Jason Reed was not an artist the day he sold his first painting. He was an aspiring drummer managing performance artists — live painters — who paint in front of an audience, usually accompanied by a DJ or live music. He had recently established a design studio, and was booking painters to perform in nightclubs. When one of his performers didn’t show at a club in Corktown, he grabbed some paint and a piece of wood.
“This kid watched me all night,” Reed said. “He’s like, ‘Can I buy that?’ I had no idea what to charge him for it. I’d never made anything. He bought it and watched me paint all night.”
Reed had never painted before, never priced a piece for sale, and certainly never tried to create a work of art in front of an audience. The piece sold and Reed found a new passion. The next show he scheduled himself to paint.
“I’m not a social person, not a people person at all,” Reed said. “But for some reason I thrive off anxiety. I like putting myself in difficult situations — especially with painting — because I never really have a plan. I can always pull it off, but I’m doubting myself the whole time.”
Four weeks after creating his first piece Reed hosted his own show.
Born in Crystal Falls, a small town in the Upper Peninsula about 75 miles southwest of Marquette near the Wisconsin border, the only art Reed was exposed to in his youth was in flooring mills and trucking magazines. Reed experienced a narrow and off-putting view of art in high school. A teacher once tore down a piece of his work pronouncing the work — a multi-media piece composed of electrical tape and song lyrics — “Not art,” before discarding it. The memory still stings.
“She was the art… teacher,” Reed recalled. “I… Well, I can’t even talk right now, I’m so worked up, because it just blew my freaking mind.”
From those beginnings Reed went on to achieve a bachelors in Printing from Ferris State University and at 21 made his pilgrimage to Detroit.
Aspiring to be a musician, Reed quickly got involved with dance culture at raves in the city. The Detroit-born techno movement was exploding worldwide, and trailblazing artists were woefully behind in marketing themselves. Performers needed a designer to help promote their work. Reed made himself a designer — with no experience and no computer — a seemingly kneejerk reaction that he has repeated more than once. Reed stepped in and a print and design company — Klever Designs — was born. Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the business is still going strong working with clients in the event, entertainment, and nonprofit fields.
That decision to step in and fill a void for Detroit artists has become Reed’s calling card. He sees a need and acts. In 2011 Reed opened his own gallery, Start Gallery, to help unknown artists become known. “It was called Start Gallery because that’s what we did. Artists needed a start,” Reed said. Start was the foot in the door for many beginning artists. The space was located at Grand River and Broadway, just up the road from The Detroit Opera House. Being able to say they had a solo show in the Arts District of downtown was something that could give aspiring artists a serious leg up. Helping those artists resonated with Reed, and he began seeking active ways to highlight unknown artists. More importantly, he aspired to bring the public downtown, not only to his own gallery, but to experience the art scene as a whole. With these goals in mind he created ZIPR Magazine.
The Zenith Index of Public Record is, “the best of what’s going on right now in Detroit. It’s on record. It’s printed,” Reed said. “Anything can be on the Internet, but this is permanent.” Combining paper styles, finishes, overlays, and a Detroit gallery guide, each issue begins: “Print is dead. Long live print” — Reed’s way of underlining the concept of going out into the world to get information and experience things. Some things are meant to be seen live, read on paper, and held in hands, rather than seen on screens, advocates Reed.
“Zenith” means the highest point, or culmination, and that is what Reed aspires to with each edition. Reed wants his readers to have the best information and the first look at new talent emerging in the city. It’s “about finding art. Exposing people to art.” The compact publication is meant to be an experience like the days when magazines were the most effective way to communicate.
Reed puts to use his early career in printing to emulate other magazines that were the epitome of the lifestyle they promoted. “Thrasher Magazine for skateboarding and Metal Edge for music, things like that,” he said, and ZIPR is meant to be the one-stop-shop for those looking for what is happening in the Detroit art scene.
Reed has carefully curated every edition for artists, collectors, and all of Detroit. Acting as the publisher, printer, a writer, designer and advertiser, Reed has created a magazine deeply connected to himself, and the city. Highlighting artists from early 20th century sculptors to present day street artists, each edition is ripe with gems about the city art scene, restaurants, and even a sticker page featuring different artist designs.
“Get out of the frickin’ house, go get a magazine, get to these artists,” Reed directed.
As part of a mission to cultivate his own artistic voice Reed recently moved his workspace to Corktown Studios, an artist collective founded by architectural designer Jake Chidester and mixed media artist Alisyn Malek. Reed set up shop in a main-floor workspace in the studios, situated on the southwest corner of 14th Street and the still-cobbled Perry Street.
The studios have become a staple of the neighborhood since their conception in 2011. The space consists of roughly 3,000 square feet including a woodshop, gallery, kitchenette, and a unique backyard. Repurposed art installations are grouped across the lawn, the makings of their own sculpture garden. Pieces of twisted and welded metal run along one side, while a progression of elevated and warped bicycles — originally crafted for Dlectricity, a Detroit light-based art and technology festival — span the length of the sidewalk. The space itself houses mostly painters, but has been home to musicians and workers of other media as well.
Working like this, Reed said he has the ability to collaborate with artists he trusts, get more exposure, and grow in his craft. From here both Chidester and Reed hope to move Corktown Studios beyond the footprint of their venue and book shows in more prominent galleries.
For Reed, his personal vision has hit its stride, pulling inspiration from the timber-rich Upper Peninsula and his exposure to the trucking and automotive cultures from his youth. With nearly 5,000 followers on Facebook, and distribution through Juxtapoz Magazine booths at various art festivals, ZIPR is getting the word out about art in the city.
The Detroit art scene, while growing rapidly, is not nearly as intimidating as the scene is in cities like New York or Miami. Reed hopes it stays that way. “In those places a lot of people feel overlooked and that’s what the magazine is about. I hope it’s not a fad or trendy for art to be super-popular.”
With galleries seemingly emerging everywhere, the Detroit art scene is very much in the public eye — as is the city itself. “Everybody looks up to [Detroit] regardless of where they’re from,” Reed said. “So we can hold our own. At anything.”