Brian Michael Reed: A Conversation with the Huntington Museum of Art

January 14 - February 14, 2017

Brian Michael Reed was invited to explore the collection of the Huntington Museum of Art and make a selection of objects that paralleled themes expressed in his work. His picks from the HMA collection include many luminaries in the field of modern art, including Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, Chuck Close, Cy Twombly, Kiki Smith, Jim Dine, Richard Tuttle, and Keith Haring. Reed’s colorful works hold their own in the gallery, and are impressive in terms of both quality and scale. The largest of the works, “Lotus Memories,” which is based on reflective time spent viewing lotus ponds in China, spans a distance of over fifty feet in length. Reed will return to the museum in 2018 for a second part of the project, when he will install his work alongside the museum’s extensive collection of paintings from Haiti.

Reed grew up in Clay County, West Virginia, as part of a family whose roots span many generations in the state. His family farm in the small town of Ivydale still serves as a home base for him, but he is equally comfortable in his New York apartment and studio, or in the bustling atmosphere of a village in China. Reed, in fact, draws his creative energy from the wide variety of cultural experiences he has absorbed, and his artwork serves as a reflection of the cornucopia of customs, folklore, religion and mythology he has encountered in his travels and studies. Universal themes of love, loss, tragedy, memory, death and the afterlife are all part of his work. Much of the emotion expressed in his paintings and sculpture comes from the vicissitudes he has experienced in his own life, such as the tragic loss of his father in an automobile accident when he was 17 and a debilitating injury in his early twenties that left him partially paralyzed and immobile for more than a year.

Following his graduation from Clay County High School, Reed enrolled at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where he studied painting. While there, professors such as James Crable opened up the gates to new ways of thinking so that he began to utilize his talents to “create from my imagination” and invent works that were “more than scenes I could see in life.” In the months after his accident and paralysis, Reed passed the time by studying the cultures of distant lands, especially Inca, Aztec and West African societies. This exploration helped him identify the common threads that are found in all cultures and would lay the foundation for the themes he would explore in his later work.

After a grueling but ultimately successful rehabilitation, he moved to New York, where he worked his way into the gallery scene with his paintings and installations. The spark that had been kindled by his cultural studies not only expressed itself in his work, but it ignited a wanderlust that would take him on several extended journeys to places such as China and Mexico. He has been presented with many opportunities to exhibit his work in China, including residencies in Shanghai and Beijing.

Brian is a pictorial anthropologist; through his art, we share in the stories of a young West Virginia artist whose eyes have distilled meaningful experiences from around the globe into the art on exhibit at HMA. The stories in each collection of works contain a cross-cultural self-portrait, chronicling his quest to explore history, myth and the symbols that cultures create to understand the world and express themselves.

This exhibit is presented with support from The Isabelle Gwynn and Robert Daine Exhibition Endowment.

This program is being presented with financial assistance from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History and the National Endowment for the Arts, with approval from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts.

Brian Michael Reed: A Conversation with the Huntington Museum of Art