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Edward A Reep


Barry W Scharf


contemporary fine art


May 2013 Volume 2 No. 5

Edward A. Reep, A life in form and figure. By Barry W. Scharf

Soldier’s bath Ed Reep was renowned for his contribution as a World War II artist. His watercolors, pen and ink drawings and sketches communicated the conditions of life on the battlefield and he did so through the eyes of a passionate man with clear vision. In 1988, he chronicled his war years writing A Combat Artist in World War II. In1970 Ed arrived in Greenville, North Carolina, as Artist in Residence at East Carolina University. His book “The Content of Watercolor” published in 1969 was getting great reviews from the art world. The first class he taught was to standing room only. By way of introduction, he told a story of his adventures as a painter and the time he worked for Walt Disney. Ed loved to tell stories and did so with humility and an animated energetic delivery that was exciting to watch and hear. As he spoke, the words painted images, and the room fell silent.

Over the years at E.C.U., Ed Reep taught the magic of great composition, tools of painting, chemistry of color and viscosity of paint flow. He was committed to his students in the classroom and after school allowed some into his studio. Ed was generous, patient and giving of his knowledge. He taught the proper way of building and stretching canvas, how to see the world with different eyes, how to think and process creatively, and most of all, how to live an honorable life as a passionate artist.

Idiot’s Garden 1972 During his time in Greenville, the US Government had finely come through a yearlong process and commissioned Ed to do a series of works on the Berlin Wall. These were large paintings dynamic in design and meaning. One particularly stands out in memory; Idiot’s Garden 1972, was a large painting, the right side of the image had varying shades of red sand umbers laid upon shadowed buildings in a blue alleyway, jagged lines of broken and translucent glass line the crest of one wall. A second wall topped with large bent rebar and wrapped in barbed wire so large it could kill you, brushwork so sharp it could cut you just to look at it. On the left side of the painting, a guard tower searchlight shines brilliantly over the wall, looking for anyone that might be brave enough to try for freedom. This beam of light illuminates strong angular shapes in sharp contrast, backed by a red sky driving the oppressive theme home.

Die Mauer Muss Fallen 1972

Die Mauer Muss Fallen, painted in shades of red, shows a church cruelly blocked from the western entrance by a high wall topped with shards of broken glass. Several stained glass windows are smashed and missing. An unearthly light-post is bolted to the church wall. Above and behind stands a mournful statue of Christ looking down upon the scene with the painting’s title written as graffiti.

Ed Reep was a master draftsman. He drew accurate interpretations of form, space and vision tempered through the eyes of artistic license. His practice included drawing from the figure and he did so religiously. The figure drawing Mish 1970, is an example of his sense of line and form. The line meanders effortlessly over the page hugging a curvaceous body, opening and closing so the eye can see form from inside and outside the figure. The head is the focal point accented with detail and color.

Mish 1970

Perpetuity 1976

Ed’s interpretation of the figure was not limited to drawing. He did many large-scale oil paintings. The 1976, painting Perpetuity is one such canvas. We see how he weaved the figure into a complex structure of abstract forms. Even though the negative space is colorful and multifaceted, it does not dominate the paleness of the beautiful figure seated in the foreground. The face and hand elements hold detail and the pale skin stands out, broken only by the fragmented lines that tie the composition together.

Flower Nude #1 1978

Flower Nude #2 1978

In 1978, Flower Nude #1 and 2 continue the figure oil series. In #1, we see a beautiful girl looking off, as though lost in a pleasurable memory. The red scarf on her head directs the viewer to her face. The strong geometric bricks that overlay the canvas evoke question. Is this a reflection in a mirror or are they tiles on a wall? The cool blue spectrum pushes the warmer figure forward and the slight distortion suggests that she is somehow defused leaving much for the viewer to contemplate. In #2, we see a view of the figure that appears to be balanced on a stalk of transparent flowers. The nude has her back to us allowing the image to move from the simplicity of a descriptive line on the right to the complex detail of flowers and then into her head in the upper left of the canvas. When Ed retired from teaching, he moved to Bakersfield, California. He built a studio behind his small home and spent his remaining years there painting watercolor images. He illustrated Japanese Haiku poems as only Ed could see them. He created visual color fields that could make your mouth water.

