Saturday, June 27, 2009
Joe Reno, American b. 1943, "The House of Orange", oil on panel, 16x48 inches, 2009.
Form/Space Atelier Program for July 2009
Show Title: The House of Orange
Show Duration: July 10- August 9, 2009
Opening Reception July 10, 6PM, as part
of Belltown Second Friday Artwalk www.belltownartwalk.com
Joe Reno studied at the Art Students League of New York and has exhibited paintings and sculpture in Seattle since the 1970's. Matthew Kangas wrote criticism of Joe Reno's work in Kangas' recently published book "Relocations".
I met Joe Reno at the Ballard Goodwill. I was looking over Reno's shoulder at a 12-string guitar that had seen better days. The little kiosk was peopled with a Goodwill employee talking with Joe about the finer points of a print he had in his hand, and in the course of the conversation Joe mentioned his name to the employee, and I took notice of him, having been familiar with Joe Reno's name for some 30 years. I entered the discussion, introducing myself to Joe as a friend of Edd Cox, the owner of Gold Shoe Studios in 619 Western. Within a few minutes, we had agreed to the larger ideas of an exhibit proposal at Form/Space Atelier the following year.
As the months passed, Joe and I periodically talked on the phone, and I suggested he begin a new series of paintings on nine mahogany panels I had constructed. This became the organizing principle behind the exhibit proposed for July 2009 at Form/Space Atelier.
In February 2009, Joe and Ree Brown (see below * ) came to Form/Space Atelier during regular business hours and familiarized themselves with the space and I gave Joe six of the nine panels. He began working on the panels immediately and I received progress reports from Joe throughout the Spring of 2009.
I agreed in April 2009 to meet Joe at his house to view the paintings he had been working on. I found the old pickup in front of his house and ducked through the Alice-In-Wonderland cubbyhole in a gargantuan, towering laurel hedge, into a plein-air studio which is Reno's front yard. This mass of shapes and colors is the antecedent to the interior of the Reno residence, Joe's home since 1950. The nearly six decades have been diligently spent by Joe accumulating the peculiar wealth of artwork, art supplies, domestic effluvium, homespun ephemera and antique bric-a-brac which rivals Francis Bacon, though with a distinctly Northwest melody humming through Reno's home studio.
Joe offered me a glass of orange juice and I declined. We ascended the narrow staircase to the second storey of his home and entered the nerve center of Reno's creative expression command headquarters. The title painting "The House of Orange" sat finished in an easel facing the door as I walked in. To the left, backlit from the window providing Reno with the necessarily academic north light, was his palette. The painting and the palette looked like mother and child, both bestrewn with common hues, and the palette was caked with a residual impasto almost a half inch thick. About the room were several other paintings in the series. I photographed them, Joe and I talked more about the exhibit at Form/Space Atelier, and also about many Northwest artists Joe has known over time.
Joe and I transported the paintings and some small sculptures Joe had added to the exhibit to Form/Space Atelier in June 2009 in the huge male vehicle which is Joe's old Ford. Joe drove with deft skill, having learned as a driver in the Army. He was fast but precise. The paintings arrived safely. I may have added a grey hair to my dwindling supply of swarthy locks in the process.
Joe Reno is a unique Northwest painter and sculptor. I hope he is collected soon by SAM and other institutions.
Following Essay Reprint Courtesy Suzanne Beal.
The house is easy to find. It has an immense hedge, hot-pink trim, and a dilapidated 1969 Ford truck parked out front. It's a standout even by Ballard standards. And it suits Joe Reno to a T. He's lived in it since his family moved here from Everett in 1950, when he was 5 years old. Reno says he doesn't need to go anywhere: "I travel with my mind."The house is full of art. No, make that overflowing with art. Prints and paintings cover the walls, but just as many are set directly on the floor. There are piles of etchings and block prints spilling off the tables, which, in turn, are surrounded by various vintage printing presses that take up the better part of what may have formerly been a living room. Reno tells me he recently got rid of his stove to make room for more storage. It doesn't sound like he used it much anyway, preferring the gourmet meals of curator and critic Matthew Kangas, with whom he's enjoyed hundreds of dinners in a friendship that dates to 1980. "Twenty-six years of gobbly gobbly gobbly, yum yum yum," Reno says. He's shown his appreciation to Kangas—whom he describes as a phenomenal cook—with a number of drawn pieces. Kangas isn't alone in accepting Reno's work. A number of collectors have known Reno since his Ballard High days.
"You barter much?" I ask. "You bet," he replies. "Food, medical, dental bills...." He flashes me a winning smile.
Reno's talk is casually peppered with the names of legendary Northwest arts figures, such as Morris Graves, who praised the young artist's efforts when they showed together in 1967, and Guy Anderson, who owned a Northwest Coast Native American mask that served as the model for Reno's drawing Guy's Dog. (Anderson introduced Reno to the joys of Pernod as well.) Too young to be part of the Mystic School himself, Reno nevertheless has strong mystical leanings. He believes, for example, that American artists—and Northwest artists in particular—benefit from a psychic power emanating from our natural surroundings. His conversation is interspersed with two prominent phrases: "To make a long story short" and "What I'm driving at is this." We rarely get there, but it matters not at all. His work, like his conversation, is a joyride. At one point, he spontaneously breaks into song. Complimented on his voice, he replies, "Oh, well, I was using that high one, but I have two better ones."His art reveals multiple voices as well. "Joe Reno: Works on Paper Retrospective," now entering its final week at the Kirkland Arts Center, displays about 50 prints and paintings from three decades of work, all of them owned by Kangas (the exhibit's curator). They cover an impressive amount of stylistic ground. Figure Study (1996), for example, shows an almost calligraphic reclining female figure in egg tempera and ink that recalls Edwin Dickinson's penchant for rapidly executed portraits done in a single sitting. (And no wonder: Reno studied with Dickinson in New York.) But more impressive are Reno's abstract works, some of which playfully reproduce Mark Tobey's "white writing" in color. (Wall Painting of '48, done in 2000, is at left.) Other works, including a number of landscapes, exhibit an intense expressionism. Made up of shimmying lines in electric colors, Olympic Mountains, February, and Self-Portrait 12/30/96 reveal passion, frenzy, and unrest.Reno embodies the creative pluralism of the Northwest while remaining a native son. Though his work is in a number of Northwest institutions, including the Henry and Tacoma Art Museum, it also shows up in less-established venues, such as his old high school, where he created a 16-foot mural of Golden Gardens Park for the hallway west of the library. The Kirkland show exhibits an astounding range of styles that reference the Northwest's best-known artists, but ultimately reveals Reno's particular vision: His writhing marks suggest half-submerged animal and human forms, and the people and places of the Puget Sound radiate with intensity and pulsing color. Reprint courtesy Suzanne Beal/Seattle Weekly.
* Ree Brown
Born in Utah, Ree worked for a petroleum company in Seattle and San Mateo, California, until the late 1960's when he decided to return to Seattle and retire. Along with his partner, Ree scoured western Washington for antiques and then "peddled what we could, but there really wasn't much money in it." In the mid 1970's Ree began to draw, and then paint, pictures of "no one in particular", scenes containing birds, cats, and people. Ree paints his delicate paintings onto scraps of paper, cardboard, bits of matting, brown paper bags, and just about anything else that will hold paint. "I was always interested in art," says Ree. In the late 1980’s, Ree's paintings caught the attention of MIA Gallery who began to show his work.
Currently, Ree is represented by Seattle-based Garde Rail Gallery, and in several galleries across the U.S. Ree is also included in 20th Century American Folk, Self-Taught, and Outsider Art by Betty-Carol Sellen.