Q&A with Resident Artist Michael Reeder
In his portraiture work, Michael Reeder taps into something instinctual and reflective. Hailing from Dallas and currently residing in Taos, New Mexico, Reeder juxtaposes his distinct catalog of characters against colorful yet flat graphic surfaces. By focusing extensively on the features of the face before letting the background literally carve out the rest, Reeder conjures up questions of identity and personal/private personas with ease. The result is an artist successfully removing himself from his work to allow his audience to see more of themselves than the processes at play behind the scenes.
What’s reflected in the final product draws from the experiences, perspective and personal background of the viewer. By painting the features and letting the surroundings define the rest, you’re left with primitive faces often to scale with similarities to our own. With a flat graphic space to further define the representational details — eliminating gravity, time and other restrictions along the way — what do we end up seeing in ourselves? Reeder’s work asks this question while Reeder himself aims to “play with [the] different techniques, colors, shadow play and light sources” unleashed when the constraints are removed.
Reeder received his BFA in painting from the School of Visual Arts in NYC. In less than two years, his work has been exhibited nationally and internationally as well as published between the pages of New American Paintings, JOIA Magazine and Migrate Magazine. Now, with Reeder getting ready to wrap his residency at Red Bull House of Art, we spoke with him about allowing interpretation in his work; how a sense of identity (or lack thereof) permeates through his art; and how his work ethic has shaped his career so far.
What sort of impression do you want your audience to walk away with? You’ve mentioned that, after taking a hiatus from painting, you don’t want want to hold their hands yet keep the process exciting for you as an artist.
I don’t want to force a message onto anyone. I’m much more comfortable with where my work is now because I’m just presenting imagery for people to immerse themselves in, or draw themselves in, or make the image more than it ever could have been. That’s more rewarding for me than trying to develop a conceptual, complex message or narrative. Now I feel more connected to the viewer, which is why I paint figuratively and portraiture because people can immediately relate to the imagery. Most of my paintings are really close to life size no matter how small the painting is, and that relationship is important. The process is very much about me as an artist, but that’s not the focus in the final product.
Identity seems to remain a constant in your work. What attracts you to the subject?
When I started this body of work, I was creating a new person based off of the same reference. It was like a small version of what happens every day with us as humans. We’re all comprised of the same parts, but we all find a way to be different, look different, have different skill sets, the whole thing. By me being able to take very few elements in each painting and being able to create this person anew, it was interesting to me and sparked the idea into identity. That’s when I started bringing in different elements like a hand smoking a cigarette; playing with gender identity — I just wanted to investigate further and see how many times I could recreate this scene with such different results.
You’ve built up quite a few accomplishments in a short timespan as an artist. How would you describe your work ethic during the past two years?
Very fast, yeah. You can’t get anywhere unless the work exists. You can be a badass artist, but if the work doesn’t exist to prove it, what can anyone go off of? For a year solid, I didn’t worry about Instagram or entering contests. I just made work over and over again so I could believe in myself and so I could like what I was doing. Once I was successfully able to reach that point, I then started entering competitions and submitting paintings to magazines — all the time. If I wasn’t painting, I was trying to learn about a grant program. All while holding down a day job. It was a lot of hard work, but lining up a residency at Red Bull House of Art is definitely helping out.
By Ryan Patrick Hooper