My friend Paul Brainard introduced Richard to me at an opening in Chelsea awhile back. I started following Richard on Instagram and became curious about the paintings and drawings he was making. Richard posts multiple new works every week. I began to wonder, "how does he make this much work and have a 40-hour a week job?" It was time to investigate.
I visited Richard in his studio in late February. His space is incredibly organized and beautifully sunlit. We chit chatted a bit before we started the conversation about Richard's work. As I looked around I became more excited to talk about Richard's work and how he uses his time in the studio.
I’ve been following your work for a while on Instagram, like some sort of Instagram troll. For some reason I thought that the paintings were small, but they are much bigger than I had thought they would be.
The images on there are small.
Yea totally, but if there was an image of you standing next to one you would be able to understand the scale a bit better. There’s also never a grouping of them so it’s difficult to understand their size.
I think of these paintings as being mid-sized. I’ve tried to make smaller paintings in the past but it’s difficult. It’s harder to make a small painting.
These are oil paintings?
Yea. I decide on the size of a painting based on the relationship between the smallest thing I want to have in the painting (like a brushstroke or shape) and the largest thing. It’s sort of intuitive but that’s how I decide how big they should be. These paintings are this size for now, but the paintings are starting to get more complicated and as this happens they will either get larger or I’m going to start using smaller brushes. My feeling is that they will get bigger. For this amount of information this is the right size for them.
There is something about the medium size of them that if you stand in front of them they are big enough to envelop you but it’s not taking you over completely. It’s nice that you can look at it and look away and rest your eye and come back.
When you start these do you sketch them, or are you starting directly on the canvas and working intuitively? Do you work on multiple paintings at one time?
Most of these paintings are done in one day, because it’s wet into wet. It’s not true of all of them but the majority are made that way. The ones with all the little brushstrokes, there is white paint underneath and there’s a buildup of brushstrokes into the white paint. It all has to be done while it’s wet [referring to the Pink painting I was sitting next to]. I could use a medium that would give me several days, but I like the feel of doing it all in one day. It takes me about 10 hours to do one of these, in a good scenario. It’s a long day of painting, but I focus and do it. It’s pretty satisfying.
I have an idea for a painting first. I work it out ahead of time. Sometimes it’s based on a drawing. Sometimes a painting is based on a specific drawing but often the relation is more loose. Then I just make the painting that I see in my head. Generally, I don't improvise while I'm making one of these paintings. When it’s done I set it aside and look at it for a while, then I decide if it’s ok or if I need to redo it. If there is something I end up not liking I usually repaint the whole painting again on a different canvas. For these works [finished paintings] I can’t really go back into them. I don’t rework them. Thereis something about the feeling of doing it in one go that feels right.
There is an immediacy that is visible because of the way that they have been painted. The way that you work over the under painting becomes part of the upper layer.
Yea, yea. The colors beneath bleed through.
Is there significance to the shapes that are being repeated in the work, the diamond & triangle?
The shapes are something that have developed over time. When I’m working I try to be as open as possible. If I think of something I want to do I do it. For some reason I keep coming back to these same shapes over and over again. The shapes are pretty basic. Maybe that's what I like about them.
There is something that is compelling for me about the shapes. The repetitiveness of it, and also they aren’t repetitive because of the way that they are handled in different paintings. The way that you use the brush makes them different. It seems like a shape you come back to because it’s a comfortable.
Yea, the repetition is one of the most important aspects of the work. The thing is that nothing in the work actually ever repeats exactly. First of all I’m not measuring so thecenter is never in the center. Then the shapes are never the same size, each of the triangles or rectangles or whatever the shapes are are never exactly the same size. In that sense they are not repeating. Second, the brushstrokes, every brushstroke is different. Third, the color is always slightly different because it's mixing on the canvas with the other wet colors underneath. When you look at the painting you think repetition but it doesn’t repeat.
Another thing about the work that is that I think of all the paintings as one. I think of them as one work and I think of them as being in a specific order. Once I've finisheda painting if it leaves the studio I remake it. Once I've made it and figured it out I can easily make it again. The feeling of remaking a painting is also very satisfying.
There ends up being three kinds of repetition in the paintings. There is the repetition that happenings in each individual painting, there’s the repetition from painting to painting and then there is the repletion of the same painting when I remake it. The repetition moves out in three directions at the same time.
