Ray Richardson: Lord of the Urban Jungle By Austin Collings
Ray Richardson: Lord of the Urban Jungle
Every day I go to the local library to spy. Spying is waiting, so I sit amongst other men, attached to old computers, and wait with my listening eye, honing my low-level -addiction.
Some of the men fill out online job-search diaries. Some play colourful computer games. Some gaze at escort girls. Some watch news footage of fields on fire. Some stare into air.
Each appear to be trying to unlock the traffic jam in their heads, trying to make a companion out of space, as they fathom the path from larger day to huger night, yet again; and, despite what I think, I am connected to them. I am one of them.
Ray Richardson is one of them. He is something else as well – a modern master of painting figures – figures not too dissimilar to the library-dwellers – caught in thought amongst the sprawl of his London.
It seems to me a work of art is the evidence offered by a fantastically observant witness – or spy -and I connect with Ray’s world because it revels in the superabundance of earthly life like an array of mirrors in which the human predicament leaps out at us.
Everybody has that feeling when they’re confronted by a canvas and it’s right, that sudden familiarity, a sort of recognition, as though they were creating it themselves, as though it were being created through them while they look at it or listen to it. He is not afraid to share the fear that we belong to another, or to others, or to God.
We live in a symbolic society now – a symbol culture – signs everywhere, labels, sponsors, brands. Symbols are the definitions of being. Nothing has more value than symbology. However, the roots of his canvas-cast (and my fellow men and women in the library) are part of an older seemingly bygone folk culture.
He details the dilemma of these two seismic opposites. Gone were the good old days. Today was the good old days. Against the odds, we come back stronger for (yet another) one last round. There is loss, yes, but also celebration, a luminous stoicism. There is elegance as well, a tormented and comic elegance to the way his characters stand and bend.
The politics are not on the surface of the paintings but underneath, woven into the emotional architecture of the canvases. He lives inside the intestines of the place, of London, spying on the brain and the genitals.
His trick, his sleight-of-hand, or style – call it what you like – is to capture the wonder and doom of the thinking process, when thoughts dawn on us – on humans and animals – or dog’s – or one dog in particular – Brian the bull-terrier – his right-hand mandog/canine alter-ego. He does this in a way that is neither depressing nor daft, but enlivening. He can fill and break your heart at once. That’s lingering beauty for you.
Art offers space – certain breathing room for the spirit. This is its central magic, its core of joy. And he revels in it, in the atmospheric delicacy of the canvas offering possibilities of dignity and poetry; the light sublime, like staring at a rusted bridge in the sun, a blaze of blue sky or blue denim, the shuddering of windblown water, somebody’s skin glowing like milk, the great tide of daylight passing into evening; the paints, on fire, working wonders.
He has not only an eye but a taste, smell, touch, and ear for excruciating tone and anonymous hue. His canvases are zones of enigmatic solemnity and activity – so much energy and information on display, like soap operas imbued with a cinematic sweep.
He raids film culture like Richard Burton’s seething, barking – dog-like – knife-wielding armed robber Vic Dakin in Villain (1971) raids banks.
Film courses through his veins: the no-nonsense glare of peak-era Michael Caine in the 60s and early 70s, the wandering camera of Martin Scorsese’s maverick ode to mobster-living, mobster-cooking, mobster-music – Goodfella’s – and like David Lynch, he conjures up a strangely ordinary world that exists somewhere between a potent melodrama and a metaphysical urban noir. You see all sorts, in every sense of the phrase, including Ray himself sometimes, painted in there, full cameo, full mutton-chop sideburns, Andy Capp-cap on, like Scorsese himself in Taxi Driver or Alfred Hitchcock in his last London-set masterpiece Frenzy, bending the truth of narrative painting like he bends light, at his will with a psychic freedom.
Something lifts the paintings beyond the representational registers of realism into the suggestive, mystical realm of meditation. Moments of the real world, the one we all experience, seem mysteriously taken out of time. Privacy and society conjoin in living colour.
Ray’s shot at the big one is on the horizon. He’s a genuine contender to one of those mythic titles that secretly drive all competitive artists. Watch him rise. See him out there, doing his road work, wiping the sleep from his eyes at the crack of dawn to go paint the crack of dawn with his own meticulous touch, painting himself into a corner with his own painted corners, defying the dictates of art-fashion, with Brian snoozing in the studio, adrift in Brian-land, lord of his own urban jungle.
James Ellroy - Forward for Made in London 2018
Ray Richardson has notably painted men in packs — working-class conspirators, huddling or staring off in different directions, stoics up to no good. All to the good — but men are mere human beings — and, thus, in Big Ray’s world, they are relegated to second-class-citizen status.
Because Ray Richardson is a dogman. He paints dogs because he worships dogs. He most specifically worships the King of Dogs — the English Bull Terrier. You’ve seen these wedge-headed, slope-snouted, bat-eared, beady-eyed, coarsecoated, whip-tailed motherfuckers. They’re shark-like. They love all humans and seek to kill all rodents and cats. They embody the great themes of Love and Death. They radiate glee and indiscriminate good cheer. They’re pure K-9 efficacy — and Ray Richardson gives us their transcendent souls.
He portrays them among street-corner stoics up to no good. Maybe the stoics are planning a dope heist or a smash-and-grab. The bull terrier’s the brains of the operation. How does Big Ray get that point across? Because he rivets your eyes to the dog, not the men. Big Ray is a man. He’s a man who takes all his artistic cues from dogs, because dogs are superior to men, and bull terriers are the supreme K-9 kommanders. Big Ray longs to be a dog — and that’s a compliment. Big Ray paints from this immutable sense of longing.
Ray Richardson’s oil-on-canvas bull terriers are strident, whimsical, domineering, tender, and the kwintessence of K-9 form. They look simple on the surface. Ray Richardson paints them again, again, again, and again — reinventing and exploding this K-9 form, revising it, perfecting it, ever attentive, ever worshipful. How can anything so on-the-surface simple be so complexly depicted? The answer is this great British artist himself. He loves the bull terrier more and more. He paints them to express his growing gifts as an artist and his growing and ever-mutating love for this most magical beast.
I’ve been following Ray Richardson’s career for 25 years and I know whereof I bark. The Exalted Dog,
Beaux Arts London, 48 Maddox Street, W1S 1AY (off Bond Street)