Over Under Room: Reed Anderson Interview
Reed Anderson was born in 1969 in New York, NY. He studied at both the Cleveland Institute of Art (where he studied painting with Julian Stanczak, a major influence in his creative practice) and the San Francisco Art Institute where he received a BFA in Printmaking. He also holds an MFA in Studio Art from Stanford University. Anderson has been exhibiting his work nationally and internationally for over 25 years. Anderson’s work is featured in numerous public and private collections, notably the Museum of Modern Art, NYC; the Albright-Knox Art Gallery; The West Collection, Philadelphia; The Olbricht Collection, Essen, Germany; and The Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Austria. Anderson currently lives and works in Great Barrington, MA where he and his family recently relocated after many years of living in New York City.
In light of his recent show “Once or Twice in the Garden” opening in the Over Under Room, located in the lower level of Pilgrim Surf + Supply, Phil Ayers and Matt Borgia sat down with the artist to discuss his upbringing, approach to artmaking, environments and inspiration.
PSS: Can you tell us a bit about the environment in which you grew up? Do you come from a family of artists and when did you yourself begin making art?
RA: Not so much artist as art dealers. Although, we had a lot of family friends who were artists. My grandmother was a dealer in New York in the 50s and 60s. My dad went on to join the business and helped her open a second Gallery in Paris. So art was a part of my day-to-day experience, which I think normalized the idea of being an artist. It also crammed a lot of visual history into my head which can be a lot to deal with in the studio.
If my dad had escaped the family business, I think he wanted to be an architect. He was a great designer. I have early memories of staying up late drawing with him. We would work together on iterations of everything from floor plans, to furniture and logos, perfecting each form. My mother was more the artist, creating multiple books of photo collages from daily life and the trips we took. She was also a very charming journal writer.
I knew I wanted to be an artist since I was about eight years old. Before that I wanted to be a magician… and at this point in my life I have realized they are pretty much the same thing.
PSS: How have the different environments of your youth and upbringing informed the work that you’ve been making over the years? You eventually went to art school in the bay area - how did you like living and making art out there as an emerging artist and did you always know you’d move back to the east coast?
RA: I actually started art school at the Cleveland Art Institute where I studied with Julian Stanczak, who was one of my grandmother’s artists and an all around wonderful person. I am still in contact with his wife who is also an incredible artist. I met my pal Jef Scharf (AKA Wolfy part II) at the Cleveland Art Institute. He had a show at Over Under a couple months ago. I eventually transferred to San Francisco Art Institute and lived in the Mission. The Mission in the early 1990s had so many amazing artists, Barry MGee Alicia McCarthy, Ruby Neri …Nothing had been named “Mission School” yet, but all that was going on and was beautiful and inspiring to be around.
I’ve been back and forth across the country so many times. I may head out west again. There is no need to choose a coast, or a country for that matter. I have spent a fair amount of my life up in Canada. I went to high school in rural Ontario. Japan is also an important place to me. I went there as a kid and then again for a Summer in 2002 to study Butoh with Min Tanaka…
I think environment, both places and people, have a lot to do with what we make. But beyond thinking of environment as a location where we live, I think about environment as the place or container in which we collect the things that make up our daily life. I am curious about what we surround ourselves with, the inanimate things we find or buy that we choose to spend time with, and am fascinated by the importance we place on each object. To be clear, I’m not talking about expensive shit, although that can be a part of it… but it’s also things we pick up on the street, find on the beach, or buy at a thrift store. This arranging of things in our house or on the wall in our office cubicle is something I think is universal. We see children arrange their toys and objects around the house and through this engagement they cultivate a sense of history and shape private aesthetics. This line of thinking is what started me on my series of PapaObject paintings.
Image from Reed’s forthcoming PapaObject Catalogue
PSS: How has your work evolved over the years and, more recently, how has a move from New York City to Great Barrington, Massachusetts impacted your work?
RA: I am writing this from the back porch of my home here, looking out as the sun is rising, clearing the mist off Monument Mountain. The peonies I have been nurturing are in full bloom and there are more flowers to come. The chickens are running around the roost. It’s good here right now, it’s working for where I am in my life. I can focus on work and being the father to my boys that I need to be. I think financially this wouldn’t be possible in the city, and I didn’t want to compromise work or family.
Something I have noticed is that I am more psychologically available and open in the country. This is not only good for me in the studio but healthy overall. In the city, I was often running around and operating on a more compulsive, hectic schedule. Whereas in the country I feel like I can make more deliberate decisions.
Weirdly enough, I see people in NYC as much as I probably ever did, and people of happenstance and passing have become deeper relationships of intention. Because we have space and are located where we are, we also have a revolving door of guests which is great too.
The artist’s studio
PSS: Can you discuss the relationship between your works on paper and your spinnaker flags? Which came first and how does your approach to these two different mediums relate/differ?
