The following is
excerpted from a candid 2013 conversation had by Santa Fe based art critic
Ed Shapero with Bob Richardson about his work and about the arc of his 50+ year
journey as an artist.
Occasionally, people ask if your work has a message or depicts something in particular. How would you respond to this question?
My work was originally in response to an assignment in graduate school that asked that I remove all meaning imparted by the artist. I title many of my works with the names of composers I may have been listening to during the creation of the painting. I would say that that in no way influences my decisions of brush stroke or color used. On the other hand, I would say that my work is, indeed, very musical. Other than that, I would say that any and all meaning should be derived from the individual experiences of the observer. A person might say, “That looks like….”, which is fine and OK. It’s one’s own experience being put upon my painting. I will admit that, in my most recent work, I sometimes feel something in the finished piece that evokes a memory…and I sometimes bring that into the title.
Tell me about some of your career changing benchmarks.
Prior to my work in graduate school, I was a realist watercolor painter and a silk-screen print maker. I had a brief but prolific period with my systemic work, but found next to no place to show or sell them. I returned to realism with my silk screen prints which sold in galleries up and down the New England coast. When I retired in 2002, I had a strong resurgence of creative energy both as a composer and as a painter. I wrote a musical that had been “in the drawer” for decades. It was performed locally and received great reviews. I also wrote a collection of choral music called Thule Suite which was performed by over 100 voices in Camden, Maine. In October of 2007, I was awarded a second residency at the Robert M. MacNamara Foundation Residency on Westport Island, Maine that changed my life. There, I met two fine artists who saw my work from graduate school and urged me strongly to pursue it. I did, and that why I’m where I am today. My work has changed with each painting and with each surface on which I have painted. My most recent work is done on Yupo paper which I find very exciting.
Can you describe your process as it relates specifically to your paintings?
I spend a considerable amount of time in preparation for a painting. My paintings on canvas had to be painted without interruption so that each stroke would flow into the next. This meant that I could not stop once I had started, and that meant that I had to be totally prepared. I built myself a special easel so that I could work in many positions relative to the surface of my painting. This has allowed me to work flat and not have to rush to the other side of the painting to make a stroke, I just spin the painting. Of course there is all sorts of preparation with making the grid or the grid indicators, but the key to it all is the brush stroke itself. For any given block on the grid, I simply make a stroke to indicate the top line and a stroke to indicate the bottom line. All that happens in between is up to the medium and changes every time without my input. In that respect, the work is very abstract and unpredictable. I hope that helps, but a video would make it all clear.
How big a role does the element of composition play in your
In my early work, I began at the center and worked my way out. That meant that I didn’t have to consider composition in the traditional sense. As I pushed my work a bit further, I may have played with verticals and horizontals and made choices as to their position, but I don’t think that traditional composition plays a part in those pieces. My latest paintings, since my escape from gradation and the “X”, are composition purely by chance. I love that! Sometimes, even I can see ghosts of shapes that seem to emerge from the surface.
As an artist, what would you want your legacy to be?
I would hope that people would see something spiritual in my work…that they might sense the space that I was in during the creation and that they might be able to go there with me by dwelling on the painting. My work is not a representation of or a recreation of anything with which we are familiar. It takes some time and effort to absorb it as it did to paint it, and I hope people will take that time and enjoy the place to which it takes them.