Biblical scholars argue over the exact location and duration of the parting of the Red Sea. But for artist David Reid-Marr, it has taken more than three years in his studio and it is still not done.
Longtime Idyllwild Arts Visual Arts faculty member, Reid-Marr’s 5-foot-by-15-foot pen-and-ink drawing of the “Parting of the Red Sea” began as an idea. It has become his muse.
“I just wanted to see how many figures I could do,” said Reid-Marr. Currently, there are 150,000 individual figures, but there is still more than a foot of space to fill across the top of the 15-foot width. The figures line both sides of a widening “V,” expanding from bottom to top. A prophet-like figure with outstretched hands stands at the origin of the “V.”
“At certain stages in my life, the drawing draws itself, with no effort,” said Reid-Marr. “I’ve had that happen in short bursts in the past. With this drawing it can go on for hours. It forms itself. I keep going back to this drawing. It’s sort of my muse.”
Asked when it would be done, Reid-Marr answered, “When the weight is right.” He explained he would know when the feeling of so many figures seemingly stacked on top of each other would create the right weight for the piece. He said he thinks the “Parting” will be finished this year.
Reid-Marr, born in Kent, England, holds a master’s in fine art from the Royal College of Art in London and has exhibited his sculptures, drawings and paintings widely in England, Wales, California and the western United States. He also is a published author, and has created and appeared in interactive performance art pieces. In addition to teaching at Idyllwild Arts, Reid-Marr also teaches at California State University, San Bernardino.
“Drawing is the core of my work,” said Reid-Marr. “It is very important to me. I discovered the power of art through drawing.” Reid-Marr said when he was 11, his family life was difficult. “I hated the house I lived in,” he remembered. “One day, by instinct, I stepped outside to draw. I drew the house — every lichen, every tile, every brick and window pane. Before, the house had contained me. Now I wanted to contain it.” Reid-Marr said that moment, drawing the house, was a release that grew more significant as he continued to draw, and eventually to paint and sculpt. It was, he said, a reinvention of himself — the beginning of a lifelong process of learning that reinvention is possible.
“From an early age we have this notion that we must stick to one thing,” he said. “But so much of art is about the things that unfold, with implications you might not intend. With art it’s natural to follow the lead that comes from the work itself — not your thinking about the work.”
It is that freedom of expression, discovering the art within the work, that Reid-Marr teaches his students. “Teaching is the other thing that is so important to me,” he said. “When I go into that studio with students it is a sanctuary. I tell them ‘This is an object that has never been made before. Do you realize how special that is?’”
The IA Visual Arts Department is currently the largest at the school. Students come from many foreign countries. Reid-Marr said the challenge and the joy in teaching students from many different backgrounds is to break down emotional, cultural, personal and formal barriers so students can grow and find their way as young artists. “They’re allowed to make mistakes, as am I. That’s where the energy is. It’s so important to have the freedom to do so.
“What can be better than telling stories and making art together?” reflected Reid-Marr of his art and teaching career and of his personal journey.
For more information about Reid-Marr see www.reid-marr.com.