Eros in the Landscape

February 4 to April 22, 2023
Reid & Central Gallery

Eros in the Landscape

Richard Reid

Life Work of Richard Reid: Susan Andrews Grace

The dark lid of the mauve river is falling:

how little we have.

There is female light in the branches

-Tim Lilburn [1]

On a sunny September day in Grand Forks, over lunch with Tim van Wijk, before a studio visit with Richard Reid, Van Wijk mentioned that exhibiting figurative art by a white male is somewhat problematic these days and that this exhibition would require (art) historical context in order to honor and interrogate Reid’s considerable contributions and artistic achievements. I agreed but said that Reid’s case was different, that his work centred on the couple. Van Wijk’s eyebrows raised in surprise. In flustered response, I said I thought I’d read that in the writing about his work. Later, in a search for evidence of what I felt was certain, I realized I’d made it up, drawing conclusions from what I saw in the paintings

Since our meetings I have read Reid’s life writing, a memoir manuscript tentatively titled A Life Shared. His writing gives rare insight into a life that has spanned two centuries, from 1930 to the present, across a variety of landscapes; providing an opportunity to see an artist at work in the world, making a world. Reid says that he paints from rather than on. His subject since the 1950s has included the figure. A transformative eros of man and/or woman combined with landscape came later but that is what he paints from. He says his arm knows what to paint more than his head does. He states in his memoir that he wants his work to look “unlaboured, clear, confident, controlled,” [2] and tries always for urgency and fluidity in the execution. He also writes that he spends a good deal of time looking while painting until he can resolve problems that get in the way of expression. He’s patient.

In preparation to write this essay, I first looked at and read everything in Reid’s comprehensive website.[3] Eros leapt from works made in 1960 onward and reminded me of poetry by Tim Lilburn who, like Reid, was born in Regina, but a generation later. Eros in the Platonic sense is a fundamental, creative impulse having a sensual element – love driven by a passionate desire for what is beautiful and timeless. Whether Reid paints a reclining female figure or a male in a red shirt or a self-portrait or an abstracted idea of seduction in the Red Riding Hood tale or the view across Christina Lake the work comes from the point of view of a human being having a sensual, timeless experience.

Helen Sebelius, Curator of Kootenay Gallery of Art, Castlegar BC, wrote in the forward to the catalogue for Reid’s exhibition Variance in 2009:

Reid’s work can be divided into three distinct categories – the figure, the landscape, and the transfiguration or metamorphosis of one into the other.

These transfigurations and metamorphoses define an inclusionary eros, not an objectifying male gaze. Audre Lorde, American feminist poet writes about empowered women: “…we are taught to separate the erotic demand from most vital areas of our lives, other than sex.” [4] Reid’s work holds that erotic demand from a male sensuous point of view.

Reid says he admired and was taught by abstract expressionists at the University of Manitoba in the 1950s. In particular, Arshile Gorky, one of the New York Abstract Expressionist painters, was an influence. He writes that Gorky’s work “somehow hit a nerve with me… all I saw were the undulating, elegant, sensual forms.” [5] He states that he paid little attention to Gorky’s difficulties and his ultimate suicide. Reid again:

…my ‘romantic’ nature led to my most frequent use of the human figure. Gorky’s work probably attracted me the most directly – I saw what seemed to me as quite blatant eroticism. [6]

A possible deeper connection to eros occurred when Reid’s mother divorced his father and left the family home in Regina to live with her new husband in Winnipeg. It was so early in his life that Reid has no memory of it. In the early 1930s such an event was relatively unusual but not as disruptive as it might have been had his father not been able to hire a housekeeper to care for his infant son. His brother who was six years older suffered more from it, according to Reid.

Gorky, an Armenian American, also lost his mother in childhood. The causes were as different as they could be – Gorky’s mother died from starvation in the Armenian genocide during the First World War. Reid’s loss was a decade later and he had a loving father while Gorky’s father was absent. However, the loss of their mothers might have been a connection in the sensibilities of both artists. For Reid it was a pre-verbal experience which became a source of abstract art making.

The most obvious source of eros for Reid would be his more than sixty-year relationship and marriage with Beverley Reid, nee Williams, also an artist. Beverley was a student at the University of Manitoba, two years behind him. Together they found their way as artists, which is an accomplishment in itself. They lived in London England from 1960 -1965, the first five years of marriage. There, the couple relied on income from display work Beverley secured from stores like Selfridges in London and were able to travel on the continent several months of the year in a VW microbus. Reid experienced a conscious and open confrontation with the sexual/erotic in London, in the midst of the trial for obscenity in D.H. Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover, women’s liberation, and the sexual revolution. He writes:

…suddenly, the figure had a much more profound meaning. It was my own sexual feeling, and what seemed then to be the release of a repression of that feeling. And I began almost immediately to explore. From that moment, the mark-making process was like a direct sexual expression … like making love to the canvas or on the canvas.[7]

Reid had an epiphany about his artmaking while he and Beverley were visiting Don and Mary Reichert, friends from the University of Manitoba, at The Rose Cottage, a rented house, in St. Ives, Cornwall in 1962. Beverley was assisting in the care of the Reichert’s newborn, Ernie.

