Brent: It seems to me that no matter where you position yourself to take these paintings in there are always two states forthcoming, though perhaps not always on view at the same time. Separately these different moods evoke, for example in ‘Full Cleveland’ or ‘Happy Hour’, the carnival and serene. When the two states mesh, it’s generally considered that a third state arrives. Though in your paintings, Richard, the third state is already there, as a three-dimensional completed painting, something that we need to move around to see.
In ‘Plywood Violin’ the mood swings are less obvious, perhaps operating more as object/surface/spatial disorientation—naughty austere.
Richard: Mentioning “states” and “moods” is an interesting way to begin our discussion of paintings that are extremely abstract and highly reductive – and it pleases me. First of all, I do not consciously try to insert meaning into the paintings; though I am delighted that the paintings are seen as carriers of moods and that they contain such readings or multiple readings. I am interested in and draw ideas from a wide range of artifacts and disciplines such as product and package design, visual perception, nature, architecture, popular culture, custom cars, and fashion. As these influences interact with specific formal concerns, as well as my riffing on the three-dimensional structure of the support, it is hoped that a certain power/depth is achieved in the fusion. “Full Cleveland” for example, when viewed frontally, is a straightforward horizontal stripe configuration, but when informed by its side-view, the stripes become components of a dynamic red and white object that appears to be formed by extrusion. In the end, I expect the paintings to be open to anything, conceptually informal rather than formal – so, your observation of “Plywood Violin” – “naughty austere,” sits well with me. I much like this quotation by Vitaly Komar (on the work of Komar and Melamid) in relationship to my work and to painting in general: “Generally, art wavers between being closer to a book or closer to a rug – more conceptual or more decorative. Our work is somewhere in between. We try to make conceptual rugs.”
Brent: I noticed in your last email you mentioned something interesting about the paint ‘delivery’. You wrote, “I don’t think there is much to be seen. In other words — the paintings are very flat and super matte — no brushstrokes or other events to notice – no magic in the paint application. They are painted with Flashe paint.”
Richard: True – flat, matte, straightforward paint application is an important aspect of my work, but it doesn’t carry it. If there is magic, it is in the total sensibility – how all the parts come together, and how they are read.
Brent: The paintings are small and all the same size. What brought you to those choices?
Richard: At present, painting for me is like returning home. I painted for many years, then for approximately ten years my practice became more conceptual – creating collections of contemporary material culture. I returned to painting in 2006 with a renewed and revitalized interest, fueled by conceptualism and informed by postmodern attitudes. In this light, I am pleased with the anti-heroic stance these paintings take. When I started painting again I had no idea what the work would look like – that was a pretty exciting moment. I did a number of different things to start, but the first small painting that dealt with the painting’s sides really resonated. Its box-like proportions allowed a wide range of new issues, both formal and content related, to enrich my practice. So, I just stuck with the same scale and proportions. In the beginning, I thought, “OK, I did ten of these, I don’t think there are any more possibilities for a format so diminutive.” But, new paintings keep coming and ideas just bubble up, so I’m sticking with the limitations for now – while they are productive. Sometimes, I look at these little paintings and think, “What the hell am I doing? These paintings are the size of a shoebox!” But when they are completed, they occupy the wall with real authority. So, I think there is something important going on here. One other thing that relates to the size consistency is the fact that my previous practice was collecting. These paintings are very connected to what a rock or butterfly collection is about, but now I am making my own ideal collection.
Brent: Could you explain ‘making my own ideal collection’ a little more?
Richard: Well, having utilized collecting as a working method for past work, I am very sensitive to the idea of collecting and classification as a methodology for creating art and, more importantly, for ordering the world. I have come to see most everything as a collection – the furniture in your house is a collection of furniture and you are the curator. Likewise, an artist’s oeuvre is a self-created collection. My new paintings, being small and all exactly the same size, call attention to the fact that they are a set of objects whose inclusions I am carefully controlling.
Brent: An early work ‘Allsorts’ dated 2006, which must be among the earliest of the small box works, and appears to play with scale in a loosely associated way. I’m thinking liquorices with the front and back layer peeled off… how small those things are… then the scale of the painting and the visual flip back to the confectionary… the odd scaling through this association, and the actual formal sturdiness of the design, and the box.
