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RICHARD ROTH

By In the Studio

In the Studio

“I’d say 90% of what I do in the studio

never becomes a finished painting, but,

alas, that’s the only way I can get to the

10%.”

– Richard Roth

Richard Roth has shown with Reynolds Gallery for decades now, having first entered the Richmond art scene in 1999, when he began teaching at VCUarts in the Painting + Printmaking Department. The artist, author and furniture designer was originally scheduled to open his seventh solo exhibition at the gallery on April 17, 2020, which has been postponed. Now existing as a special online preview HERE, we are excited to have an accompanying Q&A with Richard below to dive even deeper into his process and studio practice. 

You somewhat recently moved from Richmond to Camarillo, California. Has this changed your studio practice?

My formative years as an artist were in New York City, and I think I’ve pretty much carried those early New York School values wherever I ended up. On the other hand, living in rural Virginia for 17 years reintroduced the natural world in a very big way. And my time in California seems to be a continuation of that. Nature is simply the best. While it can never be outdone, it is an important new source for me.

What is your approach to the 12 x 8 x 4 inch “box paintings”?

The small 3-D polychrome paintings are arrived at in a pretty traditional way, they evolve from the process of their making. I start painting on panels I use as prototypes — they are identical in size to the final paintings and they are quite roughly painted. I want to develop ideas as quickly as possible and the paintings change rapidly, I often use colored tape to change forms, whatever’s fast ­­— things get messy and I usually just paint one side and the front, just enough for me to understand the painting. I follow ideas as they appear, most forms get painted over, but it’s a great day when I’m totally surprised by where the painting has taken me. I photograph every stage in the process and have quite a large archive of the work in various stages, configurations I don’t yet fully understand. When I find the painting, when it’s right, I repaint it carefully on a new panel. I don’t love this final part of the process ­— re-fabrication — but I believe it is necessary for the idea of the work to be read clearly and without any kind of nostalgic patina.

Where does the imagery come from in these painted sculptures?

Everywhere really. Since I began working on the 3D polychrome paintings, I realized that the entire world was 3D form combined with a surface of color/pattern. Nature, the built world, design, clothing—everything is 3D polychrome! So, there’s no shortage of inspiration. For recent work, I’ve been interested in West African fabric patterns, Zulu baskets, Navajo blankets, early American quilts, Day of the Dead masks, bird decoys, Shaker furniture, Indonesian bamboo fish traps, Prouvé chairs, George Ohr pots, Carlo Scarpa glassware, Japanese rice boxes, Luis Barragan houses, Raf Simons fashion, Cervélo racing bicycles, contemporary Ghanaian coffins, street fashion, and monster trucks – to name a few.

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What about the couple "flat" paintings we see hung in your studio?

During the last fifteen years I’ve been making flat paintings (what a novel idea!) from time to time and in a variety of different formats. My follies! These 38 by 30 inch paintings are developed when I have ideas that are not born from the relationship of the two-dimensional plane to three-dimensional structure. Some ideas live more fully in flatland.

Have these ideas always been expressed through 3D and flat paintings?

I painted for many years beginning around 1969, then in 1993 my practice became more conceptual—I created collections of contemporary material culture for more than ten years. In the early nineties, I expected too much of painting; felt it could never live up to what I needed it to be. I decided to steer far from painting, and instead study and learn from the world, the endlessly amazing world, through making collections. Anthropology teaches us that all activities and artifacts express a culture, not just the “highest” — quotidian customs and rituals are as significant as exalted religious ceremonies. 

I love custom cars, fashion, and the culinary arts, but in 1993 was embarrassed by the pretentiousness of my own culture—painting. It wasn’t until I could see painting as just another subculture, not as the culture, not as high culture, that I could re-enter it with full enthusiasm and without cynicism. I returned to painting in 2005 with a renewed and revitalized interest, fueled by conceptualism and informed by postmodern attitudes. Now, painting for me is like returning home.

