Thomas Reis Interview

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“Each painting is a summation of the interests and influences of the artist” 

Thomas Reis just won the top award in the annual Art Renewal Center Online International Salon Competition. It’s no easy achievement being voted the best when there are 2100 entries, but then Reis is no stranger to achievement and winning.
So far this year he has been named to the “Top 20” of 1600 entries in the International Portrait  Competition, fourth place in the Portrait Society of America members only show, and has a feature article in the Feb/Mar issue of International Artist magazine.
Illustration for Time Magazine

He graduated from Stetson University with degrees in Spanish and Fine Art and went on to complete a MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute.

He is super talented, smart and versatile. Except for a three-year stint as senior art director for JP Morgan Chase in New York overseeing the design of marketing materials and literature for Chase Vista Funds, he has managed to maintain two distinctly different career paths…one as illustrator and one as fine artist.
Although this blog is about Tom, the fine artist, I just can’t resist showing you a sample of his illustration work. He is a phenomenal illustrator. His work has appeared in many national publications, including: Sports Illustrated, Time, Business Week, Rolling Stone, and The Wall Street Journal.
I worked in both fields for a while as I was transitioning from illustration to fine art, and it was not easy. In my mind, I had totally made the switch and commitment to fine art, so every illustration assignment became a chore as it required a totally different thought process. So, for Tom to be able to work in both fields at such a high level is quite remarkable.
I think now however, he is spending more and more of his time producing what we call, fine art.
Amelie  –  19″x 12″  –  Best of Show, ARC International Salon
I am pleased that Tom agreed to this interview. You will appreciate his thoughtful answers.
When I asked him why he enters art competitions and how he goes about selecting paintings for those competitions, he said, “I love being part of the art community. I feel honored and always humbled when I’m able to participate. The quality of the work produced today is absolutely breathtaking”.
What would be your definition of art?  Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 “Fountain” transformed the definition to include anything and everything. Art is what we call art, which, of course, necessitates human interaction. The trick may involve convincing the viewer.
How would you define your role as an artist?  Beyond technique, I’m interested in conveying the ephemeral nature of experience – a sense of atmosphere and narrative content.
How does one find their individuality as an artist?  Individuality may just be a synthesis of appropriated styles, though the great masters have had the ability to offer a truly original vision.
Recent study from sketch group Reis regularly attends  –  12″x 16″
Most of your work is figurative, including many portraits, how did that come to pass?  We are social creatures, so paintings of people probably top everyone’s list. The ultimate results, regardless of subject, are always abstract – massed shapes, values and color organized on a flat surface.
How do you typically select models and work with them?  Models often select me. Inspiration, is the true model – whether the subject is a person, thing or landscape.
Do you let the subject determine the concept of the work or is the concept determined before the model is selected?  A jazz musician is given a melody which serves as a basis for a superadded structure of improvisation. The artist brings his/her interest and vision to a found scene or finds a scenario to suit the vision.
Do you consider the process of painting more important than the result?  The journey is often better than arriving.
Hannah  –  16″x 12″  –  Oil

What constitutes a classically trained painter?  The term may have been too narrowly defined by the Modernists, who reacted against the rigorous, formal training of French Academy. The term carried pejorative implications. However, Modernism may have placed too much premium on the avant-garde and its reaction to mass-culture. It has had a hard time sustaining itself with fresh insight and its art schools ironically present a mass-marketed formalistic approach to art making. “Classically trained”, in the best sense of the term, seems to connote training based upon past styles and techniques. Perhaps all artists are classically trained.
Does photography play a part in your work?   My paintings often rely on photographic reference, though I prefer working from life whenever possible. Such reference affords the artist unlimited working time at the expense of the subtle values, colors, and edges found only when working from a live model. The live session imposes a time restriction, which is actually an advantage – since all but the essentials are sacrificed.

Boat Watcher  –  12″x 16″  –  Oil  –  Plein Air
Naples Farm  –  12″x 16″  –  Oil
What colors are most often found on your palette?  Ultramarine blue, Viridian, Raw Umber, Transparent Oxide Red, Raw Sienna, Yellow Ochre, Terra Rosa, Dioxazine Violet, Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Red, Cadmium Orange, Cadmium Yellow, Titanium White, Ivory Black.
Grapes  –  12″x 9″  –  Oil
Do you paint in layers?   My work generally progresses in the same way: I add a quick imprimatura wash to kill the white of the canvas (usually a mix of raw umber and mineral spirits) wiping out the big shapes before the wash dries. I sketch out the big masses with vine charcoal, working hard to simplify the shapes, yet maintaining accuracy. Next, I use a small filbert with raw umber and medium to repaint and further refine the drawing. Once completed, I often give a light color/medium wash to each major shape which provides a rough colorized roadmap for the painting. I paint in the darks, beginning with the background. This helps me to establish the key of the painting. I squint throughout the painting process in order to see big shapes and color masses, keeping them as simple and clean as possible. I work through the middle tones to the lights, redrawing as I go. Once an area has been blocked in, it is often further refined via the addition of transition passages.
Hanok  –  26″x 38″  –  Oil  –  Step-by-step demo of this painting is featured in Feb/Mar 2012 issue of  International Artist Magazine
The Violinist  –  30″x 40″  –  Oil
Moravian Bakers  –  26″x 40″  –  Oil
Peonies  –  16″x 12″  –  Oil

How much preliminary work do you do before tackling the final canvas?   I’ve found through a lot of wasted effort that it’s best to spend time working out the composition prior to beginning final art. I generally make a number of small sketches and color studies. Well begun is half done.
What is your major consideration when composing a painting?   The basic tenets of art -color, shape, line, value, and composition – continue to present endless challenges. Beyond technique, I try hard to communicate aspects of the ephemeral nature of experience via my work – a sense of atmosphere and narrative content.

The Reader  –  30″x 34″  –  Oil  –  ‘Top 20’, 2012 International Portrait Competition
How did your job as senior art director for JP Morgan Chase prepare you for a fine art career?   My three years at Chase got me to New York City, which opened up a lot of doors for me. I learned a lot about marketing via the experience.
What advice would you have for a young artist/painter?  Follow your bliss and be honest with yourself. Don’t worry about finding a style, it will find you.
What advice would you have for a first-time collector?   Whether the art is abstract or realism-based, purchase what you like.
Tangerines and Chopsticks  –  16″x 12″  –  Oil
Emily  –  10″x 8″  –  Oil

If you could spend the day with any three artists, past or present, who would they be?   Today – Sargent, Alma Tadema, Wyeth.

If you were stranded on an island, which three books would you want with you?   Besides “Idiot’s Guide to Survival on an Island” or “How to Build a Raft” – Henri’s “The Art Spirit”.

When you become discouraged and feel the well is dry, so to speak, what do you do?   Constant growth is essential to me as an artist, and the dry spells can be very challenging. I have always worked my way past them.   

Twilight Hour  –  12″x 16″  –  Oil

Thanks Tom for a much appreciated and very interesting interview. I’m confident we’ll be seeing your paintings winning many more awards in the future.


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