January 23, 2020
by Elizabeth Spadea for Ellenbogen Gallery
Ocracoke Island Series, No. 4 and Untitled.Time
Segments of solid color congregate among the fog of whitewashed pastels in Harry A. Rich’s 'Ocracoke Island Series, No. 4'. Composed of blues, greens, red, yellow and black, Rich begins to construct a uniquely modern painting. Generating confident marks on the canvas, the painting’s unidentifiable narrative grasps the attention of the viewer.
Drawing upon internal emotional springs, Rich comments on his works’ identity not being tied geographically to any particular location. Simultaneously, with his genealogical roots running deep into Vermont history, Rich explores his American Heritage throughout his art. An alumnus of the New York School, he also refers to his works as the grandchildren of the movement.
Working from his mind’s eye, the work directs itself. Fusing non-representational painting with emotional power, Rich creates self-supporting work meant to appear differently to each viewer. As Rich explains in a GNAT TV interview for The News Project, he would ideally like the viewer to see the work from the perspective from which he paints - six inches away from the canvas.
Avoiding obvious ‘Vermont art’ cliches, Rich does not fill his work with literal markers. Independent and purely abstract, he forces colors onto the canvas through a construction of ambiguous and geometric shapes, similar to Ukranian artist Sonia Delaunay (see Triptych), while building complexity by pairing new marks with the ones previously made. Stemming from ‘Modernism’, Rich prefers to keep his work on the outskirts of the categorical art world’s definition of genres.
Thinking technically, Rich’s work uses primary and secondary solids. Texture is shown through the layers of paint. In Ocracoke Island Series, No. 4, Rich explores the identity of each color as it is merged with the one behind it. Creating an almost geometric pattern, the work defies the obvious linear shapes it could possess. Challenging confined norms, Harry Rich achieves contemporary lyricism through his choice of color.
Michel-Eugene Chevreul, in his theories of color, explores the relationship between colors when observed either next to each other, or separately, immediately after each other. Looking into theories on color contrasts; simultaneous contrast, successive contrast and mixed contrast, it can be noted that within the composition of Harry Rich’s work, several degrees of color contrast can be identified.
Within the complicated dialogue of ‘Untitled.Time’, Rich creates a chaotic melody sectioned on the canvas into three hemispheres. Identifying the rule of thirds, Rich distorts the traditional notion of three equal sections with three equal cross sections as the basis for all paintings. Varied in color and texture, the furthest to the left features an almost organic narrative. Compounded of natural hues; greens, reds and oranges, the faux natural world comes to an abrupt stop as sporadic line segments of white and pale blue run vertically across the canvas. Entering the next segment, almost sheer blocks of beige and pink wash the no-man's land. Mimicking the color of the washed canvas this section barricades the potentially opposing force which exist on either side of the artwork. The sharp edge of the third section brings intense pinks and reds, preparing for battle as it creeps onto the canvas.
Potentially channeling the complex composition from the work of Russian- artist Wassily Kandinsky, Rich exposes his work to the unlimited potential of non-representational abstract art. Vulnerable, his canvases conquer the challenge of merging dynamic geometric paint strokes with a conclusive nod to expressionistic art. Motivated by his own mind, Rich understands the balancing act of color, bringing forward ideas proposed by Chevreul. In a similar way, Kandinsky demonstrated a balancing act throughout his work. While he focused much more on geometrically precise shapes, seen in particular in ‘Swinging’ (1925), the rational marks of Kandinsky’s canvases relay the essence of Rich’s contemporary work. Both chaotic canvases acknowledge the formulaic approach to laying paint.
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