Collection of thread, yarn, and rope spools inspiring Richard’s new work

What has been the inspiration behind your continued painting?

For me, the play of the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional is undoubtedly the horse that pulls the cart. The paintings can be informed by such things as the exposed form that results from slicing through a layer cake or a melon—red inside juxtaposed with a green skin outside; the rectangular hole in a concrete block; striped high-heel shoes with red soles.

You’re also a published writer. How is writing a part of your studio practice, if at all?

Recently, I wrote a novel—NoLab. Its characters are mostly artists. In NoLab I created many artworks that would be quite difficult, if not impossible, to create in the real world. NoLab might be understood to be a conceptual project in its own right.

For the last few years, my ideal studio day has consisted of two distinct halves. Usually, in the morning I write. In the afternoon I’m at my studio, following hunches, making and altering form and color. What if I stretch this form? Make that corner darker? Turn this section upside down? The mysterious process of arriving at a painting is intoxicating. That’s my ideal studio day. Words, words, words in the morning. color/form in the silent, wordless afternoon.

Richard with an “Everything Must Go” print, one of the found objects in his collection of  Sale Signs, which was shown in his first exhibition at Reynolds Gallery

Early painting stages of finished works, Out of the Blue and Shocks and Struts

In progress shot of finished work, Plumb Loco, which was shown in his group exhibition at Valletta Contemporary alongside Damien Hirst and others.

Richard Roth taught in the VCUarts Painting and Printmaking department from 1999 to 2015, serving as department chair for eight years. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from The Cooper Union in New York and Master of Fine Arts from Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia. In 1991, he was awarded a Visual Arts Fellowship in Painting from the National Endowment for the Arts, and later received a Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Fellowship in Painting (2008–09). He has exhibited at select venues including Margaret Thatcher Projects, David Richard Contemporary, OK Harris Gallery, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, all, New York, NY; Highland Institute of Contemporary Art, Loch Ruthven, Scotland; Rocket Gallery, London; UCR/California Museum of Photography; Museum of Modern Art, Saitama, Japan; and Valletta Contemporary, Malta. His work is held in the permanent collections of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Try-Me Collection, both, Richmond, VA; de Cordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Lincoln, MA; Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH; The Chase Manhattan Bank Collection and The First National City Bank Collection, both, New York, NY, among others. He is the co-editor of the book, Beauty is Nowhere: Ethical Issues in Art and Design and co-author of two books – Color Basics and Design Basics 3D. In 2019, Roth published NoLab, his first novel. Roth currently lives in Camarillo, California.

RAUL DE LARA

By In the Studio

In the Provincetown Studio

I’ve spent the last 6 months as a Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown surrounded by poets, writers, and artists. We live in a sleepy town where on a cold Sunday night, one can smell bonfires, hear the ocean waves from your window, and study the constellations above. I have made life long friendships, discovered new directions for my work, and developed a new, distilled kind of relationship with words and objects.

We were first introduced to Raul during his MFA candidacy show at VCUarts in 2019, when he exhibited a modular installation of over a hundred wooden leaves mounted to the wall. Born in Culiacán, Sinaloa, Mexico, the artist immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 12, and has been a DACA recipient since 2012. He received his BFA from the University of Texas at Austin in 2015 and MFA in Sculpture + Extended Media from VCU in 2019. Recently, he was awarded a fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown – a prestigious residency which has housed artists including Alex Katz, Elizabeth Murray, Martin Puryear, Judy Pfaff and others. As the residency has come to a close, we’re excited to take a virtual look into Raul’s studio while he was there, while learning a bit more about his charismatic, sometimes spiky and even tooth-embedded, wood sculptures.

What does a typical day look like for you in the studio?

