When you visit the shared studio of Matthew Black and Darien Reece on Fletchers Mill Road, you will find a special space. Located in a wildflower field, it is used in many creative ways: for photography, painting, sculpture, meditation and movement classes.
Black, an economist turned photographer, and Reece, an antiques dealer turned artist, will be showing their very divergent art forms there during the 10th annual Artists of Rappahannock Studio and Gallery Tour Nov. 1-2.
Black’s journey to professional photography began in 2001. “I had been an episodic shooter, focusing on travel and family snapshots, but a week-long workshop convinced me I could be more than an economist,” Black said. “The intensity, exhilaration, learning and affirmation recharged me.”
The experience spurred he and his wife Barbara to later leave their jobs and travel west, settling in Seattle for four years, where Black’s photography took on a new seriousness. His work became focused on self-exploration and fascination with identity.
This trend can be seen in two photographic series from that time: “Urban Singular,” and “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.” The first explores solitude, introspection and loneliness. “Edward Hopper became my muse,” explained Black. “His work refined my eye and sensitivity to the broader swath of life.”
The Sisters series also explores identity — this time through a gay charity organization that uses drag dressing to call attention to sexual intolerance. “The Sisters are much loved in Seattle. The camera loves them,” said Black. The group fashions themselves after a religious order to raise money for charity.
Initially drawn to their flamboyant costumes and Kabuki-style makeup, Black moved to wanting to know the real person — the private one behind the public persona. His series is comprised of paired studio portraits, one in drag dress and the other in street clothes.
His series of the St. Francis de Assisi church at Rancho de Taos, Ariz., is in black and white. “Color got in the way. I wanted to concentrate on form and texture. Black and white gave me the emotional resonance I wanted,” said Black, who is currently working on a new series that grew out of powerful archetypal dreams.
These “dreamscape” photographs merge landscapes with less tangible forces. “I am trying to create the exploration of the inner-outer experience of dreams through photos,” he said.
While dreams as an artistic guide is a recent experience for Black, it started early for Reece. “As a child I was given ether for an operation. I was terrified, but as I was blacking out I heard this incredibly comforting song and saw a mermaid,” said Reece.
She identified it as a mother’s song, but it was not her mother’s. She has since found that others have had the same experience, most notably Meinrad Craighead, a former nun and artist, who wrote “The Mother’s Song: Images of God the Mother.”
Reece identifies the song with the strong feminine soul and the repressed voice of women, and much of her work features uniquely feminine symbols. “I am constantly searching for that song again,” said Reece, who refers to it as the song of the Great Mother, the iconic creator of life which she believes has been swallowed up by Christianity.
She always wanted to be an artist and had worked in aspects of art as an antique dealer. However, it was only when she took a class in a process called “point zero” that she found the personal freedom to paint. The process is designed to unleash creativity.
“It is the way children create art. There is no right or wrong way, no rules and no boxes,” said Reece, noting that Barbara Heile teaches this spontaneous process at he Mullany Studio School in Flint Hill.
Reece classifies herself as a visionary artist, with her work falling in the genre of outsider art — work produced by untrained artists who are typically unconnected to the conventional art world. Visionary art comes from an innate personal vision, which begins by listening to the inner voices of the soul. Often it is not even thought of as art by its creator.
This is certainly true with Reece, who is reluctant to call herself an artist, though she certainly is one. “I don’t start with a painting in mind,” she said, “it just comes out.” She creates unique clay/fiber sculpture and paints in gauche and casein, an ancient milk-based form. Her work has a mystical, fairytale quality, and is driven by the mother’s song she heard so long ago.
This is the fifth in a series of articles on the Rappahannock Association for the Arts and the Community’s (RAAC) 10th annual Artists of Rappahannock Studio & Gallery Tour this Nov. 1-2. For more, visit raac.org/aor14.