IVYDALE, W.Va. -- In his studio in Harlem, he paints. On the farm in Ivydale, he sculpts -- but not in the usual sense. There's nothing usual about Brian Reed.
Nourished by the contrasting cacophony of New York City and the serenity of West Virginia, the 27-year-old Clay County native produces psychedelic paintings and components for elaborate, offbeat art installations with mystical themes.
His current installation at the Stifel Fine Arts Center in Wheeling features old locust fence posts from the Ivydale farm. He decorated them with objects collected since boyhood -- bottle caps, corks, corncobs, rail spikes and rattlesnake rattles, for starters.
Convinced that icons and rituals from different cultures evoke universal emotions, he draws heavily on mythology, folklore and spiritual symbolism for inspiration.
His father died when he was 17. Grief and family turmoil overwhelmed him. Later, a farm accident left him partially paralyzed for nearly a year.
Through the imagery in his art, he shares a story of optimism grounded in despair.
"I first lived in Clay and moved here to the farm when I was 7. There weren't many children my age locally, so I mostly stuck to myself and explored the countryside with my golden retriever.
"James Boggs on my mother's side was a Confederate general. He had 17 sons and daughters and gave each one a farm, and this is one of them.
"My father worked in the oil and gas industry, developing leases and properties. My mother was a nurse and did health advocacy for rural communities in Clay County.
"I wanted to be something in science, like an archeologist or anthropologist, going to far-away countries and learning about cultures and digging up dinosaur bones.
"I have a huge arrowhead collection. I would go out to the leases with my dad. They would grade soil off the ridge to make a road. When it rained, I would find all kinds of arrowheads.
"I would always walk and pick up stuff. I kept wondering what I was going to do with 10,000 shark teeth and all these seashells and fossils.
"I won my first award in a youth show at the Cultural Center. It was a painting, a Monet scene in France. I must have been 10 or 11. I was always talented in art class. I took lessons from Sandra King, a pastel landscape artist.
"I started taking art classes when I was 15. My teacher started entering me in shows and tried to help me understand that I could have a career in art.
"There is no handbook to being an artist. Each person's journey is very different, and you discover it as you go. If I couldn't do this, I would cease to be. You don't choose it; it chooses you.
"I took classical piano lessons in Charleston and developed that with my art. I went to the Governor's School for the Arts when I was 15. I went for music instead of visual arts. I really advocate that program.
"My father was killed in a car accident when I was 17. I couldn't think about anything else. There were a lot of difficult situations legally with his estate that denied us hardly any money.
"Art took over as a coping mechanism. I could spend hours working and didn't have to think about painful things.
"I had enough credits to graduate, so I stopped going to school the last half of my senior year. I really honed my talents then. My art teacher knew I was going through difficult times. She helped me prepare a portfolio for art school.
"She was very instrumental in helping me realize that the next step was for me to go to James Madison University in Virginia. It opened up a whole new world for me.
"I didn't know a soul at James Madison. I made friends slowly. Most of my time was spent in the studio. Then I would practice piano for two or three hours. It was a very inward journey. James Crable was a teacher there and a fairly famous artist. He expanded my mind into conceptual and modern art. From that, there was no holding back.
"I started using different materials and started to create from my imagination more than scenes I could see in life. It was a big transition from landscapes and portraits.