Andrew Reach's Diagnosis Led to the End of One Career and the Beginning of Another

Sometimes, moments in life that initially appear to be tragedies eventually prove to be opportunities. With perseverance, hard work and a positive attitude, life's unexpected obstacles can sometimes pull us from where we are to where we need to go. Architect-turned-artist Andrew Reach is a great example of that evolution, and his latest exhibition, Bits in Pieces, debuts this Friday at the Maria Neil Art Project in Waterloo, giving you a chance to see for yourself. The exhibition is part of this month's Walk All Over Waterloo weekend event.

"Andrew Reach is a remarkable artist. His colorful and imaginative work, as well as his own, often challenging, personal journey is the embodiment of the strength of the human spirit," says Adam Tully, co-owner of the gallery with his fiancé John Farina. "We are very proud to show his newest works in our latest exhibition to kick off the new year in vivid color."

"Often art is so much more than just a visual," adds Farina. "Sometimes there is a compelling story behind the art and the artist. Andrew is one of those artists. To know how he has risen above such things that might otherwise cause others to just give up makes viewing his work all the more powerful."

Reach was born in Miami in 1962. By high school, he knew he wanted to be an architect. In 1983, he moved to Greenwich Village with his partner of now more than 30 years, Bruce Baumwoll, to attended the Pratt Institute. Reach and Baumwoll moved to Los Angeles in 1986, before returning to Miami in 1997. By 2004, Reach had developed a very successful career as an architect and hopscotched around the country.

During adolescence, Reach's spine began displaying signs of Scheuermann's Kyphosis, an abnormal curvature where the spine curves forward. Reach's curvature eventually got so extreme that his internal organs were impacted, and life-saving surgery was required in 2003. During this first operation, surgeons attempted to correct the curvature by fusing more than two-thirds of his spine with rods and screws.

A complication unfortunately resulted. "Your head is falling off your spine," his surgeon told him in basic terms. A second surgery was required to extend the rods and screws. The procedure left him unable to perform the physical requirements of his chosen career.

"Prior to 2004 I was a practicing architect," explains Reach. "After becoming disabled and unable to continue in my chosen profession, I rechanneled my creative energies from architect to fine artist. I use digital tools to create my work as painting them would prove too physically difficult. Making art is an important part of my therapeutic daily regimen that keeps me balanced both physically and spiritually."

After the surgeries, the pain from his spine took control of Reach, physically and emotionally. His partner noticed Reach slipping into a deep depression. Baumwoll urged Reach to learn Photoshop and channel his emotions into art, and Reach began with a Valentine's Day card using images from Baumwoll's collection of vintage items around their home. In an effort to further encourage Reach, Baumwoll purchased a large format Epson fine art printer, allowing Reach to display his work around their home and find inspiration to keep creating.

"My art is inextricably tied to technology -- the software to make it, the hardware required of the software to render images, the printer to translate it from computer code to the real world," he explains. "All these things are required if I am going to be able to make it and share it. It is a construction project of sorts. I build with color and shapes, putting pieces together to build the whole composition. Making these artworks re-energizes me and I hope they do the same for you."

Bits in Pieces includes Reach's latest large-scale, geometric digital prints, smaller "whimsies" (as Reach refers to them) and new 3-D printed mixed media sculptures, called Model Citizens. "I wanted to explore ways of making sculpture digitally," says Reach. "I've been enjoying the process of working with 3D printing. I'm mixing other digital fabrication technology into them; parts in wood are cut on a CNC Router that is basically a cutting robot, and the stainless steel base has its pattern laser cut on a laser cutter, another cutting robot.

"In my quest to embrace technology to have a voice, I am just beginning to embark to explore this technology in my art," he continues. "As an architect, three-dimensional form is always in the background. Making sculptures would be too physically demanding. But when I first learned of 3-D printing it occurred to me that here was a medium that I could produce sculpture without the physicality involved, thus giving me a new avenue of creative expression."

His second life and second career emerged as an outlet and a therapy of sorts.

"I now feel blessed that I have been able to discover a different kind of artist lying dormant within me," reflects Reach. "As my art has evolved, I have learned to use the power of intuition and visualization to help me cope with my condition, and am continually inspired by the mindfulness of my body, my pain, and my limitations. With my work, the ultimate goal is to hopefully create something of beauty that is embodied with energy that speaks to the human condition of the magic that is the imagination."

Both the exhibition and opening reception are free and open to the public.

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