|R i c h a r d R e i d|
exhibition at the
Art Gallery of the South Okanagan
February 23 - April 7, 1996
Curator - Roger Boulet
Richard Reid Remembering Britain and Europe in the early 1960's
On February 27, 1960, Bev and
I were married in Vancouver, and left the next day for Europe.
Our intention was to travel through Europe for about a year,
then return to Canada. But after several months of travel, and
feeling a bit cramped by living in our Volkswagen Camper, we
were persuaded by one of our art school companions now living
in England, to settle in London for awhile. We rented a flat
in September of 1960.
I grew up in an era of the Protestant ethic - sexuality was essentially to be denied or certainly not openly expressed. I was well aware of my own insecurity and lack of sexual expression as a youth. This was very hard to look at and accept. But I realized that in order to survive as an artist, I must overcome. I vividly recall the feelings of that time. It was scary to face myself and try to declare 'self-confidence' as though the declaration would provide it. But that is what I attempted.
Co-incidentally, this occurred at a time when, in 1960 England, a momentous sociological change was taking place. I was very conscious of a huge surge in liberalization. D.H. Lawrence's novel Lady Chatterly's Lover had been imported into England, (from Italy, I believe) and had subsequently been banned. The resulting court case was headline news in England for weeks. And the restrictions ultimately dropped. This may not seem like much of an event in today's terms, but in 1960, it was sensational, and incredibly significant in terms of personal freedom and liberal thinking. Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer was being widely read, though still illegally brought in from the underground press, in France. This was the beginning of the Beatles, mini-skirts, open rebellion against Victorian standards of morality expressed in fashion, the arts, and in behaviour. I felt a very strong vindication of my own thoughts and feelings, and almost immediately felt relieved of some sort of social pressure.
During those few days or weeks, I began to simply realize that, as an artist, I hadn't a clue what I was really doing. And I sensed that there may be clues to be found in my previous work. On looking, I suddenly realized that by far the most common denominator in my drawings and paintings was the use of the human figure, and specifically the female figure. It was amazing to me that I hadn't really been aware of that before. It was as though I had been simply going through the motions, doing the art school thing,' where the figure was simply an exercise. But suddenly, the figure had a much more profound meaning. It was my own sexual feeling, and what seemed then to be the release of a repression of that feeling. And I began almost immediately to explore. From that moment, the mark-making process was like a direct sexual expression. Like making love to the canvas or on the canvas. Well, in some curious way, it was like that.
This coincidence seemed to extend to my interest in many of the Abstract Expressionists. I'm sure that my sense of the aesthetic developed out of an awareness of artists such as Rothko, De Kooning, Tomlin, Gottlieb, and, much earlier in history, in the art of El Greco (especially the way he painted drapery). There was one artist, Arshile Gorky, who somehow hit a nerve with me. Luckily, I don't recall reading any of the curatorial and critical commentary and analysis which tended to interpret his work as morbid, foreboding, forecasting his own suicide. In my naiveté, all I saw were the undulating, elegant, sensual forms Gorky used. I responded with a mark-making that probably doesn't look like Gorky, or perhaps even remind one of his work. Nonetheless, it got me started.
The basement flat we moved into was near Olympia, in the West Kensington area. The living room was also the bedroom. But there was a bathroom and a kitchen, and a small room that was probably used as a bedroom. This room became my studio. It was tiny - about seven by nine feet. Most of the paintings done there were relatively large and I could only really look at them through a reducing lens. One painting, Red Seductress, measures 152.5 x 213 cm and is necessarily a diptych. I couldn't actually see the two halves together until the painting was finished and assembled at a gallery in London.
A neighbor a few doors away was sculptor Kenneth Armitage, a very supportive friend. In 1963, we sublet our flat, moved to Austria to work with Oskar Kokoshka for several weeks. Then stayed in a wonderful and large Chateau at Ravenel-sur-Oise, about 70 km north of Paris with several artists and writers. Painted lots. Several works dated 1965 were started there, and completed upon returning to Canada. Kenneth Armitage called to say he was going to Chile for three months (to do a large commission). Would we 'sit' his studio? Yes! It was a wonderful place. One of those great London studios, built as three studios - one on top of the other, and diminishing in size from bottom to top. Kenneth had all three. The top was the bedroom. Immense. Next down was living, kitchen, etc. I'm sure the bathtub was seven feet long. The studio was about thirty-five by seventy feet with a twenty foot high glass ceiling. There were several of his immense bronze sculptures there. I did paint in one corner of that studio, but found it difficult. I wasn't used to all that space. Curiously, the paintings were much smaller than I did in my seven by nine studio. Perhaps the presence of the huge sculpture was a bit intimidating.
In London, I had connected with a small organization called Young Commonwealth Artists. Among the group were artists Jerry Pethick, Gerald Gladstone, Kelly Clark, Bev Clark. We had meetings periodically. As I recall, this was largely a social thing, an opportunity to connect with other artists. I never met very many of them, and those I did meet were mostly Canadian. There were at least two opportunities to exhibit at the Commonwealth Institute in Kensington. I was involved in the organization of the shows. The second was fairly large with about ten or fifteen artists. I had eight paintings in this show. Then, one of the Canadian Biennales from the National Gallery was exhibited there, and I had a work in it. The Queen and the visiting President of India came to the opening. The exhibition subsequently went to Edinburgh during the Festival. Bev and I went to see it there.