Subject matter in Ed’s hands always came out looking better then the reality. His design sense was shockingly impeccable, and often gave even the most immature viewer an insight to a deeper meaning within the image. Ed was a visual poet and a master of color and line. He was a maverick in his view of the world. Through his paintings, he was capable of exposing injustice and evil where he saw it. All this Ed easily surpassed by an uncanny ability to see and express beauty with the same brilliance.

Ed often penned written letters. Aug. 20 1975: He wrote, “My painting is better then ever, and I have produced more this past year then ever in my life. This year I did no teaching in the summer at all- a new record for me. For even on my other summers off (Chouinard Art Institute sabbaticals) I carried a private class plus a scholarship class to make ends meet. So this has been a banner year, full of production and excellent sales.” “I have been using stencils, freshets and cheap paint of late. I must keep plugging… NEVER STOP PRODUCING. You make things happen as an artist and it takes a hell-ova lot of perseverance.” Sept. 8 1976: …“ I had a wonderful summer in Spain. The Gaudi architecture in Barcelona is magnificent! I am sure it will influence my new work. I used to build and literally “carve” my own frames at first. I bought one easel on time payments, as well as my Stanley-Marsh Framer! My advice is to any young artist, keep producing new work. Something always happens when you force it to happen!” May 31, 1977: …“Life is rather difficult, especially when you wish to do something other then make a “killing”. Lord knows art is a luxury. Still if one wishes to be an artist badly enough, he/she will indeed become one. I mean, like a little shrub one prays for it to grow and spread out a bit. Believe it or not, the day arrives when you have to invest in pruning shears.” Oct. 29, 1977: “Yesterday I got a painting going after several days of indecision (this is customary when I am between series), and it feels good to smell the turpentine, and be functioning again. How does one avoid thinking of interruptions, especially those that prevent one from carrying out desired missions or simply continuing daily routines like painting”? Aug. 20 1979: “Be very careful about two things in drawing namely: 1. Try to resolve the total gesture of the figure or animal you are drawing. 2. Pay great attention to the structure of head neck and shoulders. By this I mean, try to account for the head-brain case, neck- cylinder, Chest or rib cage, pelvis, etc. It will help!”

Fallen Idol 1989 In 1989, Ed revisited the nude in a watercolor entitled Fallen Idol. We see a statuesque form toppled. It appears forlorn. The geometric complexity of cool colors appears to be absorbing the figure. Above, warm yellows and reds pull us into an implied depth of field. The Idol is caught, absorbed by the forces above and below.

In 1989, the provocative watercolor Time Was (left image) shows a surrealistic style clock with floating hands. Here Ed’s knowledge of architecture and objects dominates. One wonders about the meaning. The hands are set to 20 minutes to twelve. Has the clock stopped? The title might be a clue and may indicate memories of the past. Ed painted Kiowa War Bonnet (below) in 1993. This watercolor shows his love for the complexity of object as figure. Inspired by the feathery headdress, we see floating against a grey liquid background. The balance of warm and cool colors creates a complementary color-field. The feathers gesture as if moved by the wind. May 24 1994: “My show has been up (mounted) and down. Only four pieces sold, but two were for good prices. I can’t say that the market is up as yet and I’m not certain what I am going to do with my inventory, but my concern is similar to most artists who, at an advanced age find their work crowding in on them.” Time Was 1989

Kiowa War Bonnet 1993

In 1994, Ed continues his exploration of architecture as figure. Argus, (image below) appears to be a classic Victorian home diminished and compressed into a façade, painted with clear detail to the filigree and columns. The building appears to be floating on a cloud, attached to the frame only by a stair and an old branch. One gets the feeling that we have lost track of time and place. Here before us is a sanctuary, a place for us to take refuge from the surrounding nothingness.

June 1, 1995: “I am enjoying my painting it is oddly precise even as my hand shakes due to tremors. One would think that I would accordingly swing paint or paint wildly but that just is not so. Strange, no pressure to show or succeed—what a load to get off my back, that business of preserving or continuing or caring about one’s reputation. I tired of the art grind long ago, and whether or not you know this I detested the arty – exhibition world—especially the nuts that gather at such affairs. Later in the year, we will go to New Orleans to teach a workshop, San Antonio to jury a show, Ohio for another workshop, and North Carolina for vacation. Add to that I have been invited to Washington D.C. in celebration of an affair “Eye Witness to History”, the War Artists of WWII. Fifty years later and the celebrations are still going on.” Argus 1994 Feb. 24 1996: “Painted all week (Hah!), that means two or three days. In between painting I garden or golf, albeit each endeavor wears me out. Nevertheless, physical exhaustion is something I enjoy, notably when accompanied by seeing something develop, grow or build. I love the outdoors, despite the fact that I detest camping, sleeping bags, fishing or hunting.”

