Daniel Richter – H.P. (jah allo)
Regen Projects, Los Angeles
through August 17
Written by Gary Brewer
The return of the figure as a dominant subject in contemporary painting has been a steady incoming tide over the last couple of decades. We see painters using the body in a multitude of forms as the ultimate subjective vector expressing our relationship to the world. The body, in a sense, has become a battleground of historical forces that seek to control, destroy or subdue it, as well as our hope for some form of freedom or redemption.
After years of painting dystopian images of urban chaos and haunting otherworldly landscapes in rich hallucinatory colors, Daniel Richter has made a radical shift in his work. In his current exhibition at Regen Projects: H.P. (jah allo), Richter is blending elements of abstraction, passages of gestural energy and a palette of richly saturated colors, to deconstruct and reassemble the human figure using an expressive improvisational approach.
These are powerful paintings where forces of creation and destruction are arrested in singular subjective moments. The full swing of his arm and the movement of his body define the curvilinear forms; the reciprocating interplay of somatic intuition and imagination are deeply felt. Equally bold are the strident colors: citron yellow, crimson reds and cobalt blues set against luminous fields or dark passages of color, communicating extreme emotional states of being.
Richter employs thin washes in bands a few inches wide to traverse the field in even horizontal strips. The bands are carefully considered gradients moving from dark to light or from one hue to another. In some paintings, a clear horizon line is defined suggesting a landscape. These could be seen as ciphers of rational thought, principals of order upon which the chaotic forces of irrational impulse are played out. On these surfaces, bold colors are applied with a palette knife or a brush, and powerful linear elements depicting figures are drawn using oil stick.
In his works from the 1990’s, Richter created all over abstractions where a feeling of street graffiti was merged with viscerally charged dynamism. In Richter’s signature figurative works, ghostly apparitions populated ornate landscapes and urban spaces. In those works, the figures were outlined in luminous colors and composed of biomorphic abstract elements. In his new body of work, first exhibited in 2015, the biomorphic forms that animated the individual figures are set free in a Dionysian explosion of energy and improvisation.
In Richter’s earlier work there was a decidedly pessimistic tone; if his characters exhibited any hope, they would soon learn that there was none. In the recent paintings at Regen Projects, the artist is racing into new terrain with a velocity that sheds any specific psychological condition. It feels as though Richter is searching for and defining a new world, where a state of melancholia is replaced with snapshots of transformative moments and fueled with a curiosity of what will come next. Each painting’s improvised fluidity releases an unfiltered exploration of the limits of the human body in extremis. It is dynamism pulling the body apart to exist in another dimension, one of transition and slippage into unknown terrain. The paintings express a sense of uncertainty, metamorphosis and sensuality.
The new works exude eroticism in the sensual pleasure one feels from their execution and more specifically in a painting such as “JAH ALLO”, with its phallic forms and the grouping of fragmented figures in the act of fucking or fighting.
One of the first paintings one encounters “SMRT FAŠIZMU”, is a figure in transformation; a vertical transition zone splits the upper torso and arms into multiple appendages, the face is also multiplied with insect-like features that have an almost amused look at the sudden shift in their world. These gestural improvisations have a sense of humor that is a counterbalance to the darker forces at play.
There is an ecstatic force to the paintings; they are epiphanies of form and color, eroticism and violence. In my mind these figures and their protean contortions seem to be searching for a new way to occupy space; a shape shifting space whose contours transcend rules and are beyond reason and control.
I am not sure if Richter is seeking a form of freedom and release or a collision of different approaches to painting that he has explored in his oeuvre. He spoke of wanting to make this change so that he would not be trapped creating a style that would define and limit him. It is part punk rock to burn down the building and to find a new world in the ruins that guides him, and partly his yearning to keep the artistic experience true.
To Richter the world may seem hopeless. But in art there is always hope. It is a form of redemption, to dig deeper into one’s self and find the creative power that is the transformative power of art.
6750 Santa Monica Blvd. Los Angeles 90038