 18”x24 Many artists treat reflections too much like a mirror. Having grown up playing in the ocean and on boats, I pay attention to how the water closer to you is so much more transparent and how the color of water is greatly affected by the depth and turbulence.
I suggest visiting http://reidsart.com in order to get a wider idea of the artistic production that we are going to discuss in these pages. I would start from your Landscape series, that our readers has already started to get to know in the introductory pages of this article. When I first began this project I tried to relate all the visual information to a single meaning, but I soon realized that I had to fit into the visual unity suggested by the narrative that pervades your images, forgetting my need for a universal understanding of its symbolic content. In your work, rather than a conceptual interiority, I can recognize the desire to enable us to establish direct relations… Would you say that it’s more of an intuitive or a systematic process?
I realize that my portfolio runs the gamut of subjects from portraiture to plein air landscapes and is hard to categorize. If art is a form of communication, why would each artist say only one thing? I understand that “brand recognition” is important for sales, but I love too many flavors to choose only one for the sake of commercialism. I paint because I love creating art, not to get rich. There are much easier ways to make a living, but none that I am so passionate about. Another reason for my range of subjects is that I want to grow as an artist every day and the best way to do that is to explore new subjects and challenge oneself.
In answer to your question, Art is both intuitive and analytical. I utilize my left brain when analyzing composition and planning, but allow spontaneity when actually painting and interpreting my subject. I feel that it is a mistake to use only a portion of your brain when creating. Both hemispheres of my brain are engaged during the creative process. I paint whatever subject speaks to me at that moment. I paint en plein air often and at competitions I see other artists rushing around scouting what to paint days in advance. That just isn’t how I work. I have to see the light at the time of my painting in order to determine what interests me. I need to be excited about what I am painting. When something catches my eye I begin to analyze the composition and determine how to create a work of art from it. While working, I listen to the painting. I may alter the division of space, omit objects, grab objects from outside the picture plane, or invent, if that is what is needed.
You draw inspiration from reality and you use archival materials. In your works the scene is real and it seems that one of your goals is to represent what’s really there and still use a painterly approach. Philippe Dagen wrote in his “Le Silence des Peintres”, that the coming of a straight realism has caused a progressive retrenchment of painting from the role of representing reality. With exception of the Hyperrealism movement, Painting is nowadays more and more marked with a symbolism. Do you think that the dichotomy between Representation and Painting is by now irremediable? Moreover, how much do you explicitly think of a narrative for your works?
I don’t think that painting and representation need to be in conflict at all. The real reason for the hiccup in art history during the 20th century where Realism became disconnected from art was due to the rise of photography. The role of the artist as a mere recorder of a visage or event was over. Once this artificial means became ubiquitous, many assumed that Realism was no longer valid. Many artists valued being different over having their art actually express their idea. I find this entire line of reasoning to be utterly ridiculous. It is like saying we should all stop speaking clearly because now we have a computerized voice on our cell phones or that we should begin muttering incomprehensibly. Saying that realism is no longer valid is like saying that the advent of microwaveable dinners meant the end of restaurants and chefs should all begin creating dishes that nobody could eat. I think it is noteworthy that none of the masters from before the 20th century were merely recorders, but they were all realists. Each artist added their own unique voice and perspective to the discussion.
The first goal of any form of communication is to be understood. A byproduct of the 20th century hiccup was that as many artists abandoned realist art as a universal language, they disconnected from the audience they were trying to speak to. Art became something that many people who like to buy art could not understand and then artists bemoaned their poverty. The word “artsy” became appended with the word “fartsy” during the hiccup.
Each of us has our own voice and we should clearly speak what is on our minds. What are we trying to say as artists? If I am intrigued by the play of light and shadows across across a wall, I want to share that fascination with my viewers. I am capturing my interpretation of an experience and mood, not a mechanically reproduced recording. I am not interested in what is trending, only in how I can express my own artistic vision so others can experience it. Realism is universally understood. I could stop my paintings halfway through and call them finished or splatter paint around randomly and call it art, but I would be lying to myself and the viewers.
As for a narrative. Sometimes I begin a painting with a narrative in mind, and sometimes I just paint and listen for the narrative. I think the viewer will create their own narrative if the painting is a successful work of art and the more involved a viewer is in the creation of the artwork, the better. I don’t usually try to force my interpretation onto the viewer.