I start my day in the studio by cleaning the work tables, sweeping the floor, putting tools back where they belong and taking out the trash. Once the studio is clean, I start gluing up parts, sanding and planning the projects for the week. I try to be in the studio from 9am until 10pm everyday except Sunday. No work on Sundays. One of my favorite parts of my day is when another fellow knocks on my door, and we end up having a long conversation. My day in the studio almost always ends with what I call an Artist Shower. It’s basically me dusting myself off using compressed air. I dust myself off multiple times a day. During my seven months here, I worked on the upcoming solo show for Reynolds Gallery, my Fellowship solo show I had in January, my first group show in my home country through VCU, a group show with the rest of the FAWC fellows for the museum in town, a few commissions, and sculptures for Volta Basel in Switzerland.

Do you listen to music or podcasts? Is it quiet or loud while you work?

I am definitely the loud one here! I use all kinds of power tools to make my work, so noise and I have a long-term intimate relationship. I am Pro-Noise. Most of the time, I work in silence because I enjoy listening to the tools, learning their language, and noticing the different sounds materials make. It teaches me to notice when tools are tired, when too much force is being applied, and if you listen closely, you can tell when something is working as you intend it to. Like musical instruments, each tool has a certain range of sounds they project when you play them right, and a range of sounds that tell you if something bad is about to happen.

You have several shrines hanging in your studio. What’s the story behind these?

Growing up in a Mexican catholic family, I was exposed to religious wooden figurines placed inside these wooden shrine frames that symbolized either a saint, an event, or a deity. I grew up fascinated with the idea of being able to capture certain kinds of energy into chunks of wood. Once we moved to the USA, my family only brought a few of these shrines with them. I found two empty wooden shrine frames in my parents' garage, and that gave me the idea of placing materials, objects, and reminders of important ideas inside them. I now reference that wall for inspiration or guidance. The shrine with the necklace of red beans and clay skulls holds materials I use during my full moon mask making ritual: a plastic bottle filled with sand I retrieved from swimming across the Rio Grande river onto the Mexico side, a roll of red string symbolizing the red string ritual my mother performed during a lunar eclipse the day before I was born, and a bag with Tzi-Te beans and pods. There is a ceramic cup that says "Live Laugh Love" on top of a block of Zompantle wood. Those two are probably my favorite duo on that wall of objects. I went through a very long and magical journey to acquire that block of wood. After a long series of unsuccessful events, what worked was tracking down a willing farmer to cut a perfect rectangular block out of the specific kind of tree I needed, sand it, paint it a solid color, and write on it "Live Laugh Love" then ship it to the USA as "Art" and it worked! The cup was a gift from my incredibly gifted former gradschool studio assistant and close friend, Joe Gindhart.

What draws you to working with wood?

Wood is generally my first choice to work with. Some pieces of wood I use are from historical sites, some are from Home Depot, some pieces are cursed, while others are rescued, and others are smuggled into the country. Some sculptures simply need it for volume, and others depend on something hidden within the grain to make sense. I also work with sand, concrete, textiles, seeds, metal and occasionally found objects. I've been loving using Provincetown sand because the grain is much larger than commercially available sand brands. The connecting thread of all my material choices is that each of these materials let themselves be as malleable as clay - not as fast though. Each material calls for totally different set of tools and ways of processing them. I kinda have the tools of a hobbyist woodworker, a retired construction worker, an off-season tourist and a failed plastic surgeon. Some tools I have to invent, and of course that's the best part.

There’s a taped up-drawing in your studio that looks like a map of your work...Do you create drawings or small studies for each piece?

I generally draw very little, or more precisely, if I draw, it only lasts a few seconds. I keep a large piece of paper on my studio wall where I do quick sketches of forms that cross my mind. Seeing dozens of ideas all at once makes me feel calm and lets me notice what common threads exist, and how to dissect them. It feels like I am putting together a puzzle where all the parts are the same color but different shapes. What takes up most graphite is technical drafts for how a sculpture will be put together. Each part is individually engineered, and I really enjoy figuring out the puzzle of bringing it all together seamlessly.

