Daniel Richter at Regen Projects
“I wonder if (insert name of painter friend here) has seen these? He should.”
Are these soldiers? Obviously. A cowboy lighting a cigarette, cupping his hands standing with an (Afghani? A Paki?) a pointed-beard turban guy. A classic pose, poignant – like lovers and like that old saying, “Last one on a match dies.”
In a film I heard Richter say of a painting from this series, one with a standing wolf peeing on a man hanging from a cliff, “I’m sorry but I can’t help you. It’s not in my nature.” (Somehow Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell” pops into my brain as I look at Richter’s paintings.) Opposite this painting is another landscape, a canyon or cleft. There is a death mask at center, a woman(?) or a ghost. She is lifting her skirts and they become also of the landscape. Two brown men confer off to one side, leaning together. The title of this one is “The Big Smile” and I think that one can run as far as one likes with any interpretation brought to mind by the figures, the words, the paint and the combination of it all.
Richter isn’t being subtle here, or anywhere in this group of paintings. Stylistically, the paintings in this show alternate between the quiet and the chaotic: landscapes that are represented like in comics and topographical maps – on a soft colored ground lines are drawn with paint, the figures are much smaller than life size and feel like quotes from movies – ‘the cowboy’ and ‘the taliban’ – all are heroes to someone, and the mood in these is wistful and elegiac. The humans are seen from a distance, and are ideals, and because of the familiarity of Richter’s symbols it is easy to insert myself into these paintings.
In the chaotic series, anti-heroic looking figures are painted in black and they run, stride, crouch, hold guns – they are active. Their hands and eyes glow, the spaces where their bodies might be – if they have bodies – are tattooed with bits of the chaotic backgrounds brought forward in slash marks. In fact the backgrounds of these paintings are psychedelic, clearly they are landscapes but they are shattered and fractured, as if by PTSD, and highlighted as though viewed with night goggles or as if they are taking place in a video war game.
In all of the paintings pattern plays a role, and color. Once or twice the combinations of colors remind me of the old African National colors in the 1970s and of other signifiers from the colored past of revolutions. Two passages in two different paintings had me standing stock still for moments, racking my brain to think where – in which favorite old painting – I had seen a similar moment. I think this is a trick that the painter performs upon me – he draws seamlessly from our common cultures of art, entertainment, violence, music, etc., and plants these things in his paintings.
At another point in the film I saw, Daniel Richter speaks of the effects on the ‘liberated’ of our constant wars for their salvation, “Yeah, everything is going wrong, but in return we are bringing you the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the cool guitar…” and he refers to “our image when it is applied on others.” The west does not come across well in these paintings, or perhaps it is that we are represented here by the results of our actions and not by (the glory of) our intent.
If these paintings alternate, they also seem to create a narrative among themselves, selected as they are from a much larger body of work. Characters are introduced, the soldiers move across their terrain (I wonder for a moment if this chaotic terrain is as much internal as of the world?) , the story moves along in fits and starts. In the penultimate canvas our three friends – cowboy, taliban and stranger – are killed, they had been standing on a Chuck Jones pinnacle in a vista of land forms but now are falling off – struck by bullets from an unseen warrior or an unknowable drone. In the final fantastically painted canvas the soldiers are back, facing us, moving on. At the left and right of the figures Richter has placed a schematic rock and maybe a bomb blast. This is one of the places where I stood for ten minutes looking, here and in front of several other paintings in the show. These abstract spots are glorious, really. Go see.
Daniel Richter, A concert of purpose and action at Regen Projects through February 18 http://www.regenprojects.com/