John Richey, Grids as a Visual System on Paper and Fabric

written by Elizabeth Spadea
for Ellenbogen Gallery
Feb. 7 , 2020

Confronting memories through woven creations, Brooklyn-based artist John Richey explores moments of time within and between each impression on his cyanotype artworks. Labor-intensive and repetitive, the process to create a cyanotype print relieves the artist of complete control. It is the uncertainty of the outcome that sends a shockwave of life into these works. Through a photographic printing process which relies on a mixture of chemicals across a substrate and the chemicals interaction with sunlight, cyanotypes must follow a specific method. Soaked in a tray of Ammonium ferric citrate mixed with Potassium ferricyanide and water, sheets of paper are then covered with objects in order to create an impression. A layer of plastic is placed on top in order to control the UV light exposure, which alters the color from yellow stained paper into a series of blue/green impressions.

Untitled (woven grid 06) by John Richey; 12" x 12", cyanotype on paper, 2019.

After Richey creates large scale cyanotype prints, he then begins to construct his outcomes by manipulating and re-arranging aspects of each sheet. Composed in a similar way to a puzzle or woven quilt, his grid-based works enter ‘post-production’. Colliding within itself, new patterns emerge. As an audience, we observe a combustible creation, frozen in time by the hand of the artist. Psychedelic in a way, blue impressions become lost in a field of geometric shapes. Each artwork stands as a reference to the natural world and acknowledges the ephemerality of the spaces in which we exist. As Richey explains, particular moments collect within the works and are reproduced as blue and white data. The linear nature of his works suggest some sort of digital process, or data analysis. However, the analog process is anything but, within the first few stages. As works can always be manipulated digitally after, as Richey has been known to do, within his series on paper, it is the human error and effort which gives it organic energy.

Composition II (1930) by Piet Mondrian
“Composition II, in Red, Blue, and Yellow” (1930) by Piet Mondrian

Constructed as an algorithm, the seemingly endless layers of blue and white dominate the space as an expression of metaphysical thoughts. Piet Mondrian is best known for his geometric abstract paintings. Arranged with a combination of solids and empty space, Mondrian  utilizes the simplicity of primary colors along with white and black in his compositional series created around the 1920’s. In particular, his arguably most well-known work, ‘Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow’, the disproportionate layout seems to comment on his interpretation of the natural world. Through his work, Mondrian became one of the pivotal figures in the Neoplasticism movement which is based around the exploration of universal and individual harmonies, two extremes which become merged. Representational of natural forms, the relationship between symbolism, line and color emerge. Combined with a  juxtaposition of horizontal and vertical lines, Neoplasticism lends itself to configure spaces filled with symbolic yet indirectly represented figures.

For Richey, as he continues to manipulate the idea of the world around him through his monochromatic series, ‘Woven Grid Series’, he explores the ideas of Neoplasticism. Abstract by nature, yet comprised of a study between the natural and the created, Richey utilizes a juxtaposition of nature and straight lines and solids to create controlled chaos, methodical disarray.

John Richey, Tote Bag, Cyanotype on Canvas (functional)
Tote Bag by John Richey. Cyanotype on canvas (functional).

Applying Richey’s technical approach and design elements to textiles, he has also created a series of wearable (scarves) and functional (tote bags) fabrics. Bringing together the essence of his works on paper, his prints on fabric begin to incorporate digital manipulation into his analog work. In Richey’s installation Outlet, his second installation at Ellenbogen Gallery, he entered the realm of fashion by challenging the cliche of ‘plaid’.  Rich in concept, his geometric patterns extend beyond the overlay of colors and lines. Adapted cyanotype prints combined with other hand manipulated designs merge onto wearable artworks. Richey takes his work beyond the two-dimensional and forces it into reality, into our tangible world.

Richey’s “Woven Grid Series” at Ellenbogen Gallery includes two large and six small works on paper; there are also eight framed cyanotype grids on paper (9” x 9”) and several wearable scarves and functional totes.

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