Snowy Egrets ICW, pastel 18”x24 These egrets were paying too much attention to the motorboats passing on the Intracoastal Waterway to notice the kayak approaching the other side of the marsh. There was a thick haze to the atmosphere as the sun passed through the high humidity in the air. The egrets glowed warmly in high contrast.
I like the way your careful approach offers a rigorous but at the same time lively visual translation of immaterial and physical sights that pervade our reality. In this sense, your approach is intrinsically connected to the chance of creating an area of intense interplay with the viewers, that are invited to evolve from the condition of a passive audience. In particular, your refined investigation about constructed realities has reminded me of the ideas behind Thomas Demand’s works: while conceiving Art could be considered a purely abstract activity, there is always a way of giving it a permanence that goes beyond the ephemeral nature of the concepts you capture. So I would take this occasion to ask you if, in your opinion, personal experience is an absolutely indispensable part of a creative process… Do you think that the creative process could be disconnected from direct experience?
I think that personal experience pervades everything we do, not just art. Perspective is relative. If two artists were to do a painting from the same photo of the ocean, do you think the artist who lived at the beach or the one who lives in the mountains would create a more personal and true painting? Artists can certainly create art disconnected from direct experience, but there is no advantage to it. When painting a dragon, would an artist not benefit from first studying reptiles like alligators? Would you want a portrait of you painted by someone who had never even seen a photo of you?
I think that the need for familiarity with a subject is even more vital to the success of a landscape. I paint en plein air often and I have seen this practice greatly improve my handling of landscapes, even when working with photo references. I am more aware of how the environment felt and how the colors truly looked. Photos do not capture the true colors or value range visible in real life. Having experienced a scene firsthand, I am aware of the breeze on my skin, the scents in the air, and the sounds, so that I can attempt to convey those sensations in my painting. If I am standing in the shade, I tend to paint with a cooler palette than if I am in direct sunlight. I believe that painting subjects of which I have direct experience contributes an authenticity to a painting that the viewer picks up on, even if it is subconscious.
I also believe that if you are to invent aspects of a scene, direct experience is vital. We each have icons in our minds that match words. If I ask 20 people to draw an eye, almost everyone would draw the Egyptian hieroglyphic eye.
That is not how a real eye looks. Because I have drawn so many eyes from life, my drawing would look much more realistic. I have replaced the typical icon of an eye with a more anatomically correct one in my mind and have a greater understanding of how it functions. It is the same with types of trees. I am much more familiar with oak trees than with banyan trees because I have painted oak trees en plein air many times. Experience is what allows me to invent.
Needlestack Sundown, pastel 22”x30”
Safe Harbor, pastel 18”x24” Waterways at night have beautiful reflections and lights that seem to skip across the water. I wanted to show how the vast sky makes even the cranes and derricks seem small by comparison.
Winter Woods, watercolor 12”x16” It is rare that we get snow in this region of North Carolina, so I grew up enjoying the rare days when we had enough to play in. I began this painting by covering up all the white of the paper so that it would create a moody atmosphere and the sense that, despite the white snow, it was evening.
When I am enjoying a landscape, I don’t want to think about the latest wars in the Middle East or which corrupt politician was caught on video today. I get sick of that and I don’t want to get sick of my art. I paint with a smile and I don’t think I could do that if I were using my art to give speeches.
I do believe that an artist has a duty to help shape the mores of their society, but this can be done subtly. Most of my art is meant to cause people to appreciate the beauty of the world around them. If someone develops an appreciation for the beauty of a sand dune on an uninhabited beach, then hopefully they will be less likely to destroy it.
You mentioned Safe Harbor and Needlestack. Both show the presence of man in the environment. I do not make a judgement, but leave that up to the viewer.
The morning and evening light can make anything beautiful. Perhaps someone living in a large city has forgotten this. They might not be able to do much to prevent pollution personally, but maybe my art can help them appreciate the beauty of life around them and make life a little better. Art allows a viewer to see the world through someone else’s eyes – from an external perspective.
The nuance of light colors that I have admired in Scattered Light has suggested me a sense of dramatic -and I would daresay “oniric”- luminosity that seems to flow out of the canvas that communicates such a tactile sensation. Any comments on your choice of “palette” and how it has changed over time?
I would say that rather than being oniric, or dreamlike, people have become so accustomed to viewing the world through a lens that when confronted with realistic light it now appears shocking. On the morning I was painting Scattered Light in a sunlit park, billions of people were staring at digital screens. This has become the new “reality” and “photorealistic” has somehow come to mean “real” to most people. I am often told that my art “looks better than a photo.” That is because I try to make it look more like my real experience and if it looks just like a photo, what is the point in painting it?
My palette varies for different media. My palette for watercolor and acrylic is based on the double-primary system with 3 earth pigments and white added in. I like the earth pigments not so much for their color as for their different working properties. I don’t use black and mix my own darks. I mix all secondary hues myself. For pastel I use an open palette and grab whatever I need. I removed all achromatic grays from my pastel set because every time I think I see gray in nature I look closely and actually see a low-chroma color instead. I do use black to create shades in pastel, but try not to overuse it.
Scattered Light is one of my plein air paintings and shows how I react to the colors and light I see in real life. I don’t preselect a palette for pastel and I go so far as to put all the colors back in the box after each painting to make sure that I am grabbing colors because they feel right and not because of a set palette. Even when I use an unlimited palette with 200 pastels in front of me, most paintings never end up needing more than 15 pastels. I find that color harmony is stronger when I use less colors.
My palette has definitely changed over the years. I will often try one new color just to see if I should add it to my regular palette. I don’t want a lot of colors, so it would need to be superior to a color I already use. My watercolor palette has evolved to be highly transparent, but for acrylic I have had to alter my choices to include more opaque pigments.
Sailing Into The Sun, pastel 18”x24” I grew up sailing and wanted to share the thrill of flying across the water toward the sun. I used a tilted perspective so that every line would be a diagonal to create tension and movement. I paid close attention to all the colors created by the sun shining through and around the sail as well as the green color of seawater in the wake.
In your investigation about the liminal space between representation and abstraction references a universal imagery suggested by natural elements that are quite recurrent and seem to remove any historic gaze from the reality you refer to, offering to the viewers the chance to perceive in a more atemporal form. In this sense, I daresay that the semantic juxtaposition between sign and matter that marks out your art, allows you to go beyond any dichotomy between Tradition and Contemporariness, establishing a stimulating osmosis between materials from an absolute dimension and a personal, lively approach to Art…
I don’t often try to recreate scenes that I did not experience. I know that some artists love painting false nostalgia, but I prefer to paint my experiences rather than what I imagine someone else experienced. I value authenticity. Because I am a contemporary artist, my paintings tend to reflect contemporary scenes. Many of my landscapes show the influence of man because it is hard to escape. I may remove power lines if they clutter my composition but I am not pretending the environment is still pristine. I often camp out on islands. On one recent camping trip, the noise from a highway miles away continued every hour of the day and night. There were no clouds in the sky, but plenty of jet contrails. Soda bottles and beer cans were washed up amidst the driftwood. This is the world we live in now.
Sometimes we need art that shows us how our environment should be and sometimes we need to be confronted with how it actually is. I think that even within the context of a polluted environment one can find beauty. A drainage ditch or retention pond can have interesting colors and reflections despite their utilitarian functions.
I couldn’t go without mentioning Marina Reflection and Landscape Reflection, a couple of pieces that have particularly impressed me. The multilayered experience suggested by these works is capable of bringing a new level of significance to the usual concept of landscape, and I would go as far as to state that in a certain sense you invite the viewers to challenge the common way to perceive not only the outside world, but our inner dimension… By the way, I’m sort of convinced that some information and ideas are hidden, or even “encrypted” in the environment we live in, so we need, in a way, to decipher them. Maybe one of the roles of an artist could be to reveal unexpected sides of Nature, especially of our inner Nature… What’s your point about this?
In both of the Reflection paintings you mentioned I was working to bridge the gap between genres. I wanted to offer the viewer a different way to see the landscape.