Could I ask a pretty obvious question? What is the reasoning behind the repletion? You’re talking about this being one giant work. Is there is idea of this being one infinite work that continues to happen?
On the most basic level I paint what what I want to see. I almost never know why I'm doing something. I don’t feel that that this means there isn't a reason. The meaning is something that I am discovering. This is something I had to give myself the freedom to do, to do whatever I want and not to have to know why. That was a real revelation for me getting out of school. When you’re in school you always feel you need to be able to explain what you’re doing, and that didn't work for me. I never felt comfortable with that. It’s not that I couldn't come up with an explanation. Anyone can come up for an explanation for anything it’s like the easiest thing in the world. It’s not necessarily productive. What I've found to be more productive as an artist is to have a real process. My work comes out of the process of working. Working and making the work is what moves things forward. Sometimes you have to stop and figure things out, but that comes afterwards for me. Even then I don’t necessarily need to know why. I can decide something isn't working and change it. Sometimes, I do know why and sometimes I don’t. I am not worried about it.
You’re more invested then in the process of making, which is paramount when you're a painter. It’s what any artist does.
Yea, it’s why any artist does what they do. Whatever their process is, whether it’s studio practice, or whatever. You have to figure that out, and whatever it is you have to protect your practice/process and trust in it. If you do that you'll be just fine.
I want to go back to something you were talking about earlier, the idea of repletion and for me in a sense perfection. Today many people don’t take the time to actually look at work, if you are looking at your work from far away the reading of it is so different from the reading of it up close. Is that something you are actively conscious of?
Yea, that’s a big part of how these paintings work. For each painting there are two readings. What it looks like from a distance and what you see close up. For me to not think about that would be missing a huge potential. I think about it in the drawings too. I have to say that for years I never thought about the drawings being seen from a distance. I just worked on them close up. When I started showing them I realized that often there was nothing to see at a distance. Now I sometimes do this on purpose. I make drawings that there is nothing to see from a distance, for example some of them become a solid color, and I’m using that to my advantage. Then there are drawings where there is a lot of contrast, so there is something to see from a distance.
Do you work on the drawings in one sitting too?
No, the drawings I work on a little bit everyday. The difference between the drawings and the paintings, this is obvious but it has huge implications in my work, is that paintings are wet and drawings are dry. With the paintings the wetness is a variable which must be taken into account. As soon as you start a painting it starts to dry. The clock is ticking. But with drawing it makes no difference if I finish it right away or if I put it aside and finish it later. I often work on several drawings at a time. Even though I have an idea for a sequence of drawings I don't necessarily know the order when I'm drawing them. So I skip around. I will think of a drawingthat is further along in the sequence and even though I don't know exactly where it will go I will go ahead a make it. That drawing then becomes a sort of sign post out there in the unknown and I can fillin the drawings that go between. If that makes any sense?
Yea, I’m imagining one of those giant galleries at Dia: Beacon with like a row of these works.
Right, that’s kind of how I see them. I’m not sure why but both in the drawings and in the paintings I have this need to make a lot of them. I feel like the group of paintings as a whole creates a context for each individual painting. Not that I feel that they can’t exist on their own but I want them to work both ways. I want there to be a parallel between what happens in each individual painting and what happens in the larger group of paintings. Also, making a lot of similar paintings gets me away from the idea that there is any one ideal way they should be. There is no one painting that is "The" painting. There is no final statement there is just endless variation.
Yea, you’re not making these paintings so that you have a group of paintings and then at the end there is this one that the ultimate painting.
Well, no not exactly like that. I don’t disagree with what your saying but what I’m trying to say is that by making so many paintings that are similar to one another, it keeps the paintings from suggesting that there is some kind of "answer".
Are you saying that the possibility of a singular painting then becomes infinite because you are creating multiple paintings based on the same language. Is that what you're trying to say?
Maybe, often people think about art as problem solving. Working this way allows me to avoid suggesting that there is some kind of answer. There are just things that exist.
Which is interesting because a lot of the conversation is about problem solving. That you have this problem and you solve it in one or two paintings or a series of paintings to solve whatever the issue is. As a painter you’re supposed to be grappling with the history of painting or all that other bullshit that people talk about. There is this problem of painting.
For me it’s never been a problem.
No of course not but like how many people are actually sitting in their studio thinking about that? I mean unless you’re a “conceptual” painter that’s making conceptual painting about painting.
I think all art is conceptual.
