While some artists might shy away from encouraging an open-ended, potentially endless string of associations, Brooke Reinhold Richard seems to embrace it as she leads viewers through her paintings with a loose architecture of visual clues. Her work includes motifs not unlike the tropes and symbols used in the Surrealist tradition of painting, which created numerous meaningful, often personal, associations.
Richard paints serially, creating one group of works at a time, in order to pursue a particular collection of visual associations or thematic ideas. The titles of these series are disparate—Fragility, Figure in the Environment, Exploration Spatiale—and with them, Richard unabashedly denotes that her work is dealing with incredibly broad subject matter. Although initially this might seem too loose or scattered, Richard’s works address the open-ended process of visual exploration and intuition to such a degree that their abstract qualities become almost concrete, providing a glimpse into the world as she sees it or imagines it to be from a dreamlike state.
There is something of Derek Jarman’s seminal film Blue in Richard’s works. At the time of filming, Jarman was suffering from AIDS-related complications; he was taking medication that tinged his rapidly failing vision with a deep blue hue. While Jarman’s work is more serious, vulnerable, and urgent—in art historical and human terms—there is an interesting overlap with Richard’s paintings, in the way her work functions as a measured and distinct mode of seeing, as though she is looking through a series of changing and broadly thematic lenses.
The works Gold, Ivory, and Red (all from 2013 and part of the Fragility Series) are painted with a delicate hand, evoking vague emotional and potentially remembered sensory states. Each painting is grounded in a surreal depiction of a given landscape that emerges; landmasses, buildings, trees, and small bodies of water materialize like islands of shape and color amid the rich and void-like background colors that surround in the title colors.
In another work, Descending Forms (2010), part of the Exploration Spatiale series, Richard’s work becomes completely abstract, as amorphous areas of color seem to swim in and around one another. Yet intimations of recognizable shapes seem to emerge: the torso of a rising horse, a human body falling headfirst with hands following, or a swatch of cityscape in an oval-shaped bubble oozing through the layers of paint. The intense depth and texture of this painting guides the eye continually around the composition in search of, and often finding, new potential images to analyze and speculate on.
Richard also paints representational figural compositions that differ from her other work but still contain the elusive thematic sensibility her abstract paintings are awash in. In The Great Escape (2012), part of the series Figure in the Environment, Richard engages a singular human figure with the same rich, painterly colors and loose visual associations in her other paintings. The Great Escape, however, contains traces of both humor and a potentially intense anxiety, felt about and within the figure. The central figure, a man in his early twenties, wears a straw hat, mismatched socks, and a red bow tie on top of a purple T-shirt as he rides a child’s bicycle in a perceived effort to escape. What is he escaping from? Perhaps he fears the faux pink flamingo standing next to him, or the totemic bird statue that presides over his left shoulder, ready to cast some unknown spell. What stands out most about this figure, and the composition, is the ghost-like quality of his eyes—a shadow of an iris and pupil make the right eye seem visible and almost knowable. However, the lack of truly identifiable eyes lends this character a seemingly bottomless anxiety, as he seems unsure of what to do next, or how to begin the process of deciding to do so. It is this kind of tension, between deciding to take a path or to dwell in ambiguity, that unites all of Richard’s paintings. Her ability to create recognizable—at times barely so—settings and figures that consistently offer a world of possibilities to her audience make her works both engaging and eerie.
Brooke Reinhold Richard currently lives and works in Plymouth, New Hampshire. She received her BA in Painting from Plymouth State University in Plymouth, New Hampshire. Her work has been included in group and solo exhibitions in Plymouth, New Hampshire; Boston, Massachusetts; and West Newbury, Massachusetts.