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I’ve known the painter Richard Gold for more than two decades.  The image of one of his paintings graces the cover of Assume Nothing, the first CD of spoken word and music from Poem de Terre.  Over the years, Richard and I have had many interesting conversations about the State of The Arts and other wide-ranging subjects.  Most often, he and I are in agreement.  As a writer and multi-disciplinary artist, I find Richard’s perspectives on painting in specific apply nonetheless to all artistic disciplines.  I’d like to present some examples of his philosophy for writers and other artists to consider.

So just who is this Richard Gold?  Here’s how he describes himself as an artist.

“I have been an exhibiting artist since 1968, first in Toronto, then as a resident of Kingston since 1979. During my undergraduate years in Fine Arts at York University in the early 1970’s, I became interested in exploring potentially incompatible concepts in painting—like the combining of gestural abstraction with high realism, like the use of the diagonal rectangle as a basic format—ideas which are still fundamental to my work even now. From 20 years as a museum exhibit and lighting designer for the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Royal Ontario Museum and many local Kingston museums, I developed the draftsmanship skills and dramatic design style which I believe are still evident in my work today. These distinct images evolve from my personal concerns both as a former professional environmental landscape designer and as a sincere humanitarian. They explore a continuing interest in age-old concepts like humanity versus nature and humanity versus itself.”

Richard Gold’s oeuvre – don’t you just love those fancy artsy words? – is paintings four feet by six feet meant to be hung diagonally.  Between this format and his forceful painting style, these paintings are powerful and dramatic to see.  In 1984, Richard explained the reasoning behind his choice of the diagonal rectangle as the field for his images.

“The art of primitive man was unimpeded by the lack of a balanced or symmetrical format in his environment upon which he could make his images. The wilderness denied him this. His own perception was unfettered by any such need.

“When “civilized” art developed as an adjunct to architecture, the shape of the painted image soon conformed to the same formulae that offered stability and balance to the structures which housed it. An expectation of equalibrium evolved that has confined painting for centuries.

“The balanced format has been relentlessly exploited. Although some artists have experimented with different configurations and juxtapositions, most have been reluctant to address the unstable shape–one which the traditional viewer finds dissonant and aberrant. It largely remains unwelcome in our man-made environment. Preconception still limits our grasp of a non-uniform world–one full of diagonals, disproportion and imbalance.

“I believe that these factors have something fundamental to offer to art. Through them one can rediscover that other world which was shut outside the pyramids. Beauty still beckons beyond the tomb door. We must embrace it on it’s own terms, accommodate its idiosyncracies and rest beneath its tottering forms.

“The diagonal rectangle epitomizes the precarious. It offers the most difficult conceptual and formal challenges–many of which have still to be addressed. I have committed myself to that engagement and have grown to understand the unstable shape. Its possibilities transcend gimmickry. It has the potential to push back time and stir artists to embrace a way of seeing that was largely abandoned before the pharoahs.”

In each of The Arts, there’s an “establishment” that seeks to control and contain artists, to prevent them from creating outside prescribed boxes.  In writing in Canada, that establishment comprises certain elements in the universities, the CanLit crowd, most literary festivals, and associated elitist groups.  In music, visual art, dance, and other disciplines, similar establishments exist to exclude those artists who don’t conform.  In 1997, Richard Gold addressed that situation, and he made a decision.  When he looks back in 2014, he notices something surprising, ironic, and encouraging.

“In 1997, I made a conscious decision to put my participation in public exhibits on indefinite hold. I was under considerable pressure from curators and gallery owners to produce work that wasn’t so ‘eccentric’—in other words, more easily definable and ‘saleable’, more in tune with current artistic trends. Realism and abstraction blended together, especially on an oddly shaped format, were definitely not going to fit the groove. Avant-garde viewers saw romantic realism and decided that my whole style was too old-fashioned. More conservative viewers felt that I was ruining my skilfully painted realistic images by abruptly spattering paint all over them. Both seemed to find the diagonal rectangle format too odd or gimmicky. Although I understood their need to support or display works that weren’t perhaps so complicated, those for which there was an established understanding, I decided that being compliant was not going to allow me to pursue my own personal vision. Although money and potential acclaim were powerful seductresses, I decided that, for better or for worse, I just could not abandon the path I had chosen for myself. I needed the satisfaction of following my own creative direction through to some sort of conclusion—regardless of how it all turned out.

“Oddly enough, when I look at the art being displayed today, more than three and a half decades after my own visual style began to crystalize, my work would not seem so out of place in many contemporary exhibitions. The complicated formal problems that artists are grappling with today are surprisingly similar to those I began addressing so long ago. I am now finding that the pictures I was producing back then—those that only fellow artists seemed to appreciate at the time–are now coming of age. For me, the irony is delectable.”

Here are a few more random thoughts from Richard Gold, “junctions” as he calls them or interconnected thoughts on his own art and on art in general.

“Art is communication at any level. That which disregards this responsibility runs the risk of being little more than masturbation.”

“Good art must challenge the medium, the artist and the viewer. It must give pleasure and take it away again. It defies and appeases simultaneously.”

“Each of us harbours a personal vision that combines the practical, social and spiritual. To categorically censor any of these from the creative process is to bring a restricted and incomplete self to the creative act. If art is to have full dimension, the artist must be permitted to embrace and probe a full spectrum of options.”

“By the same token, the narrative must be subservient to the overall formal considerations of each work. Message without form is like wind without air.”

“My work straddles the junction between the formal and the narrative, between fantasy and reality, harmony and chaos, surface and illusionary depth, spontaneity and discipline, and between the integrity of gesture and medium vs the denial of both. In short, it is a paradox which attempts to orchestrate impulses from the whole gamut of painting, ones which strike a personal chord and fuel a personal vision. These facets must flourish individually, yet submit to a union imposed upon the whole. The ultimate objective is a hard-won visual truce.”

“I pursue the improbable- a precarious alliance between elements that both stroke and bite the viewer simultaneously- the moods of Hopper and Gericault, the chromatic and formal architecture of Cezanne and Gauguin, the visceral immediacy of Pollock, the ruthlessness of Gottlieb and the peacemaking prowess of Hofmann. Only by reaching beyond the probable can I expand my own sensibility. Only by risking failure can I hope to extend the potential of any painting. At this point, the process becomes an intoxicant, and the images wrestle with a life force all their own.”

This is Richard Gold, a Canadian artist who dares to be different.  All quoted passages taken from the website Richard Gold Paintings with permission of the artist.

Richard Gold’s website can be found here: http://richardgoldpaintings.com.