His efforts have produced lasting public art pieces around Yuma and have been recognized with a variety of awards. One painting was even displayed in the halls of Congress.
“I can look at a scene, memorize it, and put it on canvas,” Reta said. “I wish I could remember books like that.”
From earliest childhood, Reta was constantly drawing. He recalls falling asleep watching videos of the noted public television painter Bob Ross and took advantage of every art class he could by the time he entered school.
“I drew and painted on my own as a kid and thought I wanted to paint murals,” Reta said. “I took a course at Gila Vista Junior High and had a great teacher who showed me shade, shape and shadow, from that class on, I took off on my own.”
Reta taught himself how to work with other mediums such as airbrushing and pastels. In High school, he learned ceramics for sculpting and making pottery. Among other things, he made a decorative fountain of the school’s Criminal mascot that still stands in the triangle located at Yuma High School. As a senior, he joined 6,000 other high school students nationwide in a National Merit of Fine Arts competition, and took first place in Arizona. The honor took him and his painting to Capitol Hill to meet Yuma’s then-congressman Ed Pastor, and received coverage through the local media NBC’s Today show. His artwork stood in the halls of the Capital for three years representing one of Arizona’s top Artists during that time.
The most notable local success, however, was being hired by the Yuma Private Industry Council to teach at-risk teens to draw and paint murals.
“The program I was involved with tried to gear high-risk students toward taking their artistic talents and using them in a way that was productive to society,” Reta explained.
The class’ major project Reta designed was to paint two murals at Yuma’s Carver Park: one of sand dunes at sunset and the other mural represents the four corners of Arizona. The mural of the dunes at sunset was produced solely by Reta. Whereas the four corners mural was delegated for the class to complete. The sky portion on four corners mural had to be produced solely by Reta since OSHA Regulations at the time prevented the students from scaffolding 40 ft off the ground. The class was fun, Reta recalls, and word of mouth soon increased the number of participants.
“I started out with a class of 15,” Reta recalled. “By the time the course was over, I had 45 students.” The program ended, but the murals remain along with the lives they touched
He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration and a Master’s in Public Management at Northern Arizona University’s (NAU) Yuma campus. He also served as the student body’s vice president of finance for the NAU college branch in Yuma. While in school, though, he took elective classes in art and photography. At one point he entered a school-wide talent show to display his artistic abilities.
Reta continues to paint and enter his artwork into local competitions. He is a perennial winner at the Yuma County Fair’s annual art competition, boasting more than a dozen ribbons for outstanding achievement and with grand champion ribbons. Reta says he participates for fun and doesn’t consciously plan to produce award-winning canvasses.
THE ARTIST Erik Reta Story by Journalist Mark Schauer