“Jim Richard at Arthur Roger”, Art in America


by Simeon Hunter, ART IN AMERICA

Facing the Collection, 1999

Jim Richard forces together elements of visual culture that are rich in connotations of social hierarchy and the diversity of taste. His paintings are like American food: flat, rich, irradiated and filled with chemical additives. He frames his cultural codes as domestic interiors, always unpeopled and usually crammed with possessions, spaces so filled with emptiness, they ache. By evacuating the human subject from the environment, Richard implicates the viewer. Smilingly, we are held responsible for our knowledge, our tastes and our desires–consummated or otherwise.

Richard’s claustrophobic interiors feature period furniture, kitsch objects and art works of a mostly generic modernist flavor. The pastiches are cunning, funny and very, very dry. Certain titles parody the pride of ownership (Collector’s Chair, 1998; Collector’s Corner, 2000); others seem to describe formal options in abstract painting (Round and Straight, Polka-Dot Passage, both 2000). Collectors of Richard’s work enjoy the privilege of owning jokes at their own expense.

The artist’s own “collecting” is represented here as well. His image archive has been torn from magazines, half-remembered from movies and diligently learned in art-history classes. Richard’s skill in obliging oil paint (and oil pastel) to behave in the manner of the most cleanly executed screen prints is astonishing. Whatever obsession leads him to paint flocked wallpaper in a hard-edged Pop style may be overwhelming, but it is also purposeful.

In Facing the Collection (1999), Richard uses that wallpaper as the backdrop for a staggering series of artifacts. The scene–worthy of Hitchcock’s Rear Window–is framed up dead center. In the foreground, a large, metal, corporate-looking sculpture sprawls before a modern hearth. Above the sculpture hangs a dubious, Arp-like abstraction in a gilded 19th-century frame, provenance doubtful. To the left, a piecrust table with ’50s lamp, vase and roses stands beneath a cheap graphic landscape and a Mannerist sex romp. To the right, a painting of Roman soldiers hangs above a Regency chair. Did I omit the wainscoting? All of this is executed in the most restrained manner, in a muted palette and with Richard’s unfailing crispness and correctly rendered shadows.

Fine, fake, historical, pop and kitsch together evoke a decadence that feels true to New Orleans, where contradictions are the norm and where the esthetic of pastiche requires little manipulation on the artist’s part. Richard’s work can be charming, even playful, but in that particularly Southern way, where, with a smile and a few soft words, people are able to make you feel extremely uncomfortable without actually being rude.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Brant Publications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group