Alumnus artist Erik ReeL explores abstraction and mixed media in lecture

Jaime Fields, A&E Reporter

Strong colors and lines stand out on “Technicolor Tobey,” an art piece donated to Whitman by artist Erik ReeL. On March 11, the Portland-based Whitman alum who graduated in 1973 lectured over Zoom to an audience of Whitman students and faculty. ReeL spoke about not only his own art but the importance of art and the arts in general to a well-rounded education.

ReeL’s work, which is described on his website as work that “[ignores] the distinction between drawing and painting,” features a non-literal view of the world.

“ReeL’s painting has alternated between phases of figurative and abstract imagery until 2009 when he took a position clearly critical of the hyper-materialism of contemporary society by stripping all references to the physical world from his work to produce his mature non-objective style,” reads the biography on his website.

Daniel Forbes, Director of the Sheehan Gallery, was one of the hosts for the talk. Forbes explained in a statement to The Wire that ReeL approached the Sheehan Gallery in late 2020, offering “Technicolor Tobey” as a gift to Whitman’s art collection.

“We at Sheehan were immediately impressed by the high caliber of his works, their vibrant, lyrical compositions and the way his paintings reference so many different things: music, mathematics, computer code, poetry and the legacy of Seattle’s Northwest School painters,” Forbes said. “Erik’s work fits wonderfully into Whitman’s growing collection of prominent regional artists.”

Forbes explained that early in his correspondence, ReeL spoke about how significant his liberal arts education at Whitman was in shaping his life, as well as his encounters with a variety of other people educated in liberal arts who work in a wide range of professions.

“After hearing his story, he seemed a perfect choice to come and share his art and experiences with our community,” Forbes said.

The importance of a liberal arts education was a feature of ReeL’s talk, and he further emphasized his ideas on the subject in an email to The Wire

“It is an honor to be part of the Dr. Sheehan Gallery and Whitman college collection and to support Whitman during these auspicious times,” ReeL wrote. “Deep contradictions have been exposed in the foundations of our society. As so many universities race to produce more technocrats, we should remember that history warns us that technocracies tend to be societies no one wants to live in.”

ReeL explained that art is especially critical to a complete education.

“More than ever we need citizens and leaders who are fully educated in the well-rounded liberal arts education, and this includes art itself,” ReeL wrote.

Erin Tyler, a senior art major who attended the talk, said that she appreciated hearing from ReeL about his experience after Whitman.

“It’s encouraging to see that connections from Whitman can outlast your time here,” Tyler said. “It’s exciting to see examples of how a liberal arts education sets you up to be flexible in the professional world.”


Erik ReeL can be found online at