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Reese’s pieces inspired by the nebulous creative force

Larry Reese shuts out his surroundings and focuses on the canvas in his dim basement studio.

The creative talent: to develop a vision, imagine how to represent our surroundings in a revealing or interesting way, then let innate curiosity drive the search for tools and processes to realize that vision.

These are the mysterious forces that have driven Larry Reese his entire life. As a three-year-old, he recalls watching his father paint the Madonna on a window of their house.

“I was taken by the magic of the moment,” he says with a satisfied smile.

More than 60 years later, Reese still eagerly waxes philosophically about the creative process, seeking to understand the fascinating drives that push artists to make something from nothing. He even produced a documentary film about it in 2011.

Reese is perhaps best known in Central Alberta for his involvement with film: he taught theatre and film-making at Red Deer College for three decades. Fewer know he has a bachelor’s degree in music and has performed on stage with world-class musicians. But drawing and painting were his first loves. Each art form informs upon the other, he says, and he always encouraged students toward artistic diversity.

While teaching understandably dominated his life, visual art was always intensely present. He took night courses in art, studied with an Edmonton artist, and has produced literally thousands of sketches, drawings and paintings.

His sketching led him to learn about creativity from actor Gene Hackman, he recalls. They met on the set of Unforgiven, the blockbuster western in which Reese had a small part. As fellow artists, they began sketching together during down time, and Hackman shared that he didn’t watch his own films, because the end product was for the audience. He cared only about the process of creation.

“At that point it really dawned on me that the process for an artist is what it’s all about. The end result and the adulation – or the ridicule,” Reese laughs, “comes more from the ego and not from the creative artist.”

While on sabbatical from RDC, Reese and fellow instructor James Wilson explored the concept philosophically in their documentary film, Mapping Creativity. It follows Reese’s own process of painting a massive landscape, and features interviews with various performing and visual artists about creativity.

Since retiring from teaching in 2017, Reese has been able to give himself more completely to painting. He has increased his output and found time for a dozen exhibits, shows and sales since then, building a new reputation as Larry Reese: painter.

While he refuses to be pigeonholed, representational landscapes are his favourite subject, particularly trees: symbols of life and strength. Living beside Sylvan Lake for more than 30 years, he sees fascinating subjects daily through every window.

His more abstract, expressive pieces are his best sellers, however – handled through the Grant Berg Gallery in Grande Prairie. Reese doesn’t need the money, but the sales are a “yippee” moment, he admits. The artist may lead the creation, but the ego still loves the validation of a sale.

“The ego says that’s a thrill.”

To see Mapping Creativity, visit Vimeo to watch the video:

Reese’s colourful, expressive abstract paintings are popular at the Grant Berg Gallery. Reese likes to find patterns in the grain of the birchboard to inspire his imagery.