Many painting instructors will tell you to avoid outlining objects. Jim Richard won’t. From now until February 24, 2013, the New Orleans Museum of Art presents Richard’s solo exhibition Make Yourself At Home, twelve works showcasing the local artist and University of New Orleans painting professor’s evolution over the last nineteen years.
Richard’s distinctive style, characterized throughout the 1980s and ‘90s by comic book outlines, brings his exquisitely-rendered paintings to life. His subject matter? Home interiors: rooms, passages, furniture and artworks, empty of humans but filled with tongue-in-cheek detail.
Take, for example, the stuffed puppy contrasted by a modern painting in Richard’s 2009 work, “Centered III.” Richard’s aim is to have a little fun with the serious perception of modernist art and sculpture—to point out that wealth doesn’t imply taste, perhaps; to offer a glimpse of modern artwork not on a gallery wall, but where it actually lives, surrounded by everyday items in the home.
This is not to say that Richard dislikes or disrespects modern art and its collectors. Before painting, he carefully curates each scene, assembling collages clipped from furniture ads, interior decoration magazines, and other sources to serve as the bases for his vivid paintings. In recent years, Richard has begun borrowing from other artists, making a “found” excerpt from another’s work the focal point of his own. 2009’s “Blinds” (not shown) features an ornate 2-D tribal mask shape from a Richard Pousette-Dart painting, casually aligned between a plaid ottoman and a patterned couch. The composition could easily be dominated by the giant mask, but Richard’s attention to the slatted light filtering in through the room’s blinds and the firm shadows cast by furniture keep us searching the painting.
As a teacher of painting for over thirty years, the artist’s technique is masterful. In earlier works, like 1993’s “Owning Modern Sculpture,” (not shown) his brush strokes are visible, his trademark black outlines glistening as if still wet. By 2010’s “Bird and Sculpture,” Richard has moved on to a smaller canvas, eschewed outline, and allowed his colors—so rich you can feel the Oriental rug underfoot, could sink into the red velvet sofa—to adjoin each other. In every painting, furniture and objects carry a comfortable weight, further enticing the viewer to step inside and stay a while.
With this expert execution, Richard commands a playful sense of perspective. He paints corners where he wants them; mirrors reflect impossible angles. Every element is subject to the artist’s powerfully subtle vision, including smaller details like drawer pulls that look to be made of melted wax. Seemingly chaotic works like the ‘70s-suggestive “Modern Circles,” 2007, reveal a precise attention to balance of color and pattern.
Make Yourself At Home ranges from 1993 to 2010: moving from painting to painting, it’s truly satisfying to see Richard’s artistic evolution. Suspended on the walls of NOMA’s Great Hall, each work opens a vivid window into a home populated by inanimate residents. By focusing on the objects with which we surround ourselves, but never their owners, the artist calls forth a sense of melancholy. It’s hard not to wonder what Richard’s own home looks like—or more to the point, how it looks through his eyes.
–Lianna Patch is a writer and editor from New Orleans. Follow her @theenglishmaven.