Fooling the Eye, Fooling the Mind: Burnished Drawings by Don Reich
July 9 –- September 11, 2005
This exhibition examines a brief but important period, the mid-1970s, in the career of Sacramento artist Don Reich. Although this work is decidedly different from any that preceded or followed, continuities emerge when explored through the perspective of Reich's lifetime accomplishment. Attention to detail, dream-like imagery and masterly use of color and line are recurrent themes.
Reich was born into a working class family in Martinez, California in 1931 and spent his teens on a small farm in Meadow Vista in Placer County. Largely self-taught, he enrolled in painting and drawing classes with Amelia Fischbacher and Wayne Thiebaud at Sacramento City College. He gained attention in the 1950s for his small, spare drawings, watercolors and collages. These drawings were distinctive for their forceful use of line, reminiscent of the work of Morris Graves.
By the 1960s, Reich joined the stable of painters and ceramists at Adeliza McHugh's Candy Store Gallery in Folsom, which included Robert Arneson, Roy DeForest, Maija Peeples-Bright, Jim Nutt, Gladys Nilsson and David Gilhooly among others. Like these artists, Reich has never strayed far from representation. His facility with drawing—in pencil, brushstroke or pastel—seems to demand figuration.
In his collage work, Reich integrated cut-out pictures skillfully into his compositions. Reich took this integration as a challenge—to reproduce the look of a collaged paper scrap so effectively that the cut edge and drawn line became indistinguishable. For Reich, the source of his imagery could be found in a photograph of a model or from an ad for chicken pot pie.
Reich determined that images from printed publications could be humorously compromised by unexpected juxtapositions. This eclectic and commercial selection of images resonated with California Funk Art of the 1970s. To achieve a polished commercial look, Reich invented his own techniques, working out a procedure critical to his finished product. Using heavy paper, he started with a lush, abstract watercolor background and then painstakingly copied cut-out images; he then burnished his multiple layers of drawing down in colored pencil to create a shimmering, reflective effect.
By scrambling visual elements, Reich seeks to exorcize the power of mass media images. His greatest delight is to have a viewer jump to the wrong conclusion. He shocks our image-saturated minds into a new awareness of the distinction between reality and the false realism of photography and photo-derived art, while at the same time defending and exploiting the power of illusion.
Unfortunately Reich's production of such images was fairly brief due to the onset of carpal-tunnel syndrome. In works executed since the 1970s, which rely on less taxing techniques, he veers far from the excruciating focus of the drawings in this exhibition, but still pays close attention to the drawn line and the play of images.