There are painted and stained elements to your work. How does color play into your sculptures?

I ask different questions from added color than what I ask from inherent material color. I see added color as a moment where I get to guide the viewer's thoughts towards communal associations. For the most part, I use added colors that make sense with the form I'm seeing. With my leaves, I don't paint them to replicate exactly the real thing, I only paint enough to suggest a connection. I find more joy in thinking how to paint “Spring” as an idea into a leaf rather than replicating a leaf as it grows during that season. Not having to color match anything lets me be more intuitive and personal with my choices. The word “color” makes me think about the appearance of the most outer layer of information something has. But how often do we think about the color of the insides of a sculpture? There are just as many decisions and colors inside my sculptures as there are on the surface. That's why I lean more towards transparent paint - what the type of clothes we wear say to a stranger versus going tanning to the beach.

Now that your residency has come to a close, what's next?

My life right now is at a strange place because I am in the process of figuring out if I will continue to live in the USA or move back to Mexico. Not knowing what will happen with DACA is an excitement of a different kind. I am about to move out of my current studio in Provincetown, and what excites me the most is figuring out where the next studio will be. I love how every new studio ends up making me want to reimagine my practice. Of course this whole virus situation has shifted my plans, but I think I will be working from Texas and California this summer. I plan to load up my car with a specific set of tools that can do much but don’t take up too much space and hit the road.

Raul De Lara immigrated from Mexico to the United States at the age of 12, and has been a DACA recipient since 2012. Growing up in Texas as a non-English speaker, feeling neither from here nor there, his work now reflects on ideas of nationality, language barriers, body language and the sense of touch. His sculptures explore how stories, folklore and rituals can be silently communicated through inanimate objects, tools and foreign environments. De Lara often works with wood, a material that always shows the passing of time on its skin. His aesthetics and materials are inspired by the shared backyard between the United States and Mexico.

De Lara received his MFA in Sculpture + Extended Media from Virginia Commonwealth University and a BFA from the University of Texas at Austin. He has been awarded the Ox-Bow School of Art Fellowship, a Chicago Artists Coalition HATCH Residency, the International Sculpture Center Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award and currently, he is a fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown.

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Artist Website

Leigh Suggs

By In the Studio

"I would imagine most people think my work is orderly or rigid, but looking at the entirety of my practice and my work, I would say the orderliness was born out of a necessity to control the chaos"

– Leigh Suggs

April 7, 2020

Cutting Paper: Start to Finish

Leigh Suggs is a paper artist who we’ve been lucky to work with for over five years. The North-Carolina native earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts from UNC Chapel Hill in 2003 and later moved to Richmond, where she pursued her MFA in Craft & Material Studies at VCUarts. She’s lived and worked in Richmond since she graduated in 2015 and has mounted several group and solo exhibitions over the years, including two solo shows with Reynolds Gallery.

We’re excited to take a closer look into Leigh’s studio practice and have her answer a few questions about her process and relationship with the work.

How do you decide on your patterns and how have they evolved?

I think there is some form of a circle in the majority of my work. It can be obvious or subtle – but the circle or focal point tends to be the start of my process. Rules of geometry, randomness, organization, and “what feels right” all come into play. My patterns tend to be very deliberate – I typically map them out on the back of the work. The parts that most people don’t get to see are all my drawings/edits/changes which are on the back side of the piece. That is where I work out design issues. But randomness comes into play when I actually start cutting. Each line that my hand incises (or draws) becomes its own organic or random opportunity for chance. My cut might not be straight, it might not follow the line I originally drew, etc.

Also, I don’t use any sort of computer program to aid in my pattern production… it is all hand drawn and hand-cut to be figured out by trial and error.

Can you touch on "making sense" of things in your practice? And how the organic versus inorganic
and order versus chaos come into play?

