David Reed. In the year 2000, Annette DiMeo Carlozzi, the Curator of American
and. Contemporary Art at the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art, University of Austin
TRANSCRIPT OF THE NEW YORK SYMPOSIUM ON PAINTING MATERIALS TALK David Reed In the year 2000, Annette DiMeo Carlozzi, the Curator of American and Contemporary Art at the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art, University of Austin (Texas) asked me to do a project there. The museum’s collection was formed by James Michener the novelist. It’s a kind of encyclopedic collection with one work apiece by quite a number of artists. One of Michener’s advisors was an art dealer named Dick Bellamy. There is a group of about 25 or 30 paintings created around 1965 and purchased on the advice of Bellamy. I believe the price limit for purchases then was a thousand dollars. Some of those works have become quite valuable -- a Brice Marden, a Richard Tuttle, a Lee Lozanos, and a Jo Baer. There are also a number of works by painters who are less well known now. It was amazing to go down to the store room and pull out racks and see these paintings come out. Most of the paintings hadn’t been moved for perhaps thirty years. They were in pristine quality, looking very fresh. These were big paintings, the kind that are often very vulnerable to damage. It was a mix of known and unknown work. There was this one painting that especially struck me. It was by a painter named Ken Showell who perhaps is known by some artists. He came to New York around 1960 and died a few years ago. He was famous for a short time for a group of paintings that were called “Crumble Paintings”. He would take a canvas and kind of wad it up. He would then take a spray gun, spray over the top, and then unfold the canvas. Patterns of cloth folds were revealed with beautiful gradations-- usually black-- across them. I haven’t seen any of
these paintings in many years. When I first saw them, I did not like them much as I thought they were too gimmicky. But I’d love to see one of them again. “Besped” (1967), Showell’s painting in the Blanton collection was part of a group of paintings that were exhibited in a show in Paris but were never exhibited in New York. They are distorted grids that are lattice like so the elements of the grids are slightly three-dimensional. They were painted on raw canvas and stained around the edges with a kind of very bright colored pastel. They have an effervescent, psychedelic look to them-- very mid-60s flower power hippy. You can see the complexities of the materials and the manner in which they were used. You can feel the mood of the times in them. You know when they were painted. It was amazing to see this painting. At first, it seemed like a time capsule from the past. But then, I realized that this painting seemed to be coming from the future to tell us about alternate futures that would never happen. You cannot see these qualities in a reproduction and the painting itself was very fragile. It made me think about how important it is that art works survive since every artist will go in and out of fashion at least three or four times in his lifetime. When one is out of fashion, he wants his work to last so that when he’s back it is there to be brought out again. I hope Ken’s painting will be exhibited sometime. I made samples of the surfaces of my paintings about ten to fifteen years ago to give a better sense of what the surface is like than can be seen in slides. They are pieces from paintings that didn’t work. The canvas is linen. The ground is built up of many layers of titanium white acrylic that were applied with a knife and sanded. On top of those white ground layers, is a colored ground of alkyd color. On top of that is a transparent coat of oil paint mixed with Windsor & Newton Liquin medium. The one
aspect of alkyd paints that I worry about is that, while they are very strong they can be brittle and I paint on flexible surfaces. I would be better off technically if I painted on solid surfaces, but I can not do the kind of knife work I want on them. In my work, I experiment with the possibilities of transparent color. I want extremes of value, temperature, and hue all within the same painting. The way I found I could do this was through transparency. I learned that this might be a possible from looking at Rubens’ work. There is one painting in which Rubens put over the ground a kind of glaze of greenish brown color that looks to me like a raw sienna. On top of it, he put a wonderful flesh color that must have been lead white mixed with vermilion. As he thinned out the flesh tone, it became more and more transparent and turned a bright green. The top layer placed over the bottom layer created a third color that was completely unexpected. That is what I hope to do--. put one color over another and end up with an unexpected color. I use alkyd paints. Windsor & Newton paints give me many possibilities for transparent color that I could get with no other brand. Recently the company extended its palette of colors so I have many new possibilities. My goal is to emulate Rubens’ technique. He had a secret medium for paint that enabled him to create transparent glazes. My favorite color is Davy’s Gray-- which is a neutral gray. I am thankful to Windsor & Newton for this color as the company invented it in the 19th century. It was used first in watercolors and then in oil paints. It’s a 19th century color and I’ve seen it used in some 19th century paintings. On the far right side of one of my quite large paintings—12 to 14 feet wide--, what looks like white is actually a pale pink which reads as white at first and then as
pink. I meant for the paintings to change over time as one looked at them. The viewer should notice the value and the hue at different points. In a painting that I’m experimenting with now there is a glaze of blue over a pale blue which produces a kind of super blue—a Superman color. Artificial colors are being introduced all the time. They don’t as yet have emotional connotations. As they use them, painters give those colors emotional meanings and definition. I think that Caravaggio would have given his right arm for a tube of thalo green and I love to think about what he would have done with it. I play games with color values. I try for both extremes of value. In one of my paintings, on the left the hues remain very similar and very light in value, while near the bottom right there is a very dark and transparent area. Another work was about creating warm and cool tones by placing transparent yellow over different colors. In one area, the ground is dioxin purple. When yellow was placed over it, it became very green and cold. On the left side, a section in which red was placed over a different yellow looks very warm. In a painting in progress, the paint is transparent when I lay it down. As it dries, it first becomes more opaque and then it becomes transparent again. It takes between three days and a week for the paint to dry. It takes a couple of weeks for it to become completely clear. In my recent paintings, I wanted to have a kind of splatter coat cover the entire surface and put glazes over that. The glazes break the continuity of the surface and make the color below look very different. I like the sense of both continuity and discontinuity of light that this creates.
In my work, I use either brushes or large cooking spatulas which are like large painting knifes. I control the thickness of the paint with pressure. I do not use squeegees although people often assume that the paintings are done that way. I couldn’t have enough control with a squeegee. My work is about the drawing and a knife works better.