We stayed for two or three weeks. I did about six or eight works on paper there in Don’s studio. I think these became a small ‘breakthrough’ for me. I felt they marked important developments in the London series, as they led to the large 'anatomy' pieces. [8]

Thus began the work that featured characteristic reds signifying passion, anger, love, courage, and the biomorphic abstractions that recur throughout subsequent works, alluding to figure, landscape, or figure in the landscape. Roger Boulet writes in the catalogue for Variance at the Kootenay Gallery of Art, 2009, that for Reid “…sex is the underlying force unifying man, woman and nature.” [9] Upon return to Canada in 1965 the Reids settled in Richmond, renovating and building homes there and later at Christina Lake. Reid taught at UBC until they made a permanent move to Christina Lake in 1979.

Together Richard and Beverley brought the ‘Reid effect’ to the arts community in Grand Forks when Beverley first became involved in curation of exhibitions and in plans to establish an art gallery. After Richard retired from UBC they were instrumental in establishing the Grand Forks civic art gallery in the basement of the library, predecessor of Gallery 2. A spillover effect of friendships the couple made in Winnipeg, England, and Vancouver continued in Grand Forks. Gallery 2 has in its collection works by Takeo Tanabe, Toni Onley, Jack Shadbolt, and Ann Kipling; among other friends of the Reids.

Lovers in the Landscape (2004), an aerial view of a couple, part of the Lovers in the Landscape series (2001 - 2005) stands as a mature idea of the couple; a picture of companionship on a dark ground, the white male embracing and supporting from behind his beloved. The beloved, coloured in red, is at the centre of the composition, while both figures look out onto the vista. A black line delineates the couple’s heads, suggesting the importance of solitude as a necessary part of union. That black line brings to mind Kahlil Gibran’s poem Marriage: “But let there be spaces in your togetherness, /And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.” [10] The painting is a small statement in watercolour, only 25 x 35cm. Lovers in the Landscape, not extravagant in its use of materials, presents everything essential, rooted, and centred in the landscape. This work was part of Liebende und Landschaft, a solo exhibition of 18 watercolours and mixed media at Niederlausitzer Heidemuseum in Spremberg, Germany in 2005.

Mary Gabriel, author of Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement that Changed Modern Art describes in great detail the post Second World War American art world. The women artists in her book made art, refusing to be mere muses. Their lives weren’t easy or fair and their work was often ignored by the art world. For this reason, feminist discourse doesn’t have a lot of pity for white male artists who have dominated the art scene. And no doubt Beverley had a lot in common with Lee Krasner and Elaine de Kooning as women artists in marriages with artist husbands. However, the Reids managed to each have their own art practices while making a home, maintaining their own studios, and in Beverley’s case, making exceptional gardens. The relationship between Richard and Beverley Reid influenced both their artistic practices in a reciprocity earned by steady devotion to each other and their individual aesthetics. Beverley died in 2019, Richard writes:

I owe so much to Beverley. She did everything …our first home in England… our home in Richmond, then Christina Lake: built walls, gardens, living spaces, worked incredibly hard at everything to make it both practical and beautiful. And then her art as well…[11]

Red Seductress, a diptych painted in 1963, typifies Richard Reid’s relationship with eros. The fact that it is a diptych, two pieces that make one, I see now was a first clue to my couple hypothesis. Red Seductress came out of the explosion of meaning he experienced while in England in the tumult of the 1960s sexual revolution and the second wave of feminism. The fact that Red Seductress now lives in his dining room, in all its abstracted and red lusciousness, says that it was begun in the manner it intended to finish – as much about nurture as seduction.

[1] Lilburn, Tim. To the River: Poems. (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1999), 14
[2] Reid, Richard. A Life Shared, Unpublished manuscript, 57
[3] Richard Reid’s website:
[4] Lorde, Audrey. The Selected Works of Audre Lorde. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2020), 31
[5] Reid, Richard. A Life Shared, Unpublished manuscript, 50
[6] Reid, Richard. A Life Shared, Unpublished manuscript, 51 
[7] Reid, Richard. A Life Shared, Unpublished manuscript, 50
[8] Reid, Richard. A Life Shared, Unpublished manuscript, 57
[9] Richard Reid’s website:
[10] Gibran, Kahlil. The Prophet. (Toronto: Random House, 1969), 15
[11] Reid, Richard. A Life Shared, Unpublished manuscript, 1