The traveler goes in search of the“ truth and in search of peace, but above all in search of a reason to believe.”
These are the words of Robert B. Reed, a visual artist and teacher who has spent his life journeying around the world, painting the people and places that speak to him. Lucky for us, Charleston is his latest stop.
“Everywhere you go, you find something interesting,” says Reed, who has an affinity for watercolor. “I use art to express myself and to tell the stories of where I’ve been.”
Reed was born in Key West, Florida, and followed his father, a naval officer, all over the country as he grew up. His itinerant childhood made an impression. In 1978, the artist left the United States permanently and, except for a short stint at Notre Dame and sporadic visits home, didn’t come back to the United States until a year and a half ago.
“I needed to travel and live certain experiences in order to tell my story,” Reed says. “I could have found those stories in America, but I love to travel.”
Finding harmony in a world that most people see as vast and diverse is a major tenet of Reed’s artistic philosophy. “Our world needs to realize how many things we have in common,” he says. “In Morocco, Mexico or St. Louis, people laugh, smile and cry— just as in Charleston.”
Reed spent the majority of his time abroad in Italy, but he didn’t start out there. He was offered a job roofing in Greece, but couldn’t accept it because there were no proper roofing shoes in his size. He left Greece and met a friend in Milan instead, making his way to Florence and the Accademia di Belle Arti, where he received a diploma in painting four years later.
“I stumbled upon the academy,” Reed says, laughing. “I never dreamed that I’d spend 32 years in Italy.”
The artist’s paintings are the experiences and memories of a lifetime of travel, from Afghanistan to the badlands of Wyoming, “In my travels,” says Reed, “I’m attracted to architecture, design and the arts in general, but above all to people…it’s interesting to see how versatile our world is.”
“I wanted experience before I became a teacher,” the artist says. “The more experience you have in the world, the better teacher and mentor you are. There’s more to pass on to people. I hope that people can take the tangible skills I teach to a spiritual level.”
These days Reed teaches in North Charleston, but he’s returning to Italy soon to offer several two-week-long courses titled The Art of Painting with Watercolour.
His intensive courses, he says, will allow participants to see and work in areas tourists might never see, places Reed calls the “real” Italy.
Courses are geared to all levels, so that beginners can focus on basic principles (color theory, drawing, genres, illusion, light) while advanced painters have the freedom to work without feeling “that someone is looking over their shoulders.”
Nowadays, the artist and his wife, self-professed “islanders,” are relishing Charleston’s relaxed, seaside lifestyle. Settling in a city with such a rich cultural heritage has made the transition from Italy easy.
As for future plans, Reed leaves it to the stars. “I thank destiny for my current existence,” he says. “I gather information and experience so that I can pass that on to others. What else am I going to take with me but my experiences? Not my bank account. I don’t look back. I look straight ahead.”
Robert Reed’s works are held in private collections and museums in Italy and the United States. To visit his studio and view his artwork, call 843-901-0694 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information about upcoming courses and workshops, go to watercolourinflorence.org. 2
Erin Holaday Ziegler is a Charleston-based freelance writer. E-mail email@example.com