#Kelly Clark had been in Austria in 1962, said he had a great time, lots of parties, etc. I was awarded a Canada Council Grant in 1963, and took the opportunity to work with Oskar Kokoshka at the Schule de Sehens. Had a great time, lots of parties. It was also good to paint from models seven or eight hours a day. Did about 575 watercolours there. Kept about 120. Had to carry them back to France. I know now that I threw away some good ones. Shouldn't have done the selection so soon. Met many artists there; a Prince, now King of Thailand, Princess Gabriella (exiled) of Italy, Lindy Guinness, the rich and not famous, the poor and not famous. It was a great equalizer; I am still amazed at how little pretension there was. We spent many evenings at Peterskeller or other beergardens with them. The annual Salzburg festival was on, so there was much great music and other events to enjoy. We sat on the grass outside the concert hall. The music was just as good there and it was much cooler.
We stayed in the VW in a campground not far from Hohensalzburg, the castle in the middle of Salzburg where we worked. It was accessed by a funicular railway, which climbed the mountain's steep slope. It was Kokoschka who climbed each day, not wimps like me. His energy was like that in the studio too, even at the age of 77. We had several dinner parties in the VW for as many as eight. Wine, candles, fine food. I can recall one young New England 18 year old exclaiming, "This is my First Dinner Party!" almost with tears in her eyes.
There were many visitors in London. Bruno Bobak and Joe Plaskett visited our flat briefly in 1962. That day I met' Princess Margaret. I had a tooth pulled that morning, Don Reichert and I went to the Tate about noon with my jaw packed with cotton, still bleeding; backed up to look at a Turner, bumped into someone, turned to excuse myself smiling with bloody mouth, to be flabbergasted at meeting the Princess with her security people moving towards me. But she waved them off, I smiled again, apologized, and we continued to look at the art. I'm uncertain about who I actually bumped into - it was either the Princess or the Director of the Tate who was escorting her through the gallery. God knows what they must have thought about my bloody mouth. Only a few minutes later, Don had a similar experience on the front steps of the Tate as they were leaving. Royalty must have thought ... a couple of klutses. Bruno and Joe visited later that day. The bleeding had not stopped by the way, and by midnight, Don was driving me first to Hammersmith Hospital to be stitched by an inexperienced doctor, who admitted he couldn't do such a delicate job, then arranged for me to be received at the Dental Unit at Kensington. Five minutes after arrival there, it was fixed.
For more on the Reichert`s stay
with us, and their experience in England, see: Don Reichert:
A Life in Work,
Don Reichert and Mary visited several times. They lived in Cornwall for two or three years. On one extended visit to their place in St. Ives, I did several works on paper that I felt marked important developments in the London series. Saw a wonderful Rothko show at the very large Whitechapel Gallery. Visited the Tate regularly. Some American shows, Sam Francis, Ellsworth Kelly, Phillip Guston, Joan Mitchell. Frankenthaler, Motherwell, etc. Kelly Clark and I were together quite frequently, and I recall Kelly's admiration of Guston and Mitchell. Went to the opening of David Hockney's first show (just graduated from R. C. of A.) He arrived in a gold lamé suit. On another occasion, I briefly met Ben Nicholson; he seemed quiet, rather shy. I was introduced to Francis Bacon at his Tate Show: he was very withdrawn.
I first met Oskar Kokoschka at the opening of his show at the Tate gallery; when he entered the room, there was a hush. He had a presence about him that was widely felt. And at various openings, parties etc., I met many artists, Kitaj, Fautrier, Patrick Heron and some gallery owners, such as the very gracious Gimpel brothers. Bev and I were frequently invited to dinners by Mrs. Halton, widow of Matthew Halton, (who I had heard as a boy with his wartime broadcasts) and mother of David Halton (CBC). She was employed at Canada House. There were often others artists among the 8 or 10 guests. There were also frequent invitations from Dorothy Burwash (I believe she became Cultural Attaché) to shows supported by Canada House of Canadian artists. We had dinners with David and Tibs Partridge several times. They lived nearby in Kensington. I met Toni Onley for the first time at a dinner there.
All this time, I was able to paint. Our intention of returning to Canada after a year was never an issue, and somehow we managed to stay on. Bev and I established a small display manufacturing business in order to earn money to pay the rent, etc. Bev's experience with display in Canada was invaluable, and we soon had designs and objects made from fiberglass that had never been seen in Europe. I went to the display heads of many large London stores, Harrod's, Selfridge's, Peter Jones, Liberty's, Jaeger's, etc. and sold fantastic window props to them all. They were a hit, and even made the display journals all over Europe. We could have expanded the business, but really chose to keep it small. We certainly didn't want to work with those ghastly fiberglass materials for long. But it made us very good money. In about two months of each year, we earned enough to travel in Europe for at least a month each year, and then I could spend the rest of the time painting. (I don't claim to have been a full time painter, however. I spent lots of time doing other things.)
There is some confusion about dates of some work. Red Riding Wolf was done in London along with a few others of a similar nature. They were done on the linen canvas I used there. I recall showing them to Lindy Guinness and her art dealer cousin. I took everything off the stretchers to pack up for transport to Canada. Then restretched some of the paintings when I got settled in Richmond. Red Riding Wolf, The Socialite and Anatomy of a Bird received some minor modifications such as thin glazes in 1965.
1960 Travel Notes
1962 Travel Notes
1963 Travel Notes
After returning from France, stayed with Kolyan Datta, friend from 37 Avonmore Road, helped him decorate his new house in Wimbledon. He was in the travel business and helped with our travel to New York via Alitalia.
By this time, our 1960 VW had just over 50,000 miles on it. To New York - June 1964. We were invited to stay with friends we had known in London in their NY apartment near the U.N. Building . It was Very Hot. It was great to get a milkshake and a hamburger. Waited several days for VW to arrive by boat. Drove to Montreal and west to Vancouver.