Edward Arnold Reep was born in Brooklyn, New York on May 10, 1918. In 1921, his family moved to Southern California, where he has since spent most of his life. In 1936, Reep began his artistic education at the Art Center School in Los Angeles, where he studied under Barse Miller (1904-1973), Willard Nash (1898-1942), Emil Bisttram (1895-1976), and Stanley Reckless (1892-1955). It was here that he became interested in watercolor. In 1938, he began exhibiting with the California Watercolor Society.
Reep’s life took a dramatic turn in 1941 when he volunteered into the U.S. Army. During World War II, he served as a war artist-correspondent in Africa and Italy. Reep painted and sketched both on the battlefield and in areas where time for reflection and careful artistic execution was possible. His visual depictions of the war are invaluable not only for their candid representation of the devastation the war spread across Europe, but also for their documentation of the soldier’s experience and the fragility of human life. Many of the gouache and watercolor works Reep created during this time belong to the War Department of the Pentagon as well as the National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C. In 1946, Reep received a Guggenheim Fellowship for his artistic contribution during World War II.
Upon his return home from the war, Reep continued his artistic pursuits and began a career as an art instructor that he would continue until his retirement in 1985. He first taught at the Art Center School for four years, and in 1950, worked briefly alongside his former instructor Emil Bisttram at the Bisttram School of Fine Art. Beginning that same year, he taught painting at Chouinard Art Institute (now California Institute of the Arts). During his twenty years there, he served as both Chairman of the Department of Painting and Chairman of the Faculty. During this time he also worked as an illustrator and scenic artist for the film industry. He also produced a series of drawings and watercolors for the June 18, 1956 issue of Life Magazine.
In 1969, Reep authored The Content of Watercolor, his first of two publications. The book describes the history of watercolor and emphasizes the philosophy of the artistic process rather than pure technique. According to Reep, he originally turned the publisher down when asked to produce a book on watercolor, not wanting to simply write a ‘how-to’ book. However, given the freedom to write what he pleased, Reep accepted the offer with the ultimate goal of elevating the medium of watercolor.
In 1970, Reep moved to Greenville, North Carolina where he was Artist-in-Residence and Professor of Painting at East Carolina University until his retirement in 1985. In recognition of Reep’s contribution as a faculty member and his life-long achievement as an artist, ECU’s Gray Art Gallery organized a retrospective exhibition of the artist’s works spanning his fifteen-year stay at the university. In the introduction to the exhibition catalogue, Gallery Director Randolph E. Osman states that Reep’s artworks are “enduring metaphors, virtual shrines, to such human values as honesty, integrity, sincerity, ethical and moral fortitude.”
It was also during this time that Reep accepted a commission from the Office of Military History to document the tenth anniversary of the Berlin Wall – a symbol of human conflict and immorality. For three weeks, he stayed in West Germany painting, sketching, and detailing information that would later help him create two astounding oil paintings that attest to his artistic refinement and maturity.
Upon his retirement in 1985, Reep returned to California. In 1987, he authored A Combat Artist in World War II, which details his assignment as a war artist-correspondent. In 1997, Reep received the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Gold Medal from the Watercolor USA Honor Society. Still painting, Reep currently resides in Bakersfield, California.
AN ANALYSIS OF THE ARTIST'S WORK
“My work is a reflection of my life experiences, real and imagined.” –Ed Reep
Edward Reep works with many mediums including oil, gouache, and lithography. Watercolor, however, has been and still remains his medium of choice for most of his work. Reep first became interested in watercolor during his years as a student under Stanley Reckless at the Art Center School in Los Angeles. Early works show a budding interest in geometric form and composition within simple seascapes and genre-scenes.
It wasn’t until becoming a war artist-correspondent that Reep began including serious, critical themes in his art. As a soldier-artist, he often risked his life to paint and sketch during battle – his concern lay totally with the documentation of the historic event. The sketches and paintings Reep produced during this time visually document not only the war itself but also its psychological effects on his comrades, local survivors, and the artist himself. Reep’s surrealist depictions of war-torn cities are realized in erratic brushstrokes that form a distorted environment. Bombing of Monte Cassino (1944) captures in watercolor the controversial bombing of a cultural landmark as it unfolded in front of the artist. Swirling and frenzied brushstrokes depict the rising smoke as the bombs landed, the Abbey barely visible among chaos that also threatened the lives of Reep and his comrades. In his autobiography A Combat Artist in World War II, Reep confesses that at first he would only sketch and paint during the aftermath of battle – fearful of being directly amid the fighting. However, it didn’t take long for him to begin working on the front lines, creating powerful images such as Bombing of Monte Cassino.
Reep’s portrayal of the realities of war reflect his interest in the surreal and psychological experience that continues to persist in his post-war art. His paintings, often composed of geometric forms, present an abstract vision of reality that often specifically focuses on the human experience itself. The various moods and feelings that shape Reep’s artwork, particularly in his expressive watercolors, are presented within carefully constructed frameworks that speak of the artist’s attention to detail and emphasis upon artistic quality.
