“My version of reality is ever-changing moment by moment. Each time I ‘pull the trigger’ and start a painting, it’s like pulling a pokie machine. One moment I might catch something interesting, the next I might grab the red instead of the green.”
Remember those ‘Give Yourself Goosebumps’ novels? If not, get yourself to a market bookstall –one where the pages are stained antique yellow. As a kid, I recall flipping madly from pages 15 to 22 to 34, caught up in a spookily intense tale. A tale that could go any which way. A tale with a life of its own.
Strangely, this was the first thing that sprung to mind as Mullumbimby-based artist Caleb Reid, began to tell me his story.
I landed smack bang in the attic of his father as Caleb spilt the beans on a recent hit of nostalgia–an insight into where his love of art first took hold.
“I came across a Van Gogh copy that my Dad painted a long time ago…it’s a bunch of people sowing a bright red field under one of Van’s vibrating sunsets, ‘The Red Vineyard’. I knew instantly that I’d stared at this image for hours and hours in my past…It must have been on the walls where I’d looked at it every day. It now sits next to my bed and is the first thing I see when I wake up.”
Caleb paints on impulse. Allergic to the word inspiration, he paints with little preconceptions, allowing the images to surface on the canvas before him. In his latest series PAINTINGS, Caleb has created portraits of the unknown. To him, they “feel like ghosts or old photos”.
Interestingly, each visage started with just the pupils. As he applied more colour to the canvas, slowly but surely, personalities began to peek through. Who these personalities are…we don’t know.
“I’ve given them names, but it’s kind of like naming a dog, you give it a label, but it doesn’t explain who or what it really is.”
Here, the beauty is in the ambiguity. Make of these warped faces what you will. Caleb explains he’s just burrowing down whatever rabbit hole feels right at the time. “Lots of ‘sliding doors’ moments with the results changing by the different choices I make moment to moment.”
There’s an oddity to each work in PAINTINGS, a flurry, a scramble. Gazing upon Caleb’s handiwork, you can feel the visceral push and pull as his subconscious drags him from point to point.
This beautifully chaotic approach lends itself to the question–when and how does the Northern Rivers artist know if a work is finished?
“It’s a game of balance and wagering my satisfaction. As soon as I get to a comfortable place, I pull it off the wall and take it out of the room. If I keep looking at it my ego starts to play all sorts of games.”
Caleb brought these quirky pieces to life via his newfound love of oil paints. A step up from the days of using Dulux house paint. “It’s rich, it’s voluptuous, it’s immediate. It has strength and body to it and it still looks alive after it dries.”
Throughout PAINTINGS, the emotion and vitality that comes with using oils are on full show. From the trippy smears that make up ‘Blake’ to the caked and raised textures on ‘Fly’–Caleb takes a raw and unbridled approach with the pigmented liquid.
The style is captivating in its expressiveness and unusualness. Some faces look like they’re members of a supernatural circus, some appear as gentle souls, while others remind me of entities that most likely greet those who make it to hell.
PAINTINGS is an investigation into Caleb’s own psyche, or rather, his attempts to get out from under it–each face an expression of different emotions pinging around inside his skull. This is why Caleb creates the way he does, impulsively and on a whim. “Things only work if I stay committed to the present inkling.”
Although we’ll never know exactly how these whacky characters came to be, the individual perception of each is something worth truly savouring.
Meet the motley crew via Gallery 3’s website below.
For all you Sydney folk, Caleb will be showcasing a fresh body of work at Abstract Thoughts Gallery at the end of next month – smack-bang on Oxford Street’s Taylor Square. Eyes peeled.