James Reed is a South African visual artist currently living in Portland, Oregon. He holds a Masters of Art in Social Sculpture with distinction from Oxford Brookes University, United Kingdom (2007). He works in diverse genres of visual art and social practice, much of the time aimed at generating conversation and cultural change. At PLAYA, he reveled in viewing the night sky, dialoguing with his fellow residents and staff, painting beautiful new works, and hammering with all his might on metal pipe in the facilities shop to shape new forms of art.

James, what led you to PLAYA?

I discovered PLAYA while looking for a residency that supported an art, ecology, and environmental science focus. I was new to Portland, Oregon, and felt a deep need for starting a visual art process away from the city that would give me space. I applied, was put on a waiting list, and later was called to attend.

Did you come to work on a specific project? If so, did you make progress on it?

I came to PLAYA to work on two drawings, but a third one emerged as I was immersed in the dark sky. I also thought that I needed to look at the world more broadly and in depth, which did come about. I was interested in the dark sky, which led me to invite some residents onto the playa one night to see what would emerge, a kind of experiment with the dark as a material to think from within.

My work is a process of questioning, shaping, and discovering how to be human. The environment at PLAYA supported my sinking deeply into that process. The land and sky were patient and generous, helping to quiet my mind and showing me how to let go of my city rhythm.

Mixed media on paper, copyright 2019 James Reed.

How did the land and waterscapes here affect your work?

When I think of my work as a process of questioning, shaping, and discovering a way to be a human being, then having this environment to live in enabled a process of sinking deeply into a profound sensibility. Tuning into the rhythm of my mind works well in quiet solitude, when walking, and when letting the land and sky encourage my mind to wonder. The land and waterscapes took care of me—and for that I’d give something in return, like a conversation.

I worked very diligently to bring my finest sensibility and quality of being into the world as a way to give back to this huge support for me.

Did the other residents and their creativity change your own approach?

Everyone at PLAYA, the residents and facilitators, with their elegant ecological intelligence, all influenced me. Their stories lived with me on my walks as I looked out into the playa. I thought I could meet the ancient people who walked with me on the land here. I thought about the environment’s position. All of the layers of people taking the time to be in touch with their fine sensibilities and relying on them to bring what is emerging into the world was very inspiring.

Even in our short time here, we residents experienced our evolutionary potential. It influenced me to be among others who are involved with this in their ways. I realized how we inhibit our experience when we interpret anything with givens. My deep concern is that we do not make a space for this kind of sensibility to shape our thinking and our ways of being.

The talk Dan Mayer gave inspired me to feel that drawing with text was possible. Lola’s stories about miso — fermentation, finding the shape of her book — inspired me because I could hear the careful kind of thought that she relied on to see this and share it.

Richie’s and Katelyn’s stories of their work in the Paisley Caves brought our imaginations in touch with the ancient people here. My thoughts became very clear when I heard this.

Other inspirations:
Madeleine’s and Ingrid’s stories of relying on feelings that were inspired here and that directed their writing.
Hearing their stories and writing, which acknowledged my relationship with the land and nurtured it with the ability that came alive here.
Barbara’s view of how the environment witnesses us in our lives.

These were profound insights to wonder with and have the ability to look from the environment’s position. It is a vey clear view when you look from this position. I felt that I carry many responsibilities toward the land and all beings when I lived with this view for a few days.

Seeing all of these layers from people taking time to be in touch with their fine sensibilities and bring what is emerging into the world is very inspiring. I think it is so because it is our evolutionary potential we are taking care of. Even during this short moment at PLAYA, we experienced something of this, and it influenced me to be among others who are involved with this in their ways. They take the time to enliven this ability.

James Reed at work, not at PLAYA.

Describe a typical day at PLAYA.

Photograph the playa, draw, photograph the playa, walk on the hill or playa, photograph the playa, draw, read, write, photograph the playa, draw, read, write at 3 a.m., draw at 4 a.m.

What were some highlights for you?

Getting clarity about some confusion that comes from waiting for someone to liberate you. Being on the playa with other residents. Realizing how we inhibit our experience when we interpret them with the givens. Using text to start a drawing process.

Conversations on the playa.
Conversations at dinner.
Conversations with Rebecca, Chelsea, Mark, and Shawna (and enjoying her cooking).
The trees.
The land.
The darkness.


Edge effects in ecological science are the “influences of border communities upon each other” (Brittanica.com). PLAYA alumni, friends, guests, and neighbors are invited to submit blog posts that explore the diverse influences experienced here or because of time spent with us—whether the effects are among disciplines, environments, relationships, or communities. Email PLAYA’s Executive Director to join this conversation.