Paul Reed is one of the founding artists of the Washington Color School. Born in Washington, DC, he briefly attended San Diego State College and the Corcoran School of Art before moving to New York City, where he worked as a magazine illustrator and graphic designer (1942–1950). His time in New York coincided with the emergence of abstract expressionism.
Reed returned to Washington in 1950 to open his own graphic design firm. In 1952 he turned his attention to painting. His long friendship with the painter Gene Davis (1920–1985) had a formative influence on his art, as did his friendship with Jacob Kainen, another leading Washington artist and teacher. In 1959, after an abstract expressionist period, Reed began to stain colors on unprimed cotton duck using Magna and water-based acrylics, building on techniques pioneered by Morris Louis (1912–1962) and Kenneth Noland (1924–2010), who also worked in Washington and had been inspired by the stained paintings of Helen Frankenthaler in 1953.
Reed's first solo show was in January 1963 at the Adams-Morgan Gallery in Washington, followed by a solo exhibition in New York later that year. But it was a 1965 group show at the Washington Gallery of Modern Art entitled The Washington Color Painters (including work by Reed, Noland, Louis, Davis, Thomas Downing, and Howard Mehring) that received the greatest attention. These works were united by an exploration of abstraction, a desire to experiment with materials and techniques (especially staining), and a love of color. The innovations of what came to be called the Washington Color School shaped new directions in abstract painting and sculpture from the 1950s through the late 1970s and still resonate today.
The 1960s marked the beginning of Reed's Upstarts, a series of paintings with bands of hard-edge color moving in zigzag fashion or creating a grid across raw canvas. In Coherence, 1966, one of the latter, Reed was inspired by the repeated rhythm of strong lines in Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles (Number 11), 1952 (National Gallery of Australia). Unlike Pollock's painting, however, Reed's is vertical and decidedly nongestural.
Over the next five decades, Reed created metal sculptures and photographic collages in addition to paintings. He also made pastel drawings and shaped paintings, some of which he nailed directly to the wall, as well as gouaches on Plexiglas transferred to paper. Now in his nineties and living in the Virginia suburbs, Reed continues to be remarkably productive and creative. His most recent work features painting on pieces of thin fabric, which he hangs in windows to create translucencies. This is the Gallery's first painting by the artist.
The artist; gift c. 1967 to his son, Thomas W. Reed; acquired 1989 by Bill McGillicuddy, Alexandria, Virginia; gift 2011 to NGA.
- [Paul Reed exhibition], Jefferson Place Gallery, Washington, D.C., 1967.