Michael Reeder is a versatile artist who fuses the discipline of fine art painting and graphic art together to create his uniquely distinct portrait-centric works. He is also a proficient and well-established graffiti artist, having recently painted for this year’s Shine Mural Festival in St. Petersburg, an annual festival in Florida aiming to transform spaces to inspire dialogue and bring communities together by showcasing amazing murals crafted by highly accomplished artists. Michael Reeder is a curious explorer of the self which is obvious when one looks at his works, there is a subtle disturbance mixed with eccentric vibrancy in the different personas that he creates with intersecting themes of ambiguity, ego and identity. He lets his portraits speak for themselves and encourages viewers to be imaginative.
Now let’s get to know Michael Reeder and his art through his own words.
1.) What ignited your passion in the arts? Did you grow up in a creative household?
I’m not sure if anything specifically ignited my passion for art, but I have certainly been drawn to the general process of creating since I can remember. No one in my household was particularly creative, but my mom would always participate in some sort of craft for the different holidays and seasons – that could have had an influence on me, although I’m not certain.
2.) Which artists do you look up to? And how have they helped carve out your artistic vision?
I look up to and respect all artists that put in the immense amount of work required to be an artist, regardless if I like their work or not, I respect them. To answer your question more specifically, I look up to the artists Willem deKooning, Paul Gauguin, Giorgio de Chirico, Frank Stella and David Hockney. Those artists really investigated what painting could offer to both the artist and the viewer. I borrow a lot from their works in hope of furthering the investigation. More current artists that I follow are Neo Rauch, Nicola Samori, Lou Ross, and Adrian Ghenie. All of these artists constantly push me to strive for a higher level of painting. Highly inspiring individuals.
3.) You have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting from the School of Visual Arts in New York. How do you think your higher education experience has influenced your artistry? Do you believe that acquiring qualifications are important or needed in order to ‘succeed’ in the art industry? What advice would you give to the young minds getting into the art realm?
Although I haven’t received a Masters in Fine Art yet, I have certainly participated in my fair share of art schooling. I had attended an Arts Academy in middle school, an Arts Magnet for High School, and received my BFA through the School of Visual Arts in New York. It is difficult for me to envision myself being where I am in my career with the broad understanding of art that I have without attending some form of higher education. With that said, I have met quite a few artists that did not attend college and are very successful. Art school is not only learning bits of knowledge from the instructors and their perspectives on art and the art world, but also learning from your peers. Some of the most influential parts of my experience at SVA were moments when I learned from my fellow classmates and studio mates. As far as advice for youngsters go, I would warn them against borrowing too much money to attend school. The art world is not a very forgiving scene and no one cares about your immense overhead, so don’t burry yourself in debt before you even get started. Stay true to the art you want to make and don’t concern yourself with what’s in or out. Keep your art honest and let the art world come around to you.
4.) Tell us, if any, one memorable advice or quote you have received from a teacher that has remained with you to this day. (It can be from an art teacher or not.)
Wow, I have so many and share them all the time. Jack Whitten once told me in reference to one of my paintings that, “Imagination has its own logic.” I love that quote so much because it is so true. Our job as artists, creators, inventors is not to be overly concerned with immediately having to identify what something specifically means or represents. It is what it is for the time being and if it’s meant to be understood further it will unveil itself in time. Another good one is from the late Michael Goldberg. Again in reference to one of my paintings he told me that, “It’s your job to convince the viewer that this painting is the most important thing in your life.” That resonated with me then and it resonates with me to this day and I will never forget it. Far too often I see an image of a painting online or on Instagram that I really like and then upon viewing it in person I am deeply disappointed with either a lack of overall craftsmanship or just the general finish is subpar.
5.) How and when did you get into graphic design? What inspired you to fuse both the discipline of painting and graphic design together?
I was more focused in illustration and graphic art early on. I actually was an illustration major at SVA and then switched to Fine Art after the first year. I guess I just don’t feel like I fit in just one category or genre of art and therefore as a result of embracing that, my work is a more honest reflection of me. The fusion of the different disciplines started to happen on its own and then I just went with it. Now the combination and harmonizing of seemingly different parts, images, spaces, disciplines, techniques and mediums in one image is my current focus.