In 1997, Ed painted the Parade. This colorful image transports us back to childhood where we can see only the top half of the goings on. The characters on poles seem to be dancing by and we can hear the band playing! This watercolor touches a joyous nerve. Ribbons move rhythmically on the poles. The American flag and buildings suggest we are in small town USA. There is so much here to look at and enjoy. Jan. 18, 2001: “From what I can observe, artists, have one thing, one very positive thing going for them. They are, as a bunch, able to cope with old age a bit more easily then many others. Our sense of humor, our ability to look in the mirror and get a laugh, our interest in everything (at least a visual interest— color, shape, size, scale, old/new et al.) amuses us. However, whereas I always ran around with younger people, friends or colleagues, I now prefer those folks my age. It seems that only an elderly person understands another elderly person. Ugh! Today I must start a new painting. I have grown tired of working on the one I just completed – yet could fuss about and continue to revise or add or remove areas, not to mention altering and changing colors. Sometimes it pays to let an image alone and come back to it later.” May 24, 2001: “Today I painted and finished an image, totally non-figurative and attractive. When I paint notably in these past few years, I might “play” with the painting for weeks—changing colors through the benefit of all sorts of corrective process. For example, black gesso (and white gesso, although this has little hiding power); allow me to alter any painting and especially when I make technical mistake. Today, if I spent these few hours of fever painting, I also used about three hours to correct errors. The “Golden Years” are a myth! Celebrate and enjoy every facet of life while you can. For what this life is worth, we can only do the best we can.and little more. I might add that in another age or circumstance, we (artists) might have a greater chance to do more. Alas, most of us spend so much time keeping food on the table without much help from anyone; we lose precious creative hours by the score. I am not satisfied but grateful that I found a way to keep painting. I doubt if I would paint any better if subsidized, but I could have done many more works. At one point, I would have enjoyed doing massive graphic murals for architectural edifice. Yet, this may be just a dream. What did they call them “Super Graphics”? Look for the American Artist Summer Issue (2001) I have quite a spread in it and in an effective way it will reveal the direction in which my work is going. Feb. 16, 2003: “ Just got back to painting—about a day or two to ago on the first image in over 8 months. Thus, I celebrated by coming own with a cold. Now if I only had a good idea. My recent painting has four water bugs in it. All is well .” March 22, 2003: “Having down times happens when you are an artist in America and you must come to expect it! Now I am not lecturing, nor do I have any great amount of information on how “artists” operate in the art world---I never could. Even so, the only way out is to create, paint, sculpt, and do a series of things you like. Then plan your next step. Talk to other artists you know or visit the galleries with images of your new work. Something good will happen, it always does when you do good work first.”

Parade 1997 Sept. 12, 2003: “Perhaps the proudest moment of my life was when I was told I had won a Guggenheim Fellowship. Suddenly the opportunity to become an artist lay before me and I accepted the challenge eagerly. A product of the Great Depression as well as World War II, I simply tore into a career that has endured throughout my life. Oct. 30, 2006: Nothing new… everything is old. I am imprisoned in my inactive studio. Still we dream ourselves fortunate especially to live in a free country and to have one another. With all artists, if the work is going well that’s important. Oh when will man become civilized? Sept 13, 2007: First, my bumper sticker reads “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH VOTE DEMOCRATIC”. I don’t write much anymore. You will discover (as only a person can) when you are almost 90 or there about, there are countless things one cannot (or does not wish to) do. Just reaching this age is a milestone. “Since I can no longer pontificate, and since I can no longer advise anyone in or about art. I will end with love to you all, (Signed with a flourish) Ed Reep. Ed passed away in the last week of February 2013. He is a National Treasure. Barry W. Scharf

Edward A Reep by Barry W Scharf featured in Visual Language Magazine May 2013 Vol 2 No 5  
Edward A Reep by Barry W Scharf featured in Visual Language Magazine May 2013 Vol 2 No 5  

Edward A Reep by Barry W Scharf featured in Visual Language Magazine May 2013 Vol 2 No 5