Arts & Humanities

“Master of the Brushstroke” Wins Eliot Award

Abstract artist David Reed ’68 to receive prestigious prize for lifetime achievement.

By Romel Hernandez | February 3, 2020

Abstract artist David Reed ’68, hailed as “a contemporary master of the brushstroke” by critic John Yau, will return to campus in March to receive the college’s prestigious Eliot Award for lifetime achievement by an alumnus.

The Eliot Award recognizes a Reed grad who has demonstrated long and important service in their field of endeavor and who exemplifies the qualities that Reed values, including intellectual rigor, independence, and integrity.

With a creative career spanning 50 years, Reed has established himself as an innovative force in abstract painting and compiled a compelling body of work. “No painter has contributed as much in terms of expanding the vocabulary of abstract painting and maintaining its relevance during this era of marginalization,” wrote critic Michael Brennan in The Brooklyn Rail. Reed’s latest work, currently on view at the Gagosian Gallery in New York City, earned a rave review by critic John Yau. “Reed possesses a technical command that far outpaces other artists of his generation,” Yau wrote in Hyperallergic. “His palette, which seems to include every existing artificial color, has no peer.”

“Since the beginning of his career, David Reed has pushed the boundaries of painting while making work that is both provocative in its structure and beautiful in its effect,” says gallery owner Larry Gagosian. “That he maintains an active dialogue with multiple generations of artists is a testament to his generous nature and artistic influence. We are proud to present David's latest group of paintings this winter in our Madison Avenue gallery.”

Reed has won many awards, including the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, the National Endowment for the Arts Visual Arts Fellowship, the Ursula Blickle Foundation Art Award, and others.

Reed arrived on campus in the fall of 1963 as a naive and idealistic pre-med student. He graduated with the Class of ’68 as one of the college’s very first studio art majors and set off to make his mark as a painter in the hurly-burly of a New York City art scene dominated by the likes of Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg.

“Reed is a place that challenged him as an artist both intellectually and creatively,” says Stephanie Snyder ’91, director and curator of Reed’s Cooley Gallery. “I am elated that he is receiving this recognition.”

In 2008, the Cooley produced an exhibition of Reed’s work titled “Lives of Paintings,” which showcased his early landscapes (some painted when he was a student) alongside  his later, critically acclaimed abstract pieces—bold experiments with color and texture. “David’s work doesn’t fit into easy categories,” says Snyder, who co-curated the exhibition with the artist. “Trends have come and gone, but his curiosity about what paint can do, and say, has never waned.”

In published interviews Reed, who lives in New York City, speaks often of his college years as a transformative experience. He fondly recounts memories of taking art classes in a Buckminster Fuller-designed geodesic dome and painting alongside his mentor, the late Prof. Willard Midgette [art 1963–71], and studying art history with Prof. Charles Rhyne [art 1960–97].

During his 2008 visit to Portland, Reed reminisced about his student days in a conversation with Snyder. “Walking around the campus…under the trees between Eliot and the Canyon, it all seemed exactly the same,” he said. “I recognized that I return to these places again and again in my dreams.”

Reed will deliver a public lecture titled “Thoughts on Artists and Education” at 6:30 on Tuesday, March 10, in Vollum Hall.

Tags: Alumni, Awards & Achievements, Institutional, Life Beyond Reed