No, yea totally. I don’t know of any artists personally that go into the studio and is confronting the problem of painting when they go to paint.
Or, at least not consciously.
Do the drawing become part of the larger series or are they a separate series?
They are their own series. The drawings are where this idea of working in a large group or series came from. Almost from the beginning of making drawings I would think of them this way. Specifically the idea was to make a book of drawings. For years I worked on different groups of drawings but they never worked out and I would set them aside and start over. I kept trying to make this book and kept failing. Because they were drawings it was easy to save them. You can put them in a box or something and they don't take up much room. A few years ago, I started to realize that I was never going to figure out the way the drawings were supposed to be. That all these failed attempts at making a big book of drawings was the book. At this point I was able to go back through and arrange them into one book that I was very happy with. I guess it’s confusing when I say book, but I think of them in the form of a book. Each Individual drawing is a page and then each drawing has a partner, which is the page across from it, and then each pair of drawings are part of a larger sequence or group or set of drawings that unfolds over time. When looking at any individual drawing you are supposed to remember what came before and anticipate what will come next just like what happens with any time based work, like music or poetry. I felt an urge to make the drawings in this form.
Would they be bound in some way?
Yea, but it’s sort of weird because the drawings are several different sizes. I don’t see how it’s going to function right now as a book but I do know that it is a book. To me the idea of it being a book is more important than how it's going to get printed or whatever. The idea of the book provides me with a structure that allows me to keep working. I like working on a big project.
It’s like an epic.
There are thousands of drawings.
You’re obviously looking at a lot of books.
Yea, that’s there too. I can’t promise that there is any relation to that. It might be a coincidence.
If you are reading a lot, there is something special about reading a physical book. The tactility of turning a page the experience you were talking about of anticipating what will come next. There is some sort of poetry in what you were saying about how you envisioned these drawings as a book.
It’s true it’s true. I haven’t thought about it that way. One thing that may have inspired the way I workis that I basically learned about art through classical music. I grew up in a working class family that are Fundamentalist Christians. We didn't go to museums, there was no art education in school when I was a little, and we weren't allowed to listen to pop music or watch TV but one thing that was acceptable was listening to classical music. When I was a kid there was a radio that I could reach. I was obsessed with classical music, from the time I was 3 or 4 onward I learned all I could about it. So, from an early age without really realizing it I got an overview of all of art history. All the different periods like baroque, classical, romantic and modern. Then by leaning about composers I got an idea of what it's like to be an artist. It was a real gift in a way because I got to learn about the past before I learned about the present. Also, if you think about the way I work - large scale, abstract and unfolding over time you can totally see how it's related to classical music.
That makes a lot of sense; it’s a great connection. Do you listen to music while you work?
A lot of the time yes. I listen to the classical radio station. When I say influenced by classical music I don’t mean that a particular drawing is based on a particular piece of classical music. The influence is more in the format of the work and especially the way I feel comfortable with abstraction. Many people have this suspicion that if something is abstract it does not mean anything. I knew from a young age that this was not true because there is no way to listen to Mozart and to think that it doesn't mean anything. To think he’s not dealing with concepts, it’s a crazy thing to say and no one would ever think that. If you come from this perspectiveyou would never assume that abstract art wasn’t conceptual. That was never a problem for me.
Another thing that I've realized about this work has to do with where my family is from. We come from a place that's kind of out in the country. When my mom first saw some of these paintings she reminded me that she has this stack of lace samples that her grandmother had made. They are little circles of differenthandmade laces. They are all different and some are pineapples and some are different kinds of bursts. They are a physical guide to how to make lace and were passed down through the generations. I do remember looking at those as a kid. There is this whole sort of folksy textile thing that is always in my work. I don’t know if it comes from that. For me the history of abstract art and textiles, those two things coming together and finding connections between them, that is interesting. A lot of times people will ask, “are you looking at specific things.” I’m not, it’s not like I'm looking at carpets or something. Never the less these kind of references always seem to come up.
You could see though how in some of these why people would get the idea of quilts.
Yea, I get that. I like that. Also sometimes the brushwork looks likes stitches or weaving. Sometimes the drawings have a denim feel to them. They often seem like fabric because they are wonky. At the same time I would hesitate to claim too specifically why that is. It’s just what I like to see. There may be a gender thing there too. I prefer to leave it open.
It sounds like you are allowing it to be open to multiple interpretations that’s the beauty of abstract art.
Or all art.