I think tension between the organic and inorganic is at play in my work.  I would imagine most people think my work is orderly or rigid, but looking at the entirety of my practice and my work, I would say the orderliness was born out of a necessity to control the chaos.  A blank sheet of paper can be pretty intimidating to me and make me feel like I have no idea where to start! Also, I can’t tell you how many people have asked if I’m OCD (I’m not by the way)!  … but aren’t all those things just trying to make sense of chaos or control of what we can’t control? Trying to find centeredness? trying to “circle” back to the balance of things? So from one, comes the other – and vice versa – constantly playing with each other.

Why always paper-based?

I think of two major turning points during my undergraduate education.  First, I worked in the conservation lab at my university’s library as a work study.  I repaired old books and manuscripts and made boxes for the rare book collection.  Occasionally I got to observe the lead conservator work on pieces of paper that were thousands of years old.  It was such an intense glimpse into an unknown world of paper and information, and it has stuck with me. Secondly, I had an art professor who introduced me to the “art world” of paper.  He helped me get a summer position at Dieu Donne (an NYC institution dedicated to serving established and emerging artists through the collaborative creation of contemporary art using the process of hand papermaking).  There, I got to see so many crazy new things, and work with several artists.  So, I guess that’s how paper became so important to me.  I think I might be fairly close to putting in my 10,000 hours with paper… but there is still so much more to learn!

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How have your materials changed throughout the years and why use Yupo paper?

I think specific material choices have shifted over the years because of access or knowledge. My first “paper cuts” were with paper I made at Dieu Donne. I loved working with Abaca – a long natural fiber paper – but you can’t buy it in stores, you have to buy it from small papermakers or make it yourself. And slowly over the years with testing other papers and finally coming across Yupo – I don’t think it was a widely known paper until the early 2000’s. Yupo is a synthetic paper which is tear resistant, and isn’t susceptible to the same degradations as natural fiber paper. I tell people it’s like cutting through softened butter. It’s much easier on my hand!

Your most recent exploration was in hand-made paper at Penland...what is next?

I have been working with the South Dakota School of Mine & Technologies for a project that was to come together this fall – now I guess pending due to the pandemic. But they were taking my drawings and images of finished work, using their computer programs to scan and trace, and then cutting my work out of steel. We are in the sampling phase at the moment; trying to decide on scale, thickness, finishes – all to culminate in a show and hopefully a sculpture on campus. I’m really excited to see how my cuts translate into a completely different material!

Can you tell us about the design and layout process, how you lay the tape and then use an exacto knife?

I usually do a full drawing, either in my sketch book or on the back surface of the work – most of the time I do both. I like to be able to see what the piece will look like from a design perspective before I spend the laborious hours of cutting.  So once the drawing is done, I use the tape to “trace” the drawing.  The blue tape helps my eyes and hands navigate against the surface.  I move fairly quickly, so having the contrast of the blue against a white or red background helps!  Once everything is cut, I then pull up the tape.

How many hours can you cut?

That all depends on how many days I’ve already been cutting.  But I try to limit it to 5 hours a day – to not cause injury.  Some days more, some days less.  I also usually have several pieces going at once… so one might be cutting, another is prepping/painting, and maybe a drawing or collage.  I alternate amongst them all if I find myself unmotivated or fatigued.

What inspires you?

I gain inspiration just from paying attention to my surroundings – that includes the weird optical things I might experience.  A sunset (a deep navy or turquoise) or a sunrise (bright yellowy-orange) can completely influence my choice of color.  But I am always returning to blues and navys – which I think are directly linked to my environment as a child.  My mom has blue everything and striped everything.  It’s definitely imprinted in my mind’s eye.

What makes you excited to get back into the studio?

Fortunately, I don’t ever have a problem of not being excited to go to the studio!  But also, as I mentioned, I am a creature of habit and routine, so I enjoy coming every day.  I do think life experience has taught me that I’m finally in the right lane – I love what I do!