A Video Store, an old movie theater, a small office/retail complex, and a motel that has clearly seen better days: these were the subjects of the acrylic paintings on display when I visited the studio of Artist Corey Reeves. The locations in these paintings seem banal. They are the sort of places you would drive right past and not think about; minutia of the urban landscape. But for Reeves, these places carry a certain vibe. They possess a quality that is both uncanny and unnerving, “almost like it isn’t quite real, like something out of a dream or a movie.” When asked where the interest in these kinds of places came from, Reeves told me he had moved quite a bit in his life. “… We’re talking small farming towns, middle of nowhere in the desert, tourist trap in the mountains, the city. There’s always these kinds of places around them, no matter where you go.”
Cinema is also a major source of influence for Reeves. Each of the paintings looks like it could be the first frame of an establishing shot. Take, for example, his work 711. This painting depicts the exterior of an aging motel, its neon signs glowing red in the dark night. It evokes The Bates Motel in Hitchcok’s Pycho or the Regal Motor Hotel in The Cohen brother’s No Country for Old Men. (The Travelers Inn from Euphoria came straight to my mind). It’s probably not the kind of place one would want to frequent. You doubt anything good is happening there.
Each painting peers at its location from an eye-level perspective, as if the viewer themselves happened upon these buildings. They lack any depiction of people, a very intentional decision of the artist. For Reeves, this creates a sense of ambiguity. Are these buildings functional? Are they abandoned? “That realization, ‘I’m here alone’, plays with the viewer’s reaction,” Reeves told me. “The places are the characters.” Knowing this, I found the buildings not the ultimate subject of the work, but instead the viewer. The buildings are merely characters, conduits for one to project feeling and narrative.
I was curious if the work contained any kind of social or economic commentary. Videos stores are (almost) extinct, theaters are closing in mass, and budget motels are disappearing. These kinds of businesses are subject to market forces, and their literal structural decay is a sign that capital has fled elsewhere. Reeves tells me that he often gets that interpretation of the work, but it’s not really his intent, more a side effect of the type of locations that he is drawn towards. Reeves is trying to tap into something psychological, to shift the viewer into an “in-between state… a place that makes you feel unsettled, somewhere that makes you feel like you’re living in a dream.” He is also looking to challenge the viewer’s expectations, his work asking: What kind of payoff are you looking to get? This is taken to an extreme In a video piece to be displayed alongside his paintings at the upcoming thesis exhibition. In this work, an old television outfitted with a VHS player shows a compilation of old security footage in which nothing much of interest really happens. At some point, the viewer has to ask themselves: Why am I watching this? What am I expecting to happen? It’s probably a question we should ask more often, even if it takes us to some unsettling places.
This post is part of a series in collaboration with the 2023 UH MFA Exhibition at the Blaffer Museum of Art, and written in partnership with the London-based Curator Maribelle Bierens, founder of the online platform where's the frame?