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Gavin's Underground

May Gallery Stroll: Bill Reed

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2013-05-20 - This month's Gallery Stroll was a mix of experience of all the joys of spring in a three-hour period -- warm sunshine to mild wind to gray skies to gusty wind to rain; everything you'd expect from a fickle and undecided season in Utah. For this month's Stroll, I made my way over to Caffe Niche – which thankfully got its liquor license a while ago and helped out my "winter" with several hot toddies – where on its walls abstract acrylic paintings from Bill Reed are currently displayed.

Today, I chat with Bill about his career change into painting and how his career and life have changed over the past few years, what he has on exhibition at Niche, thoughts on local art and a couple of other topics. You can check out all his works in this gallery here.

Bill Reed

Gavin: Hey, Bill. First off, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Bill: I was born in Newport, Ark., in 1952. My early years were spent in the swamps, forests, thickets, and deserts of Louisiana and Texas, where I was often free to roam unsupervised. After my family moved to Maryland, I spent my free time roaming the National Gallery of Art in D.C. when not protesting the war. Although it has become a cliché, Woodstock was a defining moment in my life. I moved to Utah in August of 1997 and raised my two daughters here. Since 2008, I have been the coordinator of the Annual Art & Crafts Festival held by the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City.
Gavin: What first got you interested in art, and what were some early influences on you?

Bill: I believe Claude Monet’s paintings at the National Art Gallery were the catalyst for my early fascination with visual art. Throughout my life, I have observed paintings in museums that have caught my attention and wouldn’t let go: Chagall’s, Rothko’s, Tansey’s, Richter’s and Kandinsky’s at such places as the Getty, Norton Simon, d’Orsay, Tate Modern, the Hirshhorn, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and the streets of Chicago.

Gavin: Prior to becoming an artist, you spent over 30 years as a hydrologist for the federal government. What was your time like pursuing that career?

Bill: I spent 40 years in the field of water. I started drilling wells for environmental studies in Maryland -- I was a conscientious objector and this was my alternative military duty -- then when I was released, I went to the University of Arizona for a degree in hydrology. My first job out of college was with the National Park Service doing floodplain delineation studies and stream restoration. Then, I spent time with the National Weather Service as the hydrologic transition manager during modernization. Also, I authored several papers on post-burn hydrology including NOAA Technical Memorandum NWS WR-285 and 2011 Wildfire in the Mountainous Terrain of Southeast Arizona: Verification of Empirical Formulas used to Estimate from 1-Year through 10-Year Peak Discharge from Post-Burn Watersheds and Associated Increased Flash Flood Potential of Post-Burn Hyper-Concentrated Flows. I retired in June of 2012 with 34 years of federal service.
Gavin: What got you interested in painting, and what persuaded you to start doing it as a career?

Bill: Painting, like parenting, is extremely enjoyable, challenging and rewarding. There is nothing like the process of allowing that without form to appear as if it were always there, to breathe life onto an empty canvas -- to visualize and then create a synthesis of all that has come before, that is and that will be; to release the shapes and colors of dreams, to bring to light the flashes behind closed eyes. Given the freedom to do so, why would one want to do anything else? Retirement provided me the freedom.

Gavin: What was it like for you breaking into the local art scene?

Bill: Quite frankly, I am still very much an unknown when it comes to the local art scene. But my works speak for themselves and I was fortunate to be accepted into the Art At The Main cooperative.
Gavin: What's the process like for you when creating a new piece, from concept to final product?

Bill: Creating art is like speaking a different language, a language of emotions, and then hoping that someone will understand why. The process is nonlinear, as if unglued from time, and often a painting resides within for a long, long, time, waiting in a turbid state only to surface with the next passing storm. To survive in the wilderness, one must know how to forecast the weather and read the signs of nature.

Gavin: Do you tend to play with your pieces as you're working on them, or do you stick to the original idea?

Bill: I am not present while painting; to me, it is very much like sitting in oblivion, to allow that without form to appear from the Tao. Simplistically, and using very antiquated terminology, “I go with the flow.”
Gavin: You've now fully retired from the day job and have become a full-time artist. What was the transition like for you, and how is it pursuing a totally different career?

Bill: I have never been happier with who I am and with what I do. Life is a journey with nothing at the end, so it is best to enjoy the trip. I have never been a person to stay in a situation or place for long. But I love it here and will continue to create.

Gavin: Tell me about the artwork on display for this Stroll.

Bill: I have adapted a technique developed by Gerhard Richter from large-scale oils to small-scale acrylics. The paintings are abstracts with a layer of mathematical expressionism. I suggest those interested view the 2011 documentary Gerhard Richter – Painting -- in my opinion, a brilliant film on the German artist. Or better yet, catch the show and a good meal at Caffe Niche through the end of May.
Gavin: How has it been for you working with Niche for this showing and having your work in a nontraditional gallery?

Bill: It has been great working with the manager, Sarah Lappe, on setting up and showing my work at Caffe Niche. It truly is a beautiful setting for hanging a collection of works. Although Caffe Niche is indeed a restaurant and not a gallery, I feel my work has gained great exposure throughout the day.

Gavin: Going local, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?

Bill: I am not sure there is really a local art scene, in that there is no cohesive local movement or collection of artists. For me, Spiral Jetty is a major piece of art, but I believe it is more revered in Europe than Utah. Indeed, when I was last at the Tate Modern, the museum had an entire room dedicated to this piece. It is true that we have a Chihuly downtown, but a local art scene, I am not sure one exists. To me, an art scene is more than just gallery strolls and art festivals.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?

Bill: Make what more prominent? I believe that the future belongs to the young, and unless we expose them to art at an early age, they will be happy with their technology. As mentioned earlier, since 2008, I have been the coordinator of the Annual Art & Crafts Festival held by the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City. It is been my goal to provide an outlet for the creative, both young and old.

Gavin: Who are some local artists you like checking out or recommend people should look for?

Bill: As mentioned before, I am a member of the artist cooperative, Art At The Main, so I enjoy the work there. Other local artists I personally like are Bonnie Posselli, Stephanie Saint-Thomas, Cori Redstone, Sue Slade and Mary Tull, to name only a few of many.
Gavin: What's your take on Gallery Stroll and the work they're doing to promote local art?

Bill: It is a fun event, and as a local artist I appreciate their efforts.

Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?

Bill: I just finished a large abstract -- 48 x 60 inches -- and hope to do a series of these abstract and show them at a gallery that has large wall space. Also, I am developing a technique to blend my more organic landscapes with my more mathematical abstracts. This would sort of be like playing progressive rock over a soundscape, i.e., Porcupine Tree and Robert Fripp collaborations.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

Bill: Sure, I encourage everyone to check out the outstanding and affordable art at Art At The Main, in the atrium of the Main Library. I also will be doing a demonstration of abstract painting in the atrium of the Main Library on Saturday, June 22, from 3-5 p.m. during the Utah Arts Festival.


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