It’s not everyday you meet someone that has displayed their work in the High Museum, Clark Atlanta University, Hartsfield Jackson International Airport, Fulton County Arts Council, the Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs, and Agnes Scott College. However, Westminster’s very own Mr. Reese has accomplished this great feat. Mr. Michael Reese is an Upper School graphic design and photography teacher with an extensive artistic history.
“I come from a family of artists, and since as long as I can remember I’ve drawn and painted,” said Reese. “My mother was an artist, so everything was very familiar to me from early on. In elementary school, I discovered I could draw really well and that my brothers could draw really well; art was always with me.”
It was this passion that allowed Reese to eventually discover his niche in the visual arts community. Although seemingly simple, discovering this niche proved to be a challenge in its own right.
“I tried out a lot of things before I told myself I was going to be an artist, and a lot of those things I failed at,” said Reese. “In a beautiful way, I was sort of whittled down and reduced to being a photographer.”
This reduction process took time, and so graphic design and photography became a relatively late interest in Reese’s life. His interest in photography expanded over time, and then quickly snowballed into his love for graphic design.
“Photography just completely overwhelmed me. I stopped drawing and stopped painting so I could focus all my attention to it,” said Reese.
This focus has since paid off, with Reese having his art displayed in a multitude of locations around Atlanta. He even has a gallery representing him called Sandler Hudson.
Creating such high-quality art for numerous people to view is by no means an easy task. It does, however, become more feasible when the subject is one of interest to the artist. Projects that hold special meaning to Reese have a more organic creative process than those that do not.
“I do work that I’m passionate about.” said Reese. “That’s what makes my passion projects so special, because as a photographer I often get asked to do things I’m not so excited about.”
Consider, for example, Reese’s work on the Tuskegee Airmen. The opportunity to create art for his childhood heroes was not something he would easily pass up.
“I’ve always had a deep interest, since I was young, of the Tuskegee Airmen,” said Reese. “When that commission came up and I wrote a proposal, it came from a very deep and emotional place.”
Reese soon won the commission, and his work is now a permanent public art installation for the city of Atlanta. Even the ten years Reese served as the Atlanta Jazz Festival’s photographer held special meaning to him.
“I’m a huge jazz head; it’s a music I love, so my work there truly resonates with me,” said Reese.
Seeing as how much of his work is conceptual, Reese hopes that the viewer will strive to understand the purpose behind each of his art pieces. Whether that meaning involves aviation, music, culture, or even his own family history Reese inspires his viewers to thoroughly comprehend the art before them.
“My goal with art is to have people walk away from the work with deeper thinking on what I’m talking about,” he said. “I don’t necessarily enjoy creating art that says, ‘Hey, look at this pretty landscape,’ without some sort of meaning to substantiate it.”
As a teacher in the Upper School, Reese hopes that his students’ work will have the same impact that his own does. Sophomore May Lebby Thompson has taken both Graphic Design 1 and 2 with Reese, and has a positive opinion about her class experience.
“He gives us a lot of freedom,” said Thompson. “The assignments in class are structured, but within those constraints we can do whatever our creativity tells us.”
Such artistic freedom is important in inspiring young artists to become engaged with their work.
“Mr. Reese comes up with a lot of intriguing projects to motivate us in different ways artistically, both in design and photography,” said senior Frances Brown.
This teaching style has also helped draw more students to the program, since graphic design is relatively unexplored branch of visual arts.
“Before taking this class I didn’t know much about art besides drawing and painting, but I really discovered a whole new side to it,” said Thomson.
Reese’s ability to help people explore different creative avenues, and enjoy doing so, is one of the reasons he is so admired by his students. It is this same admiration which pushes students to perform their best on every assignment.
“I want to be a graphic design major in college, so watching Mr. Reese work and carry out his creative process is inspiring to me,” said Brown. “It pushes me to be more creative and work harder when I see the level of art my teacher can produce.”
Reese’s breathtaking work can be found in a variety of places, but if you want to easily find out more about his career and pieces, check out michaelreesestudios.com. Additionally, you can find more of his work on the Sandler Hudson Gallery website by going to the artist page and selecting Michael Reese. Once there you will discover a host of meaningful pictures, all created by one of Westminster’s finest.