Brick & Mortar: A Conversation with Michael Reeder
We wake up in California once again this Sunday with the threat of new fires and massive heat wave, and it feels almost like a perfect metaphor to the works of Michael Reeder. The last time we checked in with Reeder, his solo show in Tokyo with Hidari Zingaro had opened in the midst of the pandemic in the most uncertain of times. Now, the Los Angeles-based painter is set to open (virtually) a new solo show, Brick & Mortar, at Hashimoto Contemporary in San Francisco on October 3. Ahead of the show, Dasha Matsuura sat down with Reeder to talk about his second solo with Hashimoto, the incredible 2020 calendar year and mortality.
Dasha Matsuura: First of all, how are you doing with the world on fire?
Michael Reeder: I think I’m doing okay! The poor air quality is certainly a huge bummer at the moment. It seems like we might be passed the heat wave threat here in LA... hopefully.
The title of the show is Brick & Mortar and incorporates a lot of concepts of separation visually. What drew you to the brick motif? What other visual nods to quarantine are incorporated in the work?
The motif presented itself while I was scheming on ideas in response to the social distancing guidelines imposed on us and what could possibly represent confinement or human-built separation dividers. I wanted the wall to embody the vibe of a confined environment, but also represent solid barriers that the figures were either hiding behind, trapped behind, or trying to break through. It also occurred to me that the brick wall was a great replacement for the patterning usually found in my work.
The entire show was made during quarantine. How has it affected your studio practice?
In the very beginning of the stay at home order in Los Angeles it was quite hectic. Most businesses and stores were forced to close and we were trying to just focus on day-to-day survival, but soon after I realized that acquiring art related materials, even online, was going to be challenging. Orders from Blick were taking 3-4 weeks to arrive, tracking numbers were rendered useless, and I even had a few online orders get canceled. In response to those adversities I decided to reduce the usual broad range of mediums I use down to mostly acrylic on paper and canvas. In addition to that, for the first few months of the lockdown I worked solely out of my apartment.
Mortality has always played a role conceptually in your work. How has covid and the Black Lives Matter movement shifted your take on death?
These events have certainly underscored, for me at least, the fragility of life and just how little we actually can control in regards to our own safety and wellbeing. We only have the ability to oversee and implement our own decisions, levels of awareness and personal efforts of living cautiously and wisely. Unfortunately, that does not eliminate other individuals' carelessness, selfishness, and general lack of empathy from inevitably spilling over and ultimately affecting other people.
You’ve moved away from the more sculptural elements of your recent work. How has it been getting back to working on canvas and your more classic painting roots?
I have very much enjoyed painting strictly 2D again. It has presented quite a few challenges that I forgot about, having worked primarily on layered wood and assemblage style works for years now. The canvas pieces in this show are the first I’ve worked on in roughly 5 years, other than the large mural sized painting I did for my show in Tokyo. I equate the usage of mediums in my practice to that of a vortex. I run through different materials in this almost spiral-like pattern, all the while trying to constantly propel forward. I eventually return to an older medium but with a fresh perspective.
Was the choice to move to canvas rooted in the practical or psychological elements of quarantine? Do you want to keep moving with the canvases or revisit the more wood working/sculptural practice?
I have been somewhat eager to see what I could do on canvas and paper after working so differently for years. When the quarantine went into effect, I grabbed an array of paper and water- based paints from the studio and worked on new stuff from my apartment and the first three paintings in this show that I completed were painted there, at home. I just ran with that as a theme (in regards to the materials) and pushed forward with the concept even after returning to my studio. At that point I expanded to incorporate larger canvas works, but ultimately tried to keep everything flat. I think it’s good for me to keep things moving around because production feeds my practice and when my practice becomes redundant so do my pieces. Hopefully I can build off of this experience, but I definitely intend on returning to the layered wood and sculptural style works as well!
Even without the three dimensional elements, there is a kinship to the collage aspects of those works to the canvases. How different was your approach to the surface for these pieces?
Yeah, I tried to maintain the style and feel of my previous works, but I wasn’t able to lean on the mix of mediums and the characteristics they bring to the table in regards to surface; I needed to build the surface up beforehand, and then paint on top. I will also note that I used zero masking techniques in this series, which is used a lot in my practice ⏤Everything is a hand painted edge or shape.
It’s been a long 8 months inside. You’d usually be wrapping up a season of murals about now. How has that affected you and your studio practice? Itching to go big?
Yes, absolutely. I’m not an overly social person but I’ve certainly reached my end point. I was supposed to have painted a large mural in San Francisco in July (which would’ve been a great lead up to this show), but that has been postponed until next summer. I have been lucky with opportunities to paint “marquee” walls for festivals the past few years. The downside is that most of the walls cycle through artists year after year, so that means they aren’t permanent and the list of currently existing Reeder walls is dwindling quickly. Nevertheless, I’m eager to get that number back up!
The characters in your work seem to be evolving and changing with you. How do you view the figures in the new work?
This series of characters were placed in a similar situation as us. Facing the fear of death from an invisible force drifting in the outside world.
What are you working on next?
I very much am hoping to focus on some commissions that I’ve had stacked up for a while now. Other than that, there may or may not be a bronze sculpture edition in the works that may or may not be available before the end of the year. I’m also hoping to get some new merch created. Possibly a new t-shirt!
Any wild conspiracy theories on what the world will throw at us next? Actual shark-nado, murder hornets come back but with laser beams on their heads?
Hmm... What if the Covid-19 vaccine gives us all 21/21 vision and we discover that the earth is actually a pyramid shaped spaceship driven by Bill Gates?
It has been... a year. Tell us a few good things or bright spots in your life right now?
My girlfriend and I have an amazing new pandemic puppy! Lol! His name is Oliver. A purebred basenji. Although he’s been a massive challenge and my wallet is definitely lighter because of him, he’s been a blast!
Where is the first place you’re going once we’re allowed to travel again?
I definitely need to see the family in Texas!
Brick & Mortar opens virtually Saturday, October 3rd at 2pm Pacific with an Instagram live walk- through of the show with the artist.