This is not a chair: the Paintings of Jon Reed

Jon Reed (NAP #109) paints objects – very ornate objects to be specific.  His paintings are bright, bold, and full of rich contrasts in their depictions of opulent material goods found at two of the most famous collectors’-homes-turned-museums in California: The Getty Villa and Hearst Castle.

Even if you didn’t know the furniture sources for some of his paintings, they immediately recall the lavish and ornamental furniture and chairs you might only find in a wealthy collector’s home or museum.  Reed takes three-dimensional furniture and various architectural spaces and captures them in time and space as flattened, two-dimensional paintings. Doing so, Reed simultaneously does something interesting to our eye and the way we read the paintings, calling our attention to both their “objectness” and their exact “non-objectness” all at once. - Ellen C. Caldwell, Los Angeles Contributor

Jon Reed | Malibu Suite II, acrylic on birch panel, 24” x 36”, 2011

Jon Reed |
Hot Property, acrylic & sand on birch panel, 48” x 48”, 2013

Jon Reed | Hot Property, detail

Ellen Caldwell: Your focus on capturing and categorizing "objectness" is really intriguing.  Can you tell me when you first started these kinds of paintings and what inspired you to do so?

Jon Reed: My interest in depicting objects is relatively recent. Preceding the collection of paintings published in NAP 109 that depict pieces of seventeenth century furniture, my work concentrated largely on the representation of architectural space. I’ve always been interested in depth and I wanted to explore subject matter that would not attempt to recede beyond the painted surface but would rather attempt to project forward from the painted surface.

Jon Reed | Living with Richard, acrylic on canvas, 60” x 48”, 2009

EC: You discussed your particular infatuation with California-specific places like the Getty Villa and Hearst Castle…What drew you to these institutions specifically?

JR: Both the Getty Villa and Hearst Castle are located within a really interesting position at the intersection between the home and the museum, demonstrating the eccentricities of their patrons, J. Paul Getty and William Randolph Hearst, in a much more intimate way than a more traditional museum ever could. To me, this results in a fantastical or magical quality about these places that is palpable and I think very much a part of the experience of California. The Getty Villa and Hearst Castle were built from a peculiar desire to manufacture a history in a place where little existed before and to create the appearance, even if only a thin veneer, of ancient roots on the shores of the Pacific. I think it’s fascinating that large parts of the vast collections of these two barons of industry consist of domestic objects, pieces of furniture, tapestries and blankets, as if to will an ancient family legacy through their acquisition and accumulation.

Jon Reed | Malibu Blanket, acrylic on unstretched canvas, 60” x 48”, 2012

EC: That’s really intriguing. Lavishness and decadence is something important in both their collections and your work.  I love how you take these exquisitely and over the top carved three-dimensional pieces and make them completely two-dimensional. Do you mean to quite literally cut them down to size or more to document the process of how objects become institutionalized and even fetishized?

JR: The lavishness of the decorative artworks depicted in the furniture paintings provided an opportunity to test the limits of a hard edge technique that relies heavily on the use of masking tape. The gilded treatment of these objects required very precise cutting of the tape to paint these detailed baroque shapes. The application of this technique to the lavish subject matter also has a profound effect on the resolution that can be achieved. This results in both a cartoon-like depiction, essentially cutting them down to size, while explicitly communicating the painting’s position as a re-presentation of the original three dimensional object or better still the re-presentation of the photographic re-presentation of the original three dimensional object, creating a sort of super fetishized object.

Jon Reed | Final Finish Fetish, acrylic & sand on birch panel, 36” x 72”, 2012

EC: So, process-wise you work from photos, memories, real life, or a combination of all?  

JR: I begin with a photograph. In the case of the side tables and cabinets, I worked directly from The Getty Collection catalogue, which is beautifully illustrated with photos of their extensive collection of decorative artworks. I then transfer this image onto the board or canvas, creating a detailed graphite drawing. The edges of each portion of the painting are meticulously taped off and many layers of paint are applied thinly onto the surface to create the desired hard edge appearance. I slowly work from dark colors to light colors and make my way around the painting until the entire surface is covered.

EC: Do your current projects differ much from these works?

JR: I’ve recently introduced a sand mixture into my gesso when preparing the birch panels to paint. This produces a roughly textured stucco-like surface, which acts to further frustrate the painting’s flat appearance. As a result, the painting’s hard edges can no longer be achieved with masking tape and must be scored into the birch panel with a knife. This carved line accepts the paint and maintains a hard edge between colors. I’ve been using this technique to depict the smooth and often abstract surfaces of glass. Although the current works may appear rather different from the furniture paintings, they have developed from the very same concerns surrounding the relationship between surface and depth, object and space.

Jon Reed | Rocky Top with Christina Gray, West Façade, Bowen Island BC, Canada, 2013

Jon Reed | Rocky Top with Christina Gray, Rear Stair, Bowen Island BC, Canada, 2013

EC: You hold a degree in architecture and this clearly shows in your works’ style and subject—how do you think it has affected your artwork and do you continue to work in the field as a designer?

JR: I like to think that I’ve developed a painting technique that is somewhat architectural, in that I work on a large drafting table, create a detailed measured drawing, and use masking tape and a knife to methodically apply color to the panel or canvas. I am certainly drawn to subject matter that is very much architectural and I do hope that the stucco-like paintings that I’m currently working on act to further blur the lines between painting, sculpture and architecture. I have had the opportunity to work on several public artworks, temporary and permanent installations, and most recently design and build a small guest cabin called Rocky Top on Bowen Island in British Columbia Canada with my wife Christina, with whom I continue to work with on a variety of architectural design projects.


Jon Reed earned both his Master of Architecture and his BA at University of Toronto. He has had solo exhibitions in Canada and the U.S. and he is currently finalizing plans to mount a small exhibition of recent works in Vancouver Canada in June 2014.  More information about this show will be available on his website shortly.

Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, writer, and editor.


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