Left: Earth. Right: Water. Richard J. Oliver. Oil on canvas.
Last Rites Gallery in New York City opened two solo shows — Richard J. Oliver’s “Elements” and Stefano Alcantara’s “Waqayñan,” two concurrent interpretations of a journey — this past Saturday. Oliver’s works, which sprawled across the longest of the gallery’s walls, mark a personal evolution of the artist’s practice, specifically, as a departure away from his former foreboding narrative paintings and closer to the ebullience that has come over him in recent years.
Richard J. Oliver with his work.
Of course, this newfound elation is still all very relative, and much in line with the entrancing spirit of Last Rites, as paintings like I Will Be With You in the Grave and The Ship of My Existence Drowned in That Sea are hopeful but only when seen through the lens of gloom and acceptance of dread. The subjects’ faces and bodies are glaringly bright and the backgrounds are either completely black or nearly there, with puffs of mist and smoke trailing far behind. Through this exaggerated contrast between light and dark colors, Oliver captures the peculiar paradox of a personal transformation: the constant negotiations of the former life that inadvertently come to find you like an alter ego. The artist, who is originally from Wales and currently lives in Los Angeles, was in attendance with his wife and two young children.
Installation view of “Elements.”
Richard J. Oliver. My place is placeless, a trace of the traceless. Oil on canvas.
Richard J. Oliver. Fire. Oil on canvas.
Installation view of Richard J. Oliver’s “Elements.”
Detail of I want your sun to reach my rain.
Richard J. Oliver chatting with gallery goers at the reception.
Stefano Alcantara in front of his works at the opening of “Waqayñan.”
“Waqayñan” is also about a journey, but more in a physical sense than a metaphorical one. The title of the show translates to “a difficult and dangerous road” in Quechua and is intended to represent Alcantara’s own path through life, which has taken him from the turbulence of warfare in his childhood in Peru to the social realities of greed and a different type of tyranny he encountered upon arriving in New York City, where he now lives and works.
Many of the works are originally based on photographs taken by the artist and posit the viewer in different moments in Alcantara’s life. Home Sweet Home, for example, depicts a dozing homeless man under the Williamsburg Bridge that Alcantara one day saw, and the boy in Playground is the artist as a child standing in front of a graveyard of ejected electrical towers in Peru. There is quite a noticeable split within “Waqayñan” between the artist’s new metropolitan surroundings and his childhood, which he ties together not with a continuation of his snapshots, but with a series of thematic paintings such as Wise, Mortal, and Enlightened.
Richard J. Oliver’s “Elements” and Stefano Alcantara’s “Waqayñan” are on view through August 23 at Last Rites Gallery in NYC. All photos by Bradley Tangonan.
Stefano Alcantara. Greed. Oil on canvas.
Stefano Alcantara. Home Sweet Home. Oil on board.
Stefano Alcantara. Worst Enemy. Oil on board.
Stefano Alcantara. Wise. Oil on board.
Stefano Alcantara. NYght Life. Oil on illustration board.
Stefano Alcantara. Playground. Oil on board.