I might be right off track, but that’s what I’m getting.
Also this absence, the black space in the middle, the emptiness, the candy each side, reads very playful, but also moves towards gestalt.
Richard: “Allsorts,” the painting, is only loosely related to the candy, allsorts. I certainly had much fun looking at a wide range of those little confections. Allsorts candies, like many other confections, are constructed by layering sweet pastes, licorice, etc. (material/color) and then slicing through those layers to form small pieces. It is the notion of a polychrome object that is formed by a process other than the application of paint to a surface that really interests me and expands my visual vocabulary.
Brent: The paintings appear very worked out. Do you make models first?
Drawings? Or do you stick paper covers over a ready-made box, and then go back and rework the image or structure? Or does it all come together is some miraculous way? I’m very interested in the process you use to get to the stage where you can paint the information in.
Richard: First I am always making sketches – just rough, crude notations really – as I get ideas or see things around me that generate ideas. But the real action takes place as I paint on constructed wood supports that are exactly the same size as the finished paintings but are not the paintings; they are the place for generating ideas, finding and resolving paintings. These preliminary supports allow me to try many configurations fairly quickly – they are quite roughly painted and I also use masking tape that I collect in numerous colors – whatever will allow me to get a good sense of a configuration. These preliminary paintings are somewhat like full-scale prototypes. I say this is where the action is because everything happens in this stage of the painting. I usually start with one idea and then get other thoughts—which I follow, repeatedly painting and taping new thoughts, new variations directly on a single preliminary support. I take digital photographs of every configuration; in this way I maintain a record of all stages of each painting’s development and an archive of possibilities. This may seem surprising, but not unlike abstract expressionist paintings, my paintings evolve and are resolved through a lengthy process of feints and jabs, hunches and discoveries. When a right conclusion presents itself, I paint the final work on a new support.
Brent: With furniture the first thing you become aware of is the function [semantics], then the design – the sculptural thing in space; the weight, the lines, and the color, when or if used. Though in painting many of these things carry on in an almost virtual way: The design, space, object, weight, line and or color. Each part, at least what I would consider a major part + function of painting, arrives in a syncopated way to drive a ‘shift’. The elements come together not necessarily as something totally disclosed, in your face, all at once, but as a ‘total’, whose sum of parts unravel, move us into a different sensual awareness, perhaps even past the something to just look at, as we sit in on the couch. Richard you work with both furniture design and painting. Any insights you would like to offer?
Richard: I have an extremely democratic view of esthetics – flat, no categorical hierarchies. In any object, I look for a kind of intelligent sensitivity. Whether or not an object is art or non-art, made by hand or by machine, decorative or functional, unique or one of thousands makes little difference to me. What really excites me, as a viewer, is discovering a display of heart and mind. Furniture itself is a more democratic medium than art. Few of us can afford a Noguchi sculpture but most of us can afford a Noguchi lamp. Both sculpture and lamp embody the same power – a life of thoughtful creativity – Noguchi’s very unique sensibility. Furniture has been the subject matter and inspiration for numerous artists throughout history and has been admired by modern and contemporary artists for its humble vernacular use-value (Shaker furniture is a good example). These modern and contemporary artists desired to make art objects that would participate in the ordinary lives of viewers, naturally and without the pretensions of so-called high art. I am very proud to be part of the tradition of artist-designers that includes Harry Bertoia, Isamu Noguchi, Donald Judd, James Hyde, and many others. In short, furniture design is not only closely related to painting and to sculpture, but these design and art practices inform each other in ways that are provocative and philosophical.
Brent: Thank you Richard.
I’ve been really enjoying these interviews, you are an archivist collector. Roth’s boxes are delicious and funny – far from restrained – and I’m really enjoying the context for furniture that interests him. There’s something right about visual delight, rolling-in-the mouth sweets, and practical needs fitting together well.
Thanks Catherine. Just realized that you have a new blog, which I’m now about to read.
I am very curious how you discovered his work.