Are you focusing on the reflection, the object reflecting it, or seeing through the reflective surface? As an artist, I am primarily interested in creating a work of art with an interesting composition. The subject is usually a secondary consideration. If we are painting shapes of color with varying values, why can’t genre be transcended without abandoning realism? Is Marina Reflection a landscape, still life, or portrait? I actually resisted the urge to add some wildlife into the painting!
My Reflection series definitely includes some introspective works. When we view something reflected, our perspective changes and I wanted to link metaphorical reflection with literal physical reflection. I think that even being exposed to nature can result in introspection. Thoreau wrote about this better than anyone.
When I paint, it is meditative for me. Since the mood of the artist plays a role in creation of the artwork, it only makes sense that a bit of that introspection shows through in my art.
I believe that the role of every artist is different. I certainly hope to bring about an appreciation of everyday scenes in my viewers. As an artist, I notice little things that most people don’t, because I am looking at everything from an aesthetic perspective. I want to share that with my audience.
As part of my reflections series, I wanted to depict landscapes seen only as reflections. While on Park Avenue painting, I saw this landscape reflection in my girlfriend’s car window and had to paint it. The challenge was to show the interior of the car without overpowering the reflection.
Marina Reflection, pastel on panel 36”x48” While taking a kayaking break for some lunch at The Fish House on the ICW, I noticed how the scene reflected in my girlfriend’s sunglasses was enhanced by the color of the rims. I had been looking for a way to combine the genres of landscape, portraiture, and still life in a new way and this struck me as a perfect combination.
During your over twenty-five year career your works have been extensively exhibited on several occasions, including a recent solo show, “Reflection”, at Jazzcars Gallery. So, before taking leave from this interesting conversation, I would like to pose a a question about the nature of the relation with your audience – in particular, do you consider the issue of audience reception as being a crucial component of your decision-making process in terms of what type of language to use for a particular context?
I don’t view the audience as separate from the artwork. They are active participants and vital to a painting’s success. We create art together. As a 2-dimensional visual artist, I can only suggest part of my experience in pigment. The viewer’s mind must fill in a lot of the blanks. If you are verbally describing a scene to someone, you want to speak so that they understand and in a context that they are familiar with. In the same way, the audience is always a consideration when creating art. My style and subject matter are entirely my own preference, but it is important to me that the audience is able to enjoy the art. Rather than paint only what I think the audience wants to see, I try to make sure that my paintings have a clear vision. If I don’t understand where a painting is going, how can I expect my audience to?
I typically paint whatever interests me at that moment and in the style reflective of my mood. I approach the issue of finding a common language with the audience when selecting works for a show. This gives me full artistic freedom while also being practical.
Thanks a lot for your time and for sharing your thoughts, Christopher. Finally, would you like to tell us readers something about your future projects? How do you see your work evolving?
I am having fun working larger and am experimenting with different surfaces and media. I am currently fascinated with capturing water in new ways, but I never know what will interest me from day to day. I respond to my environment. The day to day weather certainly affects my art as it does my mood. I am going camping again this weekend and I will be open to whatever inspires me. All that I can be sure of in my future projects is that I will continue to question and explore my world through art.
Art is a passionate journey. I may set goals such as how many paintings I hope to finish in a year, but I don’t constrain my artistic choices in the same way. There must be a balance in life between structure and chaos.
I wish I could predict the evolution of my work, but there is no finish line for an artist. I am always exploring and improving my skills. I never stop learning or challenging myself. I hope to be painting until my dying breath.
Tools Of The Artist, watercolor 9”x12”
I painted this self-portrait using a small handheld shaving mirror. I wanted to show the true tools of the artist, the eyes. Notice that my hand with a paintbrush is reflected in the glasses and my silhouette is visible in my pupil. While the hand is an important part of artistic creation, it is the eyes that are most important.
Self portraits allow me to observe things that non-artists don’t notice and to examine my own work in self-critique. When I began this portrait, there was a large white shape in the reflection of my glasses. I laid in a light wash as a sort of block-in for the lenses and then worked on the rest of the painting. When I came back to the glasses later, the shape was gone. I was perplexed, until I realized that the shape had been the reflection of the blank watercolor paper on my board.
As I painted, the reflection had constantly changed! I like that this painting reflects the flexible process of creating art. We adapt what we see with artistic license in order to better capture the essence of our subject.