“Nothing can be beautiful which is not true.” – John Ruskin, 19th century art critic and theorist
A dense and vibrant wave of painterly poppies presses against the edge of the canvas in Molly Reeves’ painting “On Being,” – they beckon you to step on to the path that cuts through this patch of blossoms and enter into the artist’s world. The eye, obedient to Reeves visual instructions, then follows this winding trail toward the center of the canvas, and into the recesses of the landscape. Red petals melt into yellow field, which in turn roll toward a distant tree line that holds up an effervescent blue and purple sky dotted with cottony clouds.
While the intense reds and oranges of the poppy field in “On Being” overwhelm the eye at first, closer study of the painting reveals a beautifully composed and artfully balanced canvas. The soft cool tones and smooth texture of the skyline balances the heat and intensity of the flowers at the foreground. The result is a landscape painting that is simultaneously energizing and soothing a – a work that excites and calms the eye all at once. The yellows and greens at the midline of the canvas, coupled with the gentle curve of the path as it retreats into the field, create a clear sightline for the eye to follow, leading you on a visual journey through each poetic element that Reeves has selected for this work. Like beats in a song, or stanzas in a sonnet, these separate moments come together to create an over all sense of mood as well as of place, and invite you, the viewer, to join her there.
This is no accident. Nor is it an example the good fortune of finding an excellent subject to paint. Rather, it is evidence of overall Reeves’ approach to her art making. As she eloquently puts it…
“For me it is all about intention; examples might be: what kind of story do I want to tell, or where do I want to take the viewer. Long before I pick up the brush I am constantly observing different aspects of reality and mining my memory, quite naturally the two become fused. My desire through this reconciliation of observed reality and related memories is to create a two dimensional fiction that authentically tells a deeper and more thoughtful truth.” – Molly Reeves
(Reeves shows off her painting "Water Magic" on a visit that Art Elements owner Loni Parrish and gallery manager Sarah Askin made to her studio) Photo Credit: Sarah Askin
Reeves she makes clear that her landscape paintings reference elements of the natural world, but are in fact constructions – a pastiche of real and imagined (or remembered) imagery that she carefully combines in order to create a final composition. With this approach, she hopes to touch on deeper, perhaps more eternal truths than a simply record of the natural world. Ideas of play, invention and whimsy are all important components of Reeves work, which, although perhaps it is subtle at first, becomes more and more clear the more time you spend with her paintings.
This idea that the artist creates their own reality in order to touch upon inner truths, is drawn from a long standing belief that the arts reveal inner, fundamental truths -- that truth and beauty are inextricably related, and that in creating something truly beautiful, an essential truth is revealed. The belief that recording the truth is more complicated than merely copying what you see in life is fundamental here. This art philosophy, espoused by many of the Romantic painters of the 18th and 19th century, is linked to the notion that to see true beauty, either in art or in the natural world has an elevating affect and will literally improve the life of the viewer. For the art theorist John Ruskin (quoted above) beauty was truth, and visa versa. Reeves paintings are a wonderful example of this idea in play.
Another example of this notion of play, invention and whimsy is readily evident in her “Bird with Balls” series, which, along with several of her landscapes will be featured in our forthcoming “Flora and Fauna” show along with ceramic animal sculptor, Blythe Eastman.
“Wise One” is a perfect example of Reeves whimsical approach. The incredibly skilful and naturalistically portrayed bird (as well as the tree branch upon which it sits) are juxtaposed with the fanciful pink and red hues of the sky as well as the “ball” shaped clouds that are aligned in a perfect little row. The symmetry of the clouds, something we never would see in the natural world, is a clear signal to the viewer that we have, once again, entered into Molly’s world.
Reeves intends for these paintings to inspire pure joy for the viewer. While she certainly could have chosen to represent these birds in a more “realistic” setting, as she likely saw them in nature, the choice to reposition them in this imagined setting adds a sense of play to the image that makes it something else entirely. But more than just fun, works like Molly Reeves can teach us something valuable about beauty and truth that can be found no where else in the world. They show us not only the inner truth and beauty of the artist, but hopefully, some inner truths about ourselves.