Women and Children First: Shaun Richards

Exhibition Artworks

Nov 1, 2009 - Dec 1, 2009

Shaun Richards

Shaun Richards' current work consists of paintings and constructions that examine social dynamics, and nostalgic constructs, along with the interplay of media within American society. Richards' work, evolving from an interest centered on the South, questions notions of beauty, artifice, and materialism. By combining mixed media, stencils, and traditional modes of painting on a variety of grounds, Richards expands upon these themes and continues to investigate ethics, social dynamics, proletarian concepts, and psycho-social influences.

Richards attended Hagerstown Junior College in Maryland before transferring to UNC-Wilmington, where he earned a BA in Art in 1999. In 2003, he enrolled in SUNY Empire State College as a non-matriculated graduate student. This MLSA program afforded him a studio in Manhattan with weekly visits and critiques from established artists, critics, and curators. Richards left NYC in the spring of 2006, to return to North Carolina to pursue art full time. He moved to Raleigh in August 2006, and in January 2007 he was awarded the Regional Emerging Artist Residency at Artspace. In September 2007, he was featured in Southwest Art's annual emerging artist issue, 21 Under 31. He is currently in residency at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, Omaha, Nebraska.



Women and Children First

 The experience of viewing Shaun Richards’ work is like finding a time capsule from an unspecified era. The sundry media and materials – book pages, repetitious stenciled forms, carefully delineated figures that combine to form larger figures – positioned alongside one another without explanatory narration, beg a greater story, a structure against which their meanings might be deciphered. And yet Richards doesn’t simply employ the amorphous category of “mixed media” for the novelty of it; he turns to it to create a puzzle without clearly defined pieces. His works offer a loose story arc, but only if a viewer is willing to journey to seek it.

It is no small choice that he has titled his most recent exhibition Women and Children First, that motto of desperate rescue efforts. His works have been increasingly demonstrating a sense of catastrophe in the past three years, especially in his preoccupation with innocence and its loss. In Richards’ explorations, each quality is intimately acquainted with the divides between childhood and adulthood, men and women.

Perhaps no work has been more overt in communicating coming peril than his large-scale Four Horsemen. By selecting those harbingers most popularly associated with the apocalypse outlined in the Bible’s Revelations, Richards automatically positions his translation of the scene against countless interpretations throughout the history of art. His horsemen are no chimerical creatures sent from mankind’s nightmares; they are the romanticized cowboys of the American West. They are nostalgia incarnate. Incidentally, this playful approach to the art historical timeline is also evident in The Bachelorette as Richards employs Bartolomeo Manfredi’s image of Mars Chastising Cupid – a work which references Roman mythology, one of the more recognizable and standardized of the western world’s literary traditions – to investigate the murky and ambiguous territories of love and courtship.

However, the four horsemen’s juxtaposition against the symbols of nuclear energy, the contemporary logos of global consumerism, and the self-stylized prophets of mass media raise a number of questions. Would the end of the world actually save Western culture from itself? Has the apocalypse already quietly arrived under the guise of progress? Or is society’s greatest danger its tendency to glorify the past, sugarcoating and forgetting its hardships? The connections between the pieces indicate there is a story to be drawn from the work’s elements, but it is unknown whether it is a tragedy, a comedy, or a cautionary tale.

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