An Artist’s Experience
Clay County native Brian Reed breaks barriers—in life and in art.
(page 1 of 2)
On a hilltop in Clay County, artist Brian Reed looks at a stack of old locust fence posts and sees, not a pile to be burned, but the raw materials for a sculpture installation. For him, inspiration is everywhere. It’s in the collections of arrowheads, acorns, bottle caps, wine corks, turtle shells, buttons, shark’s teeth, seeds, and pods he’s been gathering since he was a child. It’s in the watches he bought at rummage sales across Spain and in the antique clay smoking pipes he found along the banks of the Thames in London. Inspiration comes to Brian from his life, his journey, which he believes is everyman’s journey, and he seeks to share that through his art.
Although the Ivydale native is only 27, he’s faced a lot of adversity—the death of his father when he was 17; and several years later, his own tragic accident, from which he was expected to remain paralyzed. Yet, he took those experiences and poured them into his work, expressing the transformative impact art can have on everyone. “In a way, I’ve taken kind of an autobiographical journey of my experiences and translated them,” he says. “My life is a classic example of how a person can transform their life into what they want it to be.”
Brian excelled in high school art, but didn’t plan to become a professional artist. He was considering life as either a research scientist or a physicist, although math and science were more difficult for him than art. When his father was killed in a car accident, Brian lost focus until art became an outlet for his feelings. “It became a place I could escape to. Art became a way I could create situations, rather than reacting to them,” he says. With the encouragement of his high school art teacher, Sandra King, he applied to art school and was accepted at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, to study painting.
In his home, a farm that has been in his family for five generations, hang several of Brian’s paintings from the days when, as a young student, he copied an estimated 50 to 80 works by the old masters to learn color and painting techniques. The artistic gene runs broad and deep in the Reed family. One of his two older sisters is an architect, the other, an art historian. He counts professional musicians on both sides of his family, as well. Johnny and Gruder Morris, legendary banjo and fiddle players, were close relatives. His grandmother was an accomplished pianist while her mother was a concert pianist. Brian, too, is a classically trained pianist who entertained the idea of playing professionally until his own accident.
Right after Brian graduated from college in 2006, a truck hit him, breaking his back and paralyzing him. He could no longer sit up to practice. His focus shifted. After diligent rehabilitation, and he believes, divine intervention, he was walking within two years. While bedridden, his mother brought him books from the Kanawha County Library that drew his attention to the Mayan and Aztec cultures. Intrigued, he sought out the author, Mary Miller, a professor at Yale University. Through the advice and support of life coach, Aila Accad, he made his way to Yale and to New York to start a professional art career. Although his mother wasn’t supportive initially, she knew her son had entered a door through which there was no turning back.