William James Reed - The Religious paintings

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William James Reed - The Religious paintings

William James Reed 1908 - 1996

In celebration of Easter, unique religious works by William James Reed have been collated for an exhibition at International Art Centre. As a respected lecturer at the Dunedin School of Art and a war artist, Reed worked as a painter for over sixty years.

Born in Christchurch, Reed relates his desire to paint back to primary school days. He attended Canterbury School of Art in the 1930's with lifelong friends Rita Angus, Olivia Spencer Bower and Russell Clark. In the early 1930's artists produced paintings that were typical of New Zealand, Reed however, had a different vision of the New Zealand landscape. His works differ vastly from those of his contemporaries. He saw the landscape as lush, productive and fertile with strong colours and forms. At the Canterbury School of Art tutors John Weeks and Archibald Nicoll influenced Reed, as did British painter Paul Nash.

Reed's initial ambition was to become a landscape painter, living virtually all his life in the southern South Island. He found the pre-war mood inescapable and comments 'I realised there was a limit to the idea of doing pretty pictures.' His recognition of the ideological and spiritual crisis facing humanity in the 1930's resulted in works such as Armageddon and Visitation now in the collection of the Reed Estate. These works seemed to have a prophetic quality, pre-dating the bombing of Guernica by some months. Reed mentioned that he wanted to introduce elements of religious painting into his work reflecting death and destruction being committed in the name of Christianity, which was in fact anti-Christian.

Reed sought to portray "the world we are making" as well as "something spiritual" in his work. His use of religious imagery and the issues they raised were ahead of his time.

It should be acknowledged that Reed was the first New Zealand artist to look at the pacific as an area of environmental inspiration.

Represented: Auckland Art Gallery, Aigantighe Gallery, Hocken Library, Robert McDougall Art Gallery, Rotorua Museum, Te Papa, and Waikato Museum.

About this artist