Richmond Burton at George Lawson Gallery, Los Angeles
In a slim volume published in 1911 titled “Concerning the Spiritual in Art,” Wassily Kandinsky articulated that an artist’s responsibility was to strip and veil their subject matter. Reveal something unseen and by re-veiling make it mysterious again. This pendulum swing of aesthetic paradigms is handsomely on exhibit in a luminous show of paintings by Richmond Burton at the George Lawson Gallery in Culver City through the end of this month. (The Show will remain on view for the first week Of Jan 2012 while alterations happen to the back of the gallery. Updated December 29th, 2011.)
The subject at hand is twofold. The first is pattern and structure. The second is the veil itself. Burton has long been engaged with the depiction and execution of pattern both in a macro and micro sensibility. The compositions in the Lawson exhibition are all vertical bands of triangulated units that form a lattice work of jazzy rhythms and beats. The structure is thus established and then quickly undermined with anomalies that make the fields undulated with three-dimensional allusion. In certain cases the curtain-like structure is broken with a band on the top of the composition creating a contrapuntal horizontal to offset the vertical waterfall of color. The paintings are executed in a panoply of color, layered to within an inch of your life. These layers, it should be noted, are oil glazes further multiplying the color potential. At a certain point in the painting process Burton sands the surface creating yet another twofold effect. The sanding fuses the accrued brush stokes into a new, single ground. Having accomplished this he then re-engages the pattern with further layers of color, often energizing a figure/ground reversal of remarkable retinal pleasure.
Having a four-year old son, I am keenly aware of the pleasures of identifying structure and pattern everywhere. It is a constant act of seeing and detective work in the course of the day. Knowing a thing or two about music as well, I know the concurrent pleasure of syncopation and unexpected tonal variation. Richmond Burton’s paintings act as an aesthetic milestone to the optical and intellectual epiphanies of these structural treasure hunts and analytical definitions.
The aforementioned vertical cascade of color also acts as a literal and figurative curtain. This allusion is further cemented with a sly, yet not overpowering compositional device at the bottom of each painting. A silver quadrilateral anchors each work at its base. It acts both as an entrance to the pictorial plane and as a slice of a proscenium stage. The silver paint is sometimes pure, cut in after the painting’s completion and sometimes bears the drips and splatter of the paintings process. So the painting itself become the veil. What lies behind this curtain/veil? Are we, as viewers, on the stage or in the audience? Is the show about to begin or has it just concluded?
The exhibition is composed of ten paintings, five large on canvas in the main gallery and five small on panel in the office. The variation in scale is also extraordinarily instructive. The smaller incarnations are dense and bear a drama that deny their intimate scale. The larger canvases are loose and improvisational, something that one might expect more from a study or work on paper. View the brushstrokes in each and one witnesses the difference between the wrist and the elbow, velocity of measure and abandon. These are not as, one might expect, a simple act of scaling up or down of an intuitive structure. They are completely different beasts that ultimately dialogue and support each other.
Ultimately the cycle of ten paintings, all executed in Los Angeles over the last year, are an act of visual and intellectual generosity in a landscape of aesthetic reticence and stoicism. The alchemy of paint is laid bare for all to see but the mysteries remain unending. Kandinsky must be smiling a hundred years later.
–Mario M. Muller, Los Angeles, December 15th, 2011
George Lawson Gallery, 8564 Washington Blvd Culver City, CA 90232
(The Show will remain on view for the first week Of Jan 2012 while alterations happen to the back of the gallery. Updated December 29th, 2011.)