RA: Early cut paper work was made by cutting and then stenciling the work onto itself, so that the piece is both object and tool of its creation. After a couple years I wanted to interrupt the austere look of the white paper. I was using textile designs as inspiration so naturally began looking at more modern block printed textiles. By block printing the paper first, I would end up with these geometric designs… not quite paintings, but visual moments of in-between that gave me pause. Somehow I never was able to accept them on their own, but these became the inspiration for the sewn work. It took many years before anything happened I saw as finished and not just more scraps.
I think it is important to take notice when there is an emergent quality you see come up in the work as you move ahead to finish it. It’s darwinian in a way, this moment when something peaks out as different, and you are able to use it. So even though I make these three distinctly different bodies of work, it all has a genetic visual connection. They are all related.
PSS: Do you usually have multiple works in progress simultaneously or do you work on one piece at a time? What does a typical day in your studio entail and can you describe the current state of your studio?
RA: I had two shows between January and June this year, so the current state of the studio looks like I was trying to train monkeys. I do work on multiple things at once, and while I am working on a show I often let the mess build up until it becomes unbearable and then take a few days to reset before getting back to work. I have noticed this is not an optimal way to go about things, as laying out huge pieces of fabric requires clean space and open surfaces.
Typical day: To be honest, I am raising two boys and am the stay-at-home dad… a “typical day” doesn’t quite exist in the way that it used to… so generally what happens is I help everyone get out the door to work and school, and then go swim or hike. I am usually in the studio by 9, and then start working until I pick the kids up at 3:30. After that, it’s day-by-day.
There is this great DeKooning quote about leaving something undone as you finish the work day, so that starting work is easier the next morning. I try to adhere to that, so I know what my first move is the next morning and I can get right to work.
Reed Anderson at work in his Great Barrington, Mass. studio
PSS: Can you tell us a bit about your experience with sailing and nautical flags/ signage? Obviously the spinnaker flags conjure up images of sailboats and yacht clubs...what’s your relationship to these things?
RA: My family has a cabin on a small island in North Ontario. I grew up going there during summers and taking sailing classes at a yacht club on the lake. Small boats, nothing grand, and I was a bad student. I think at the time I liked the idea of sailing more than the classes. The social element was tough for me… but I remember the spinnaker sails and the beautiful way they floated across the lake, like paintings in motion.
Years later I bought a Hobie Cat and I found that all the time in class had stuck, and I remembered how to sail. The freedom and peace of sailing is something special to me and links me to my childhood. So this aesthetic of sailing is embedded in me. One summer my friend and neighbor at the lake, Robin Moffat, who was teaching sailing that year brought me a bag of old spinnakers. After about eight years of messing about with them privately, I am finally making something I want to show.
The Artist in front of one of his signature spinnaker flags
PSS: What’s the story behind this show title, ‘Once or Twice in the Garden?’ Can you explain the story behind the two images fused together on the front and back cover of the catalogue you made for this show?
RA: I like titles in general, especially if they have many meanings. “Once or Twice in the Garden” has that balance of biblical and sexy so it raises questions, rather than giving answers. This title is also the title of a larger cut paper piece that is currently part of a closed clinical medical study at Roswell Park Cancer Center in collaboration with the Albright-Knox in Buffalo, New York. The study, which involves art by other artists, is to see if art has physical and physiological healing properties and is the first ever closed clinical trial of its kind.
About 10 years ago, I joined pages from a garden book as a collage of two opposing paths of beauty. I didn’t know what to do with it at the time so it went into a drawer. As I started this show of smaller work, I pulled out some of these garden books and magazines I had collected and there it was, and this time I knew what to do with it.
Front and back cover of the Artist’s catalogue from current Over Under Room show
PSS: Can you talk to us about this particular body of work? Obviously these works on paper are a bit smaller in scale from a lot of your other work, some of which is due to the size of our space, but how does the process and experience differ depending on size/scale of the work.
RA: For a long time I only made small drawings. This is due to a tremendous impatience I used to wrestle with. When I discovered this autopoetic way of cutting paper and making images, it slowed me down while holding my attention, sometimes for months on a single piece. There was a period of time when I only liked my larger work and the small things never quite seemed enough. Then something shifted and the smaller work had significance again, although I still generally work on a larger scale.
For this show I wanted to show some smaller works with the large scale sewn work and see them side by side. The flags create an installation feeling and I think of them embracing and creating the space to hold the small pieces.
Selection of smaller works on paper from “Once or Twice in the Garden”
PSS: What’s on the horizon for Reed Anderson? Any upcoming shows we should know about? Any sailing trips planned for the summer?
RA: At the moment I am working on a 110 page catalogue for my PapaObject project, which is connected to my thoughts about objects and shaping aesthetics that I mentioned earlier. Big thank you to A4A at MASS MoCa for the partial funding of this project, which should be out by October. I am continuing to develop www.filterfund.com as a social enterprise to raise money and awareness for non-profits, please check it out.
I continue to work with Pierogi in NYC and Gallery 16 in San Francisco, and I am excited to now be working with Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art in Houston, Texas.
Reed Anderson’s show “Once or Twice in the Garden” is on view in the Over Under Room through July 7th, 2019. The gallery is open Mon-Fri 12-8pm and 11am-7pm on weekends.