Retrospective exhibition of 87 year old San Francisco artist William Wallace Reid.
Artist Reception: Friday October 3rd, 6-10pm
Spanning 70 years of artistic production, the exhibition opens on October 3 with a reception and silent auction from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m. On display will be approximately 40 works in a range of media, including encaustic, watercolor, Hinterglasmalerei, and sculpture. Recognized by collectors but rarely exhibited publicly, Reid’s paintings show distinct musical inspiration. He came to art through watercolor at a very young age, depicting scenes of life along the Mississippi River during the Great Depression. He knew and has painted legendary jazz figures such as Charlie Ventura, Lester Young, and Miles Davis and is himself an amateur jazz flutist. His bold encaustic abstractions express the “structural relationship” between complementary colors, referencing in a pictorial way how a seven-note musical scale progresses sequentially, repeating at the octave and governed by a tonal center. Reid said he is inspired by music because “music is direct. You don’t need a ‘translator’ for great music. You get an immediate impact.” Sketching by the waterfront as a boy, Reid watched riverboats come and go, with live music, dancing, and melodrama being performed on every deck. “St. Louis in those days was jumpin’ with jazz.”
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, on New Year’s Eve 1927, Reid has lived and worked in San Francisco since 1955, enjoying a career accented by the Beat era, psychedelia, and the heyday of the city’s urban redevelopment. For a time, he traveled in California with Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters. Milestones in Reid’s long artistic trajectory include his year-long independent study in San Miguel de Allende in the late 1940s with prominent Mexican muralists and surrealists, including Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. He was also fundamentally influenced by his teacher Max Beckmann, with whom he studied at Washington University in the last years of Beckmann’s life. While in college, he embraced his education in philosophy and ethics as much as he did his fine art training, and executed works inspired by Bertrand Russell and Huston Smith, of whom he painted an award-winning portrait in 1950. Traveling widely in the 1950s, Reid also found inspiration in African sculpture and drumming when he visited what was then the Belgian Congo. Reid is truly part of the fabric of North Beach. In 1959 he opened the successful La Pavoni, a café and import business in North Beach named for the famous Italian espresso machine manufacturer. Whereas he was awed by the frescoes of Piero della Francesca and the triptychs of Rogier van der Weyden that he had seen in European museums, in Italy, Reid says, “I fell in love with espresso.”
“We’re thrilled to be exhibiting the work of this denizen of North Beach,” said Della Heywood, co-founder of the Emerald Tablet Salon. “William’s works overflow with Beat era musicians and poets and especially women, beautifully painted as abstractions or meticulous portraits in oil, encaustic, and tempera. He is an undiscovered gem of American abstract and figurative painting, and masterfully represents his generation.”
In the early 1960s, Reid joined Lawrence Ferlinghetti and others to form a peaceful protest movement called Veterans for Peace (not to be confused with the nationwide group founded in 1985 and still active today). The group’s most memorable intervention was documented by the San Francisco Chronicle on Veterans Day 1962, when Veterans for Peace were prohibited from officially participating in the annual parade.
Reid’s other professional pursuits include 11 years as a graphic designer and head of publications in the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency under Justin Herman. Mayor Jack Shelley’s office once commissioned Reid to create the cover of the mayor’s annual report. The year was 1965 and Reid’s design—perfectly in keeping with the aesthetic of the period—turned out to be too psychedelic for San Francisco and was rejected. As colleagues from that period remember, the Haight/Ashbury scene was essentially the great thorn in the side of the mayor’s office at the time.
Reid’s tremendous output over the years has chronicled milestones in 20th-century art and creativity. The earliest works in the retrospective exhibition include a Surrealist portrait titled Roberta and a mixed media triptych titled Blue Lester, both painted in 1949 in Mexico. His most recent work includes a drawing on a wooden ping-pong paddle that his son played with as a child, and miniature ink “doodles,” as he calls them. Reid said, “Art markets haven’t influenced the way I’ve worked or the medium I choose. These days I’m making small abstract and figurative studies that still reflect the influence of my travels and my early experiences in San Francisco. I hope that audiences seeing them exhibited for the first time will sense those influences.”