Laurie Reid

I don't believe there's such a thing as pure formalism. I do sometimes use a grid, and other formal constructs, but there's always the human hand involved. Psyche, material, form—it is a concoction that has to be brewed just right.

The work of Laurie Reid, according to a press release from the Stephen Wirtz Gallery in San Francisco, “quietly celebrates the relationship between chance and control.” Chance has played an important part in Reid’s art from the beginning. In 1989, she moved to San Francisco and had her car totaled three times in nine months (the third time by a city bus.) She used the settlement money to pay her MFA tuition at the California College of Arts and Crafts. Reid makes work of such surpassing delicacy that it is difficult to imagine her entrance into the study of art as a series of painful crashes.

Reid was born in 1964 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She studied French literature at Reed College in Oregon and taught French for a few years while taking night classes in art. She was studying traditional watercolor technique when she started to become interested in the way paper warps and buckles under water. That interest turned into a life’s work at the intersection of paper, water and pigment. Many of the works that Reid has been developing since the late ‘90s are made with very little pigment and water that buckles the paper and creates a relief surface.

Reid won the prestigious SECA (Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art) award in 1998, which included an exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. “Laurie Reid’s work invites slow viewing,” wrote Sam Whiting in the San Francisco Chronicle. “The work whispers.” She started showing around the country and was included in the Whitney Biennial in 2000.

Reid has since added new materials, most recently crushed glass on paper. Crown Point Press published a series of her etchings in 2000. As her vocabulary enlarges, each mark continues to be deliberately deployed.

Her works often refer to literature. A 1998 piece, Ruby Dew (Pink Melon Joy) takes part of its title from the Gertrude Stein poem “Pink Melon Joy” with lines like: “Splashes splashes of jelly splashes of jelly.” Reid’s Ruby Dew consists of four loose hanging pieces of paper traversed by a wavy line of pastel-colored drops. Reid said of the composition, “These were mistake drips. I loved the character they had and what would happen if I made a painting of nothing but mistakes.”

The catalog essay for the Whitney Biennial compared Reid to Agnes Martin, the minimalist painter. Reid could be called a minimalist, but what she really is, is careful. Reid says, “I believe in a small taste as a full, satisfying experience.” She is not talking about small work – it is often quite large in scale—but is talking about working within a limited range of material phenomena. Another guiding aphorism for Reid might be, “a little goes a long way.”

Laurie Reid’s work is in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Berkeley Art Museum, among other public collections. She lives in Berkeley, California, and is represented by Morgan Lehman Gallery, New York.

-Kim Bennett, Crown Point Press


  • Laurie Reid at Crown Point Press, 2000 (2 minutes)

    Artist Laurie Reid discusses her 2000 print project at Crown Point Press in San Francisco.

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