James Richards Challenges Old Notions about What Makes a Painting in “Hack the Analog”
By Anise Stevens
Through November 12th At Shoshana Wayne Gallery
In 2011, James Richards presented a body of work reminiscent of handmade looms, much like those one might find displayed on the walls of a grade school classroom. Unlike traditionally woven works that rely upon meticulously arranged threads, equally spaced from one another, Richards’ were anything but. Rather, his compositions manifested an assortment of abstractly arranged yarns and strips of chenille amidst vacant spaces augmented with crass outlines of acrylic paint. In an attempt to initiate an innovative discourse about what makes a painting, he used these works to emphasize that a painting’s underlying support is as integral as its surface, a point of contention he reiterates in his sixth solo show with Shoshana Wayne Gallery.
Upon entering “Hack the Analog,” viewers are met with a series of images reminiscent of hard edge painting, most of which are arrayed throughout the gallery like freestanding sculptures. Of Richards’ fourteen new paintings on display, only four are mounted upon the gallery’s walls; the remainder are supported by a series of unconventional materials, which viewers don’t realize until they further explore the gallery.
#253 (2015), for example, stands in the middle of the exhibition. It features four purple triangular shapes stacked in pairs, each leaning in on itself. While most of the painting’s surface reads like a flat canvas, an opening along its left bottom corner exposes a piece of the work’s makeshift stretcher. An instigator of curiosity, this small detail prompts visitors to circle the painting only to discover a large matrix of fibers, randomly interlaced throughout several plastic crates and congealed within thick layers of white paint.
A look around the gallery reveals additional incongruencies. An uneven row of fringe flails awkwardly along the bottom edge of #248 (2014), a sparse painting of five rectangles that bring to mind strips of processed film. Various cords woven through the bottom rack of a metal shelving unit create the impression of hastily improvised rigging underneath #258 (2016), another self-sustaining work upon which bands of green paint appear disjointedly like a long strip of masking tape, wrapped around a cardboard box. A web of colored strings peer out from the corners of #254 (2016), the only mounted painting to feature an obfuscated white surface upon which a single, misshapen olive ring floats aimlessly.
Perhaps most revealing of Richards’ process are the three remaining works that hang on the gallery’s walls. These include #260 (2016), #259 (2016) and #257 (2016). Whether applied with a deliberate hand or by impulse, the grey and black formations embedded in each of these paintings speak to Richards’ material exploration more than any other works on view. Chaotically interlaced between two picture planes, each of these pieces are supported by a complex network of twisted cords, colored string, and remnants of fabric. Unlike Richards’ other works in the show, these particular paintings aren’t engorged in multiple layers of paint. Rather, they’ve been treated with just enough material to produce textured surfaces marked by hollowed depressions and deep cavities. And as a result, viewers identify how integral each work’s supporting materials are to its overall composition, a distinction in itself that emphasizes the importance of a painting’s foundation in relation to its surface appearance.
“Hack the Analog” remains on view through November 12th at Shoshana Wayne Gallery, located at 2525 Michigan Avenue, Suite B1, at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica.