The most difficult task for many artists is to describe their artwork to someone who asks, “Why is this done,” or “What dose this mean.” Unlike a work of literature, within the words and pages lies the message and must be read to understand the meaning. A painting for the viewer exists in its entirety – everything the artist intended within the surface, exposed, for everyone to see. The artist’s task complete, it is up to the viewer to decide if the work deserves their attention. For the artist, there are no right answers, only questions posed from imagery. The viewer, if the work intrigues him, must find his own answers as to why. Often this results in a wide variety of interpretations, the response of one may be completely different from another. Therein lays the beauty of art.

For me, the questions for understanding have always been the same: it is the response that changes depending on the circumstances. What was considered absolute in another time or place demands a new interpretation in this time and place. Therein lays the purpose for art.

In my paintings, I have always been drawn towards dramatic imagery, using contrasting elements of color, shape and space. I paint until the objects become more than what they are. This seems to result in a heightened reality to the images although ‘realism’ is not necessarily the goal. I enjoy the balance of positive and negative space, pulling imagery from the space as well as pushing space back to expose the form.

The subject of my paintings, to me, has always been the fusion of light and form. The objects carry that light and form within the space, and to provide a reference for the viewer.

This relation of the artwork and the viewer is a very important one. Art needs an audience and is incomplete without one.

RICHARD CURRIER

by Malcolm Ganet
Freelance Writer and Art Consultant

To be granted a place in a contemporary museum of art, an artist of today needs to establish a visual language that is unique, insightful, and powerful. Unfortunately, it is often not required that the exhibit artistic craftsmanship of a high order – let alone traditional craftsmanship with brush and canvas. When an artist combines masterful painting technique with truly eloquent imagery, that his work not only deserves museum placement, it can also take credit for revitalizing artistic tradition and making it contemporary.

A case in point is the work of Richard Currier. His subjects – mangoes, seashells, nudes, faces – meet the eye with such surreal intensity because they are taken out of normal context and displayed as if levitation and magnified. The float like huge icons superimposed upon strange background landscapes or monochromatic panels. Superficially, it is method that connects with photographic surrealism, which manipulates negatives to combine images from disparate sources (think Man Ray or to different purposes, Jerry Uelsmann). Yet in Currier’s work, this imagery has an entirely different direction than surrealism.

The way to a deeper appreciation of these paintings is less indicated by his subjects than by his treatment of them as paintings. His is an art that is openly concerned with the craft of painting. How does one represent skin under the tenuous glow of dusk or of nearby lantern light? How does the angle of the face affect the fall of shadow? How do you create imbalance in a composition to excite and energize vision? How do you arrange shapes to produce balance? When we remember that the craft of traditional painting evolved through the effort to communicate human sensibilities, we can understand the importance of artistic treatment to Richard Currier.

These were concerns of the Renaissance masters, which Currier no doubt encountered during his studies in Amsterdam and Paris. Visually, there is a striking connection between Currier’s work and, say, Rembrandt’s portraiture. Like Rembrandt, Currier uses obscuring shadow and dark, grainy atmosphere for background, setting off the subject which might be a face, as shell, a nude, or a mango), and giving it psychological force by the chiaroscuro created by a slanting light across surface features. Where Rembrandt embraces his subjects with full sartorial regalia, however, Currier sheers away social identification by using bare faces or nude figures or isolated mangos. He is painting a more general human environment, and in this he is more like the contemporary neo-humanist, Odd Nerdrum.

Nerdrum was aware that he was resisting the prevailing currents of modern art when he chose to paint human figures with consummate painterly craftsmanship. Currier is in the same boat, so to speak. And, like Nerdrum, he creates images that take familiar subjects out of familiar contexts, in order to probe more deeply their singular inner natures. The techniques in both cases have grown out of traditional painting, but they have been adapted to communicate the sensibilities of our age.

And yet not without an austere intensity. Of course, there is a kind of “lightness of being” in levitating a seashell or a mango to move it into a realm of how painters once painted divinities or deities suspended in the air. But there is darker irony as well. “See . . . No Weevil” is a punning signpost applied to an otherwise daunting image. On the one hand, the painting satirizes the prudish viewer who sneaks a look at what he considers “evil.” On the other hand the image may also stand for the determination of the artist to look objectively – or perhaps not even objectively; perhaps just seriously -- at what others consider offensive or even prohibited. “With Head Above Water” uses another familiar phrase to relate to an image suggesting both pleasure and discomfort. In the inward concentration of the visage, there seems to be a tension between the prospect of being overwhelmed by something -- perhaps existence? – and the consciousness of being somehow above it (while, of course, being immersed in it). “Between Black and White” can be taken to refer to humanity’s existence between extremes of all kinds (religious, political, social) and simultaneously to the painter’s application of lights and darks on a canvas, the extremes of this palette.

“Shades of Gray,” one of the most intriguing works in the show, plays with the ides of the artist himself being contained to some degree within the confines of his canvases. Here, his self-portrait, repeated in five canvases, takes us through five elements reflected in his art – left: passion (anger? frustration? protest?); right: thought (contemplation? meditation?); top: observation or objectivity; bottom: amusement or pleasure, and, in the center, earnest questioning or concern. These take the form of a cross. There are no extremities. No black or white, only the multifarious colors of a human being, the symbolic equivalent of shades of gray.

Currier’s craftsmanship, founded as it is on a long tradition of painting, is rich and varied enough to give body to what his eyes want to see about life in our age; but his visual, not didactic. He casts an atmosphere of surging isolation and mystery onto the canvas, making paintings as silent as inscrutable as one’s own image glimpsed in a dark mirror it is up to the viewer to form interpretations. Currier’s world is very much a private world, and that is what makes him absolutely contemporary.

 

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