As if being an actor, filmmaker, teacher and musician weren’t enough, another side of Larry Reese can be found at the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery — and it’s a more exposed side.
Reese, the visual artist, is exhibiting his collection of revealing self-portraits and turbulent landscape paintings in an exhibit called Mapping Creativity that opens on Friday and continues to April 11.
“I always like to think of myself as a storyteller,” said the Red Deer College instructor, who hopes “that people who see these paintings see something that takes them away from today and transports them to some other place.”
This “place” might not always be a happy one, as Reese often confronts his own feelings of mortality and insecurity in his works. But he paints in the belief that art “gives our existence meaning . . . and allows viewers to willingly suspend their disbelief and go into other worlds.”
Various aspects of Reese’s psyche can be seen in a series of self-portraits that go back to the early 1980s, when he was living in Mexico and was taken under the wing of German expressionist painter Georg Rauch.
Several of Reese’s images of himself, which were created over the last three decades while he was raising two children with his wife Tanya Ryga and teaching theatre and film at Red Deer College, reflect deep anxieties and insecurities.
For instance, Bleeding Man “depicts my fear of getting old. My fear that what I say may not be of value,” said Reese, who also painted two young people on the canvas, representing his students “who never grow old. They stay the same age, year after year.”
Tumbling Dice shows Reese surrounded by game cubes that all bring up the lucky number seven — but also contain monster’s claws.
“I’ve always been lucky,” said the artist and actor who landed small parts in two Academy-Award winning movies (Unforgiven and Brokeback Mountain). But the painting addresses his realization that there can be a careful-what-you-wish-for side to luck.
The artist’s emotional landscape paintings range from realistic depictions of stormy skies and prairie flowers to more abstract renderings of ice formations and windblown fields.
One his largest, a six-by-nine-foot painting called Guardians of the Sleeping Duck, contains a partially hidden symbol of mortality, while Storm Flowers, in which Reese used chopsticks to create the turbulent background, “is about beauty and danger.”
Reese, who gives credit to his mentor/teachers David More, Jim Trevelyan and Robert Nichols, has been seriously devoting himself to college art classes for the last five years to improve upon talents that were evident from his youth, when he was one of a handful of children chosen to benefit from classes at the Edmonton Art Gallery.
“There have been 10-year spans when I haven’t done anything at all, and then times of furious activity,” said Reese, who believes his visual artwork has always had a crossover effect to help him in other areas of his creative life.
“There’s a direct application in film, when you are framing a shot and looking at composition and depth of field, and colour relationships and design,” he said. “It’s exactly the same as if you were a painter.”
Reese has also tried putting himself inside the heads of the people he paints — which is the same thing he does as an actor exploring a scripted character.
During his year-long sabbatical from the college, where he co-heads Motion Picture Arts, Reese has been working a film project that examines ties between various creative fields. By filming an actor creating a role, a painter bringing a canvas to life, a musician composing a tune, Reese hopes to look at the overall process of creation to determine whether there are common elements.
Some of the filming will take place at the opening of his Mapping Creativity exhibit, which runs from 7 to 9 p.m. on Friday at the museum.