Monday, 6 January 2014

Artist Uncovered: Oliver Reed

At close range

A look at the list of subjects in the Art in Healthcare Collection reveals a predominance of landscapes and nature-related paintings. This is no doubt more than just a coincidence as the benefits to wellbeing of the natural environment have been known for a long time. Over the next couple of months, while nature dispenses its most severe weathers upon us, I shall be looking at the work of artists in the Collection who conjure up the great outdoor for our enrichment and enjoyment in their own distinctive ways.

View from Ben Nevis X  mixed media, 123x77cm
image courtesy of the artist

Oliver Reed’s engagement with nature is as physical as it is intellectual. As a hill-walker, the Munros of the Torridon Hills are favourite climbs of his, particularly at New Year. There, surrounded by some of the oldest rocks on earth going back hundreds of millions of years, the artist cannot but be acutely aware of the passing of time and of his sense of place. The forces of nature that thrust these mountains up and then sculpted them down into the landforms we know today indeed bring to mind the Romantic aesthetic vision of the sublime that put man in its insignificant place. 

Torridon I  mixed media, 120x80cm
image courtesy of the artist

This weathering of rocks and nature’s manipulation of raw materials captivate Reed, not only in their immense scale but also at microscopic levels, in the lichens that cling to the rocks for instance. The challenge for the artist is in the translation of these emotions and concepts onto a two-dimensional surface. 

Reed’s representation of the land comes in a diversity of forms: painting, drawing, filming, and assemblage of objects. His paintings are primarily about drawing which is also the key area of his teaching practice and if his style appears to be always changing this is because it defines itself through process and experimentation. This artist is constantly looking for new ways of making marks and often in an unconventional manner. 

Torridon VII 110x70cm, mixed media
image courtesy of the artist

He is currently painting with natural materials such as graphite and pastels that are more traditionally associated with drawing and often hammers them into the thick paper with granite stones picked up during his walking trips. It is as if, through these gestures, he aspires to depict the hardness and rawness of his very physical encounters with the hills, his direct contact with the surface mirroring his closeness to the rocks. 
His handling of materials is also echoed in his manipulation of the digital images he brings back from his hiking trips in his search for the right shape or mass that will inform his paintings. 

Rannoch Moor XII 123x78cm, mixed media
image courtesy of the artist

Reed likes to combine low-tech with high-tech processes. In his painting in the AiH collection the organic splashes stand out against the minute and barely visible coordinates of longitude and latitude contained within the graph paper. Here he alludes to the paradox that the sophisticated technology that produces this data can never tell us exactly where we are as it is forever progressing towards infinity and therefore the information it gives us is as random and arbitrary as the splatters of paint.

Location  52x56cm
collage part lithograph and photo etching
AiH Collection

Oliver Reed describes his practice as always on the cusp, hovering between two states. And here it is, balanced between the formidably vast and the infinitely small, a fitting metaphor for the sublime of our age.

With thanks to Oliver Reed

Martine Foltier Pugh is a freelance writer and visual artist based in Edinburgh

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And special thanks to Balfour Beatty Investments and Arts & Business Scotland for their financial support, which has enabled Art in Healthcare to produce 18 Artist Uncovered blog posts and accompanying video productions.

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