Dusty Reed has always collected odds and ends – used grinding wheels, gears and bells from an old clock, scraps of wood, wire, nails, nuts and bolts.
For a long time he would keep them in a junk drawer, as “normal people,” a phrase he used for non-artists. He couldn’t bring himself to throw them away.
“When I wasn’t doing art, I was collecting things and arranging them in different ways and thinking, ‘This could be it,’ but I never did them,” Reed said.
Today you can see all of these items and more – industrial spray insulation, anyone? — in his mixed media artwork exhibited at the Lafayette Art Association.
One wall has a face made of palm leaves glued to an old lid. Another cap is outlined by paintbrushes with dried paint on the bristles. They are all used in his other paintings.
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“I thought it was the biggest and best way to tell a story,” he said. “These brushes have told a thousand stories.”
The gallery walls also have his paintings, which were once all he did. Now he also makes three-dimensional works by adding his baubles to the painted surfaces.
Sometimes he then translates this work into a one-dimensional painting. The options are endless.
Reed, 41, grew up in Lafayette and studied art all four years at Comeaux High School. He considered going to art college, but instead studied secondary education, earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
He taught English for about a year and then returned to art.
“Teaching is part of me,” he admits. “This is what I love. But I decided to be an artist.”
Reed sold his paintings to people outside of Lafayette, but wanted to open a gallery in his hometown. He did and sold out, realizing he needed to create more inventory to fill his gallery. He started making things out of found objects.
For the past three years, Reed has worked at the Lafayette Arts Association, of which he is now president. His showroom includes many of his paintings alongside his mixed media works, the sharp angles and bright colors confirming his moniker “Cajun Picasso”.
A painting shows a blue man with a pointed nose and elbows scrubbing an angled washboard with rectangular fingers.
Next to it is a 3D face cut from a metal washboard, painted and decorated with beads and buttons.
“The things I have to throw away are my most wanted things,” Reid said.
It’s just part of being a folk artist, he explained. Reid finds things as he lives his life and then uses them to create something out of nothing, he said. It’s also what he hopes draws people to his art, like the bells that ring when you stroke them.
“Most of my work I want to be touched,” Reid said. “That’s what I love about mixed media. People are curious. I like things that are tactile.”
“We all have a need as humans to create”
Reed has always incorporated Louisiana elements with a folk art feel into his paintings, which explains the Cajun part of his name, and his use of the Cubist style appeals to the Picasso part.
“Art is meant to express, to communicate,” he said, and folk art-Cubism was his language.
Reid eschews glue and instead finds mechanical solutions like nails that connect two parts and serve as eyelashes around a metal puck for an eye.
His paintings include sections defined by black lines. In one corner is an angular alligator above a crab claw, fish and other Louisiana elements.
“I want the whole canvas to tell a story, not just part of it,” Reid said.
There is more of his art in his study at the back of the building. Inside, there are wooden blocks decorated with metal dresses, rusty nails for legs and feet, and brown “gumballs” of American sweet gum as heads.
His desk is lined with tulips carved from wood and painted in different colors, paying homage to his “Mawmaw Fontenot”. Their crafty aesthetic is a nod to the crafts she would design in the 1980s.
“I create every day,” he said. “If I don’t do it, I think I’ll create.”
Reid encourages others to do the same.
“We all have a need as humans to create,” he said. “It’s all about not worrying about what you can’t control.
“What people want is a part of you – something that looks beautiful and is a part of you. Don’t over think it. Just do it. Just create.”