In the 1970s, David Reed began making paintings with strokes directly brushed wet–into–wet across door–size canvases, measuring about fifty–five inches wide and seventy–six inches high. Each stroke was the length of Reed’s reach from a single standing position. These paintings are quite literal, measuring the dimensions and capabilities of Reed’s body, tracing the touch of his brush and its passage across the canvas. Drips attest to gravity and the fluidity of the oil paint. Like many post–war art works, they appear to aim at an extreme of matter–of–factness.
The combination of paint and body determined the painting, makes the rules and prescribes its dimensions and its look. Frank Stella famously made his black paintings of the late 50s and early to mid–60s so that the interior of the painting sympathized with the exterior. Critic Michael Fried called this “deductive reasoning,” in that one could deduce what a painting would look like simply from the shape and dimensions of the canvas. The interior lines and shapes traced and echoed this larger form. Inverting Stella’s concept, Reed cut his canvas to fit the painting he knew he wanted to make, a painting that not incidentally was itself determined by his body’s physical facts, the length of his arm and brush, and its reach.
These paintings mark real time as much as real space: the brush moves, time passes. But even at this most basic level, something interrupts. Most obviously, these paintings are often put together of several vertical panels, each about eleven inches wide. The seams interrupt the works at about the position that Reed had noticed his earliest abstractions naturally breaking up, their all–over compositions falling apart. He took a gesture that began as an organic habit of his hand, analyzed it, and made it a condition of the painting — turning tendency into necessity. And, as Reed has himself noted, no matter how directly he worked, illusionism crept in: gravity made the wet paint drip, which inevitably created spatial depth.