Following our recent studio visit with Richard Colman, Camille Rose Garcia (HF Vol. 8 cover artist) sat down with the artist to discuss wizards, Islamic patterns, Raiders of the Lost Arc, and his latest show, “Keep Out the Light”, debuting later this evening at New Image Art in Los Angeles…
Hello Richard. It’s a great pleasure for me as a longtime fan of your work to get a glimpse of the paintings for your new show, “Keep Out The Light”. These paintings have a new mystery that your older pieces didn’t have, it’s as if the messages are more obscured. I actually find them much scarier than your blood-orgy series, despite their cute colored-yarnyness, because they remind me of culty rituals, maybe culty rituals that prop up evil empires. can you elaborate on this new witchy direction?
I tend to like my paintings to convey a sort of uneasiness. I think in the past I have used more obvious or direct methods to achieve this. With the newer work I’m trying to achieve it more through color, composition and a lot of patterning and that sort of thing. The new work is still very much rooted in that narrative style, but this work is more about the abstraction of the narrative. Also, to achieve this sense of uneasiness, I like to use things in my paintings that normally wouldn’t have a disquieting effect. In the past I would use cute bears, little men in suits, rainbows, etc. and place those sorts of things in some horrible or awkward situations. Lately it’s more about using colors people would normally associate with cheerful things and arranging them in a way that might feel uneasy or awkward. Something like that anyway.
How do these pieces reflect your personal view of the world?
I try to keep my personal worldview out of it as much as possible but I think that stuff has a way of coming through, despite my efforts. I think I’m easily overwhelmed by it all though—and sometimes it shows.
I know that you use Islamic patterning as a reference in your work, and I also noticed that all or most of the faces are hidden/ obscured. I found that pretty interesting because in the Islamic religion, they are not allowed in their artwork to depict the human form. Is there a significance to this Islamic idea of not depicting faces?
I don’t really reference Islamic patterning directly, I think it’s more that I just build my patterns in the same sort of way. I like figuring out ways to build the different patterns, there is a sort of math to it all that I find interesting. Working out the patterns and actually the whole painting is this process of sort of making and solving a puzzle all at once. I like that. The faces and other things which are obscured or hidden just comes from wanting to hide things and have secrets in my paintings. I like the idea that you can never really know what’s going on and that you can continually find new things in them.
Second part of that question, also related to Islamic patterning, their use of patterns derived from nature represents the most perfect depiction of the presence of their god. In other religions, in particular the Mandalas that occur in a number of different cultures, they use pattern and repetition as a way to meditate on the presence of some greater power. What are your thoughts on this?
I think working in this way can be very meditative. A lot of times I’ll be working and before I know it the whole day has gone by. It’s very easy to zone out and lose yourself in this kind of work. As far as reflecting on, or communing with any sort of higher power, I don’t know—but I’m not really looking to do that. I just kind of daydream or think about whatever, but I guess if I were real into God, I’d think about that.
Talk about some of the symbolism you are using in this show, in particular the use of the scaffolding, curtains revealing, and drippy pyramid heads.
I think my work has always had a sort of theatrical tone to it but lately I’ve just been really into all the behind the scenes stuff, I just think it’s rad. So I’ve been playing with that sort of stuff lately and just getting into painting all the beams and curtains, which end up making their own kind of patterns which is fun. I also think that that feeling of being behind the scenes is really magical. I know that any time I have been backstage it has always felt very special to me, you know? It’s like you get to be in this place that most people don’t get to go to, and you can see the other side of that fantasy world that’s presented to everyone else. It’s amazing. I guess most of the other symbolism I use, including the drippy heads, all depends on its context. The same image can represent any number of things. It all just depends on the painting it’s in. Everything is sort of defined by what’s around it.
The sculptures reminded me of the melting faces in Raiders of the Lost Arc, when the Nazi’s looked at the ghosts coming out of the Arc of the Covenant. They melted because they were the bad people, and they were greedy Nazis. Is there any political message to these bad-people heads? is there an inherent beauty in totally horrifying moments, because they remind us of the full range of human emotions?
That’s what they are, they are the first in a series of sculptures I’ve been thinking about lately. I see that image more about become consumed by your desires and ambitions. I do find that I have a connection with and find beauty in these sort of horrifying moments, I’m not sure why exactly though. I do know that when I was younger there was a boom in horror movies and it seemed like there was a sort of Renaissance happening in horror effects at that time and I was amazed by it all. That sort of stuff had an effect on me in a really profound way, probably before any other sort of creative thing did. So maybe they are nothing more than nostalgia.
I feel like the characters in these paintings are slave-like, building something awful that is beyond their control, even though on the surface they are very beautiful and distracting. Can you elaborate on this?
They are more like ants in an ant farm before you shake it up.
In one of your paintings, the worker/slaves look very tired of building their fake empires, and also their life-force seems to be being drained from them into buckets. Is there a message there? Is this painting really a blue-collar manifesto?
Of sorts I guess. It might just be about hard work.
I’m sure you have heard about the oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico that ruptured, and is vomiting black oil into the oceans at about 20,000 gallons a day. I am seeing a weird relation between the slave/ workers in your paintings obsessively building up these elaborate scaffoldings to hold up facades of giant god-faces and pretty factories, and this current environmental nightmare. What do you think about this?
I think one of the great things about painting this way is that people can really take what they need from it. I think my paintings suggest a lot but I try to do it in a way that leaves it open for the viewer. When I see certain works from people I tend to attach my own feelings or thoughts to them and that’s something I find very powerful about art so I like the idea of making things that almost invite that.
The colors in this body of work is very psychedelic, do you see any connection to the 60’s psychedelic movements’ search for spirituality and wild orgies, or are you just trying to hypnotize me?
For me it’s about wrestling with color. Color is not something I am very confident with, it’s a fight every time and I probably take it a little too far because of that. The effect of them seeming psychedelic is just sort of an accident really, a by-product of my overcompensation or something.
Do you sometimes feel like a wizard?
Sort of, I feel old.
Are you afraid someone might steal your soul if you leave the studio? Vampires or Zombies? especially at night?
Yes. It’s scary out there. It’s safe in the studio, sometimes I feel like Charlton Heston in “Omega Man”.