Bruce Richards: Soundings
4166 Sea View Avenue Los Angeles CA 90065
Sunday, June 2 at 4:00 PM 6:00 PM
Ends Jul 27, 2024
by Suzanne Muchnic Flaming tires hover in space or sizzle in strange bonfires. Spilt milk streaks across a gray sky. A nearly invisible glass slipper shimmers on a blue background that slides into night. These are among the provocative images dreamed up by Bruce Richards in paintings that dazzle the eye with delicate detail, luscious color, and extraordinary skill while raising questions about the messages they deliver and what, exactly, the artist is up to. The objects he portrays so beautifully are instantly recognizable, but they occupy mysterious territory. Never securely grounded and often in motion, they may be rooted in art history, personal experience or world events. For Richards, a Molotov Cocktail shot out of an airborne champagne bottle refers to an economic crisis, but viewers are free to discover other meanings. Part of the strength and staying power of his work is that it offers images to consider and ideas to ponder, not puzzles to solve. A classic weathervane, for example, is smartly perched against a bright yellow sky, but its directional arrow has all but disappeared in a dark cloud of smoke. A bright red apple bears heart-shaped evidence of Adam’s toothmarks and ribs, but the Garden of Eden is nowhere in sight. In a painting titled “Hunter & Gatherer,” images of an arrowhead and the Venus of Willendorf seem to encapsulate separate male/female views of human history. All these thoughts and more are inspired by the work of an artist who was born in Dayton, Ohio and raised in San Bernardino, California, where he worked on high school art projects, served as the Student Council’s Director of Art and landed his first job at a commercial art studio. As an 18-year-old with a remarkable skillset, he had no interest in going to college, but acquiesced to parental pressure by applying to the University of California at Irvine. Conveniently located, it was also brand new. Richards was accepted in 1966, the year after UC Irvine was founded “to catalyze the community and enhance lives through rigorous academics, cutting-edge research and dedicated public service.” The art department was not expected to be a primary asset, but it soon became a hot spot of creativity that attracted a first-rate faculty and extraordinary students such as Chris Burden, a performance and installation artist and sculptor whose 1971 master’s thesis, “Five Day Locker Piece,” consisted of being padlocked in a student locker for five consecutive days. Richards, who remembers the nascent university as “a dirt farm with no idea what it would be,” found that his expertise in drawing and commercial art labeled him pejoratively as a “traditional” artist and prompted one instructor to suspect that he was getting outside help with an assignment. But with adventurous classmates such as Alexis Smith and forward-looking instructors, including Michael Asher and Tony DeLap, “Irvine quickly changed my course of thinking,” he said. And in 1968, when Robert Irwin, Vija Celmins, and John Paul Jones began teaching at UCI, he knew that his so-called “bag of tricks” had little value in an environment where sculpture could be made of light and space and life drawing classes rarely enlisted the services of live models. “We were not forced into a single minimalist aesthetic, but we did accept the ground rules to apply to what we did,” Richards said, recalling Irwin’s advice to “consider the purpose of what I was doing, how I could bring my ideas to that purpose and not just glide.” In this exhibition and many others, it is obvious that he adapted his mentor’s counsel to his own philosophy and aesthetic. A longtime resident of Southern California who now lives in York, Richards received a master’s degree at UC Irvine in 1973 and a National Endowment for the Arts award in 1976. He also has advised many of his own students while continuing to make distinctive work that garners nationwide attention. “Soundings,” his aptly titled current exhibition, is a four-decade selection of works that invites us to slow down and think about what we are seeing. And to rethink what we think we are seeing. Suzanne Muchnic, a long-time art writer for the Los Angeles Times and contributor to many art catalogs and periodicals, is also the author of prize-winning books, including Odd Man In: Norton Simon and the Pursuit of Culture and LACMA So Far: Portrait of a Museum in the Making. Bruce Richards (b. 1948, Dayton, OH) is an artist living and working in Dobbs Ferry, New York. Select solo exhibitions include Sea View, Los Angeles, CA (2024); Fortnight Institute, New York, NY (2024); Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica, CA (2022); and Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, Los Angeles, CA (2014). Select group exhibitions include Fortnight Institute, New York, NY (2023); Deutsches Hygiene Museum, Dresden, Germany (2016); Leila Heller Gallery, Curated by Paul Morris and Beth Rudin DeWoody, New York, NY (2014); Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, curated by Scott Canty and Isabelle Lutterodt, Los Angeles, California (2014); Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, Los Angeles, CA (2012); Nye + Brown, Culver City, CA (2011); San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio, Texas (2010); and the Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach, CA (2009). Bruce Richards’ work is in the public collections of the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts, Laguna Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach Museum of Art, San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
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