New American Paintings South #124
Spotlight : Jim Richard [Issue #106] Speaks to Michael Wilson
Since the late 1970s, New Orleans artist Jim Richard has been making paintings, drawings, and collages in which art-stuffed modernist interiors melt into multihued graphic fields. Devoid of inhabitants, his signature claustrophobic spaces are visual essays on taste and influence, composed as if with maximum disorientation in mind. Drawing on home decorating magazines and furniture advertisements as well as art-historical tomes, Richard inserts his own selections of objects and images into high-end domestic settings, imaging private lives for his chosen artifacts by refusing them the customary cleanliness of museum presentation. The results are sometimes-chaotic jumbles of colors and forms that appear far removed from the kind of consistency that an artist or dealer might hope for from a discerning and sensitive collector.
Richard renders his riotous fictional assemblies in a flat, hard-edged, almost cartoonlike style that privileges color and pattern over texture and depth-think, say, Patrick Caulfield. He takes a collagist’s approach even to drawing and painting, producing composite impressions of not-entirely-possible realities. Richard’s sensibility has been compared to Richard Hamilton’s in his Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?, 1956. “I was captivated by a combination of the juggernaut of Pop Art and the edgy movements of Chicago and California Funk,” he remembers. “I shook off the Funk influences over time, but clung to a frozen cartoon realism that I felt kept my
Pop credentials intact.” But where Hamilton’s collage focuses on the intrusion of mass media imagery into the domestic realm, Richard’s imagine something like the reverse – domestic interiors in which refined art objects adopt a kitschy, decorative air. “ I draw no hard line between irony and sincerity,” he states.
While the artifacts that fill Richard’s interiors come from all over the world, the ways in which they are gathered and displayed reflects a distinctly American spirit of acquisitiveness – not entirely indiscriminate, but sufficiently catholic to allow for the gleeful piling of aesthetic on counter-aesthetic [“I enjoy the curatorial aspect of planning my paintings,” he deadpans.] This lends his project a satirical edge, critiquing as it does our tendency to drain once-revolutionary artworks of their power by hoarding them as possessions, static badges of wealth and status rather than fluid manifestations of interconnected contexts. In typically uncompromising fashion, New York Times critic Ken Johnson described the work’s spaces as “the places where art goes to die.” It might sound like a put-down of the artist, but is in fact a supportive – albeit bleak-sounding – reading of his work’s effect.
Back in 2005, during Hurricane Katrina, Richard’s studio took on nine feet of water, costing the artist forty years of work and documentation and occasioning a temporary move to Austin. Back in New Orleans, he used a salvaged bag of cut-out fragments to begin a new series of paintings that he calls “emblems,” in which perspective takes a back seat to scenes derived more directly from the mix-and-[mis]match technique. Richard’s current practice incorporates both these emphases, and is characterized too by a range of approaches to pattern and color in which strategically applied inconsistencies make for a still-more-disorienting mix that at times verges on abstraction. He has also branched out from painting interiors to represent gardens, layering paintings and sculptures over idyllic floral displays like so many exotic varietals in canvases like Art in the Garden, 2015, and Garden with Modernism, 2016.
In 2012, Richard had a solo exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art titled Make Yourself at Home. It was something of a belated homecoming – he first showed at the museum in 1978, at the start of his career. In her catalogue essay “Love and Bad Things: Pull Up a Chair with Jim Richard,” curator Miranda Lash notes that the intervening years saw the artist work through a gradual stylistic progression anchored by a consistent focus on the recontextualization of modernist art, specifically the way its radical and spiritual origins are invariably distorted by its subsequent ownership and display. Tracing this development through several series, she brings things almost up to date with an assessment of a body of work begun around 2009 in which Richard incorporates expressionist passages from other paintings into his compositions as if they were sculptures.
Lash also points to another small but significant shift in the way Richard puts his images together – he no longer employs black outlines but now places colors in unmediated juxtaposition. At times, this creates a camouflage-like effect, shapes inflecting one another to produce a dappled field of tints and tones. In recent paintings like Around the Modern, 2013, the artist enacts his process of art-historical sampling alongside this calculated surface treatment, resulting in an aesthetic clash that emphasizes the idiosyncrasy of each part. In this picture, a table in a high-design lounge is partially obscured by a mysterious floating island, divided jigsaw puzzle-like into flat shapes, which evokes an abstract painting by David Bomberg. (Another recent painting, Modern Emblem, 2014, pushes the use of patterning to an extreme, so that the object in the work, in spite of its central placement, is almost lost in a patchwork of intense color.)
At the time of writing, Richard was excited to be “in the home stretch” of preparing for an exhibition at Arthur Roger Gallery in New Orleans that will also feature the work of Cheryl Donegan, Amy Feldman, Wayne Gonzales, and Lisa Sanditz, whom, he tells me, he invited on the basis of “long-term relationships with them and deep affection for their work. I think we will all hang quite well together.” On the future of his work beyond this, Richard reveals an intention to get “more and more downright brushy without losing that ‘frozen’ image. Planning images in the computer has helped, as I’m able to break down and simplify them, allowing me more freedom when I start to paint. My subject matter will continue to come from that indoor/outdoor/other-art zone. I’ve recently amassed a large amount of new source material and look forward to trying to see it through new eyes.” -Michael Wilson