Throughout his life Reep has received numerous prestigious commissions as a well-known artist. In 1972, he was summoned for the second time by the U.S. government to travel to Europe and document the war experience. Asked to render his impressions of the Berlin Wall onto canvas, Reep spent three weeks painting and sketching in West Germany. Particularly of interest to Reep was that the wall dividing West and East Germany tragically proved the persistence of human conflict. Upon his return to the United States, he created two oil paintings that reflect this theme. While Reep spent most of his artistic career avoiding any direct engagement with war or tragedy, these two pieces are representative of his style in that they signify his mastery and maturity as an artist. Like much of his artwork, they are surreal and borderline on the abstract, yet remain grounded in reality. The commissioned works are products of years of artistic training and a lifetime of experiences.
Having influenced the lives of countless people both directly as an instructor and indirectly through his expressive painting, Reep remains one of the most significant California artists of the twentieth century. He has been awarded for his works in watercolor and honored for his contribution as a combat artist. Currently living in Bakersfield, Reep’s work continues to resonate importance historically and artistically.
1942 First Prize, Carmel Art Association
1946 Guggenheim Fellowship
1948, 1950 First Prizes, San Diego Museum
1963 First Prize in Oil Painting, Los Angeles All-City Annual
1975 National Endowment for the Arts Grant
1997 Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Gold Medal, Watercolor USA Honor Society
2002 National Watercolor Society
California Watercolor Society
Los Angeles City Art Festival Exhibition, Coordinating Art Chairman (1951)
National Watercolor Society, Past President and Signature Member
Watercolor USA Society
Carnegie Art Museum, Oxnard, CA
Gardena High School, CA
Grunwald Graphic Arts Collection
Jill Thayer Galleries at the Fox, Bakersfield, CA
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA
Lyton Collection, Los Angeles, CA
National Museum of American Art, Washington D.C.
State of California Collection, Sacramento, CA
University of California Los Angeles, CA
U.S. War Department, Pentagon
1918 Born May 10 in Brooklyn, New York
1921 Family moves from New York to Huntington Beach, California
1936-41 Attends the Art Center School, Los Angeles (awarded four year scholarship)
1938 Begins exhibiting with the California Watercolor Society
1941 Volunteers into the U.S. Army as a private
1942-46 War artist-correspondent, WWII in Africa and Italy
1946 Honorable discharge from the U.S. Army as Captain
1946-47 Awarded Guggenheim Fellowship for his work created during WWII
1946-50 Instructor at Art Center College of Design
1950 Instructor at Bisttram School of Fine Art
1950 Watercolor By the Sea wins first prize at the San Diego Thirty-sixth Watercolor Annual
1950-70 Instructor at Chouinard Art Institute (California Institute of the Arts)
1956 Artwork commissioned for June 18th issue of Life Magazine
1957 Appointed Chairman of the Department of Painting, Chouinard Art Institute
1969 Appointed Chairman of the Faculty, Chouinard Art Institute
1969 Authors The Content of Watercolor, Van Nostrand Reinhold
1970-85 Artist-in-residence and professor of painting, East Carolina University
1972 Commissioned by U.S. government to work in Berlin and document the 10th Anniversary of the Berlin Wall
1983 Second edition of The Content of Watercolor published (revised and expanded)
1987 Authors A Combat Artist in World War II, University Press of Kentucky
1997 Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Gold Medal, Watercolor USA Honor Society
2002 Award, National Watercolor Society
1941 USA Private’s Club: Three panels of early conquests in California, Fort Ord, CA
1956 Life Magazine: Painter’s Impression of International Airports
1971 U.S. Government: Impression of the Berlin Wall, Germany
The Content of Watercolor, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1983.
A Combat Artist in World War II, University Press of Kentucky, 1987.
2. Edward Reep: Selected Works 1970-1985. Greenville, North Carolina: East Carolina University, 1985.
3. Moure, Nancy Dustin Wall. California Art: 450 Years of Painting & Other Media. Los Angeles: Dustin Publications, 1998.
4. Perine, Robert. Chouinard: An Art Vision Betrayed. Encinitas, Calif.: Artra Publishing, Inc., 1985.
5. Regionalism: The California View: Watercolors 1929-1945. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1988.
6. Reep, Edward. A Combat Artist in World War II. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1987.
7. Scenes of California Life, 1930-1950, Todd Madigan Gallery, California State University, Bakersfield, March 9 – April 10, 1991. Bakersfield, Calif.: Dorian Society, California State University, 1991.
1985 Gray Art Gallery, East Carolina University, NC (solo)
1963 Los Angeles All-City Annual (1st prize)
1949 Corcoran Gallery Art Biennial, Washington D.C.
1948 L.A. County Fair
1948, 1950 San Diego Museum (1st prizes)
1946-60 Los Angeles County Museum of Art Annual
1946-48 Whitney Museum of American Art, N.Y.
1942 Carmel Art Association (1st prize)
1939 Golden Gate International Exhibition
1938-56 California Watercolor Society