6.) Your art is heavily focused on portraiture and the exploration of identity. ‘Identity’ is such a complex subject to explore. Countless social and biological factors and an intersectionality of those factors contribute to and shape an individual’s identity. So tell us, where did it all stem from? Why explore identity at all? There is also a recurring theme of concealment and a conflict of identity in your paintings. What is your philosophy regarding the self and what do you want your viewers to understand or think about identity when looking at your art works?
The theme of identity presented itself to me organically in the early stages of my current body of work. I was attempting to move away from my earlier works that were heavily focused on structures and environment and narrative. I stripped everything away and began painting the same portrait over and over in an attempt to establish a new process involving more medium combinations. As a result, I started to notice that every time I painted the same portrait I was giving the subject a new persona and thus establishing a new identity. This concept quickly expanded into other themes relating to the internal/external self, the mask and the state of contemplation. I really enjoy the idea of a face representing both the internal self/mind and the external physical self. Like, what if you weren’t able to conceal the person you are inside? Although these are themes that are prevalent in my work, it’s not my goal to clearly convey these themes or concepts to the viewer. I merely want to present an intriguing and interesting painting that will ignite thought and reflection on their own terms.
7.) The act of smoking or the element of smoke and hands are apparent in many of your pieces. Is there any significance of these two things in your portraits?
The imagery of smoking is meant to specifically reference a person in contemplation as well as act as a piece to the identity puzzle. Even though I’m not a smoker, plenty of people either identify with being a smoker or label people as smokers. The rendered hands and arms are intended to juxtapose against the flat graphic space and patterns to help push the combination of the different spaces.
8.) Your early pieces are very intriguing. They still portray figures but in complex, abstract environments, like your pieces Gleaming The Cube and Dogonlios. Is there a reason why you have minimized the content of your portraitures now?
I touched on this a bit in a previous question but I made a very deliberate and intentional decision to bring that series to a pause. Mainly because I was becoming too caught up in the narrative that was being constructed and it was inhibiting my ability to make something that didn’t feel contrived and overly planned out. I reduced everything down in an attempt to allow more space for the content to breathe. Now I see everything coming full circle and the figures and portraits that I’ve been creating are starting to desire more of a surrounding environment rather than just infinite space.
9.) Where is your studio based at the moment? Describe to us your perfect ambience to work in.
Currently I am located in Taos, New Mexico and I work out of a very small studio space. So my ideal work space would be larger with room to not only work but to think and contemplate without feeling claustrophobic. I like a fairly clean and organized studio with good music playing and wonderful natural light.
10.) How do you think you have developed over the years? Thinking back to the early stages of your career, has your philosophy as an artist changed at all?
The art scene is an ever changing and constantly moving target. For years I was reaching for the little crease that would allow me to slide into the scene and thankfully I was persistent because I found it. Yes, my philosophy has changed a bit in the sense that instead of striving to be identified as just a fine artist or just an illustrator, I am now comfortable marrying all of my backgrounds into one and not trying to squeeze myself into a little box of what type of artist I am.
11.) If you could meet yourself 15 years ago, what warning would you give that self of yours? If you can give that past version of yourself a heads-up, what would it be?
Don’t take out student loans. Find another way to get the education I desired. Forget the labels; I’m an artist before I’m specifically an illustrator or painter, etc. I can be all of them if I want.
12.) If you can choose any artist, dead or alive, to create a portraiture of you, who would it be and why?
Wow, I’m going to have to think on that one. I think I’m going to have to go with Adrian Ghenie. Dude is a painter’s painter with an uncanny ability to create superbly beautiful work.
13.) Share to us some of the goals you have yet to achieve and do you have any exciting future projects that you’re looking forward on doing?
I want to be given the chance to put on a large solo exhibition and really kill it. I’m about to kick off a mural in St. Petersburg, Florida as part of the Shine Mural Festival so that should be a good time.
14.) By using only 3 words, how do you wish to be remembered as an artist?
Uniquely fresh vision.
Thank you for speaking with Vulture Hound!