The Artist’s Process: Portrait to Abstract
Ritchard Rodriguez, "Desire", 60"x60"
Ritchard Rodriguez was a realist painter for a good fifteen years before deciding to make the dramatic switch to abstract art. He attributes the change to a trip to Germany in 1981 to see the Neue Sachlichkeit paintings especially those of Otto Dix. Being in Germany pried his eyes open and made him hungry for qualitative art. He experienced the 1983 retrospective of Willem de Konnings’s paintings. He realized that he too needed to find his own abstraction and signature.
A graduate of the High School of Art and Design and School of Visual Arts, his work has been exhibited in New York, Paris and has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Marie Claire and Le Point. His portrait work has been seen at Sterling Sound, one of the most renowned mastering music studios. His abstract work has been seen at Nexus Project Gallery, The Puffin Room, and The New Yorker Gallery, among others.
Anyone that knows Rodriguez knows that music is a driving force behind his art. He prefers music that continues and travels along a plain, such as ballet and alternative rock. The music allows him to stop his mind from distracting him and gets his ego out of the process.
A contradiction lies in Rodriguez’s listening habits: he listens to Marilyn Manson while painting an abstract work, but never while painting a portrait work. The piece, CODEX, David Thomas co wrote with Pere Ubu, co-inspired Rodriguez piece, CODEX: Speculum Amoris 1& 11.
Rodriguez prefers to work quickly on his works. The faster he works the better the end result comes out. Short pieces only take four to five days and large panels take four to six weeks. "30 years," is the answer Rodriguez gives, when asked how long he has worked on a painting. For him, that’s the length of time it took to achieve the work one sees today.
The process of portrait painting begins with black and white photographs of the subject which substitute for having the subject pose for hours. Then, the photo gets enlarged and is used as a reference for Rodriguez as he paints. When people just sit for portraits they appear stagnant and unnatural which isn’t interesting. Spending time exploring the person’s expressions, stemming from the subject’s relaxed pose, allows Rodriguez the chance to find the uniqueness of the person lurking within the picture.
The process of painting abstractions varies from the process of painting portraits. In painting abstracts, he decides on a color palette as he goes along and has the title of the work in his head before beginning the work. The rules are made along the way. Leaving some areas white and covering other large patches with a 40% hue of his choice or mood, Ritchard continues on until he has a mood that agrees with him.
Often, his portrait subjects touch him in a personal way. Don Pullen was diagnosed with cancer just recently after Rodriguez lost his brother to AIDS. It was hard for Rodriguez to get to know Don, knowing he had a terminal illness. "What I felt I succeeded in was that the painting wasn’t about pity, sorrow or anger. It wasn’t about what took him away but more about the man and his awareness," Rodriguez said.
His painting, Desire, is the result of twelve months without painting, leaving a job he had for twelve years and a year of contemplation of ending painting. Only after the twelve month sabbatical from painting did Rodriguez realize what painting meant to him. Given a chance to do it all over again, Rodriguez says he’d do it the same way again. Desire, which he finished in January 2003, was followed his painting Courage by exactly twelve months later and was the same size. "But where Courage was about infinite space and hope, Desire gave me a new taste on life, and many good paintings have followed in its footsteps," Rodriguez said reflecting upon the two paintings.
His recent show, Courage and Other Recent Works was at the Nexus Project Gallery. Believing that everything is meant to be, Rodriguez works with no regrets and goes on believing that everything is possible in the next painting.