Artwork by former Wilmington resident wins top honors

Press Release

 Wilmington Star News
Sunday, March 23, 2008

by Isabel Heblich

Former Wilmington resident Shaun Richards was recently awarded "Best in Show" for his mixed media painting Bootleg Romanticism, part of the North Carolina Artists Exhibition in Raleigh. The show, which was juried for the Raleigh Fine Arts Society by Dr. Lawrence J. Wheeler, director of the North Carolina Museum of Art, is on display at the Progress Energy Performing Arts Center in Raleigh through April 6.

Bootleg Romanticism takes its name from a chapter in Ayn Rand's The Romantic Manifesto, whose pages lay the physical and metaphysical ground for Richards' winning piece. Wheeler called it "mysterious (and) thought-provoking, with paint handling and craftsmanship that creates even further context with which to view the piece."

Richards graduated from UNCW earlier this decade and had a number of exhibits of his work in Wilmington. He is represented locally by Fountainside Gallery near Wrightsville Beach, which has several of his paintings on display.

Asked during a phone interview on his reaction to winning the $2,000 award, Richards said he was "surprised." Only 61 works (of 600 submitted) made it into the N.C. Artists Exhibition.

A conceptual painter, Richards' work deals with duality and intricate conflicts in relationships: romantic, family, with one's own character. He does so slyly. Like a mediator, he handles each side of a given dilemma (lust vs. autonomy, wealth vs. humility, poverty vs. power, domesticity vs. freedom) with equal attention and presents them in their own visual language, melding symbolic materials or styles.

The figures of Bootleg Romanticism are rendered with Renaissance musculature and shadow and are juxtaposed with a very '80s Pop Art stencil of a thoughtful girl and a rose. The paint strokes become thinner and more gestural as they disappear into a series of colored squares. Richards said they are "paint swatches from Lowes or Home Depot, signifying the domestic," and mimic pixels.

This subtle embellishment of the surface is the closest a painter can get to a viewer and the closest a viewer can get to the reality of a painting, a technique not invented by Richards but one used well.

This balancing act, the scale of viewpoints, materials and form, is what elaborates his concepts into narratives that he increasingly finds "are ending up autobiographical."

He has begun to draw from family photographs. The sparring boys employed for the warring personality types in Alpha/Beta, a painting from his current show Click Clique at the DesignBox gallery in Raleigh (through Friday), are taken from a family photograph of his father and uncle.

Alter #7, on loan from the Billy Cone collection, is currently on display at Wilmington's Cameron Museum as Portrait of the Artist's Sister. It's a haunting, limited dark palate painting from a triple-exposed photograph Richards took of his sister.

Another autobiographical object, Richards' reoccurring chandelier, seems to follow him without choice. "I've had it in like four different apartments, the same (style of) chandelier," Richards said. "It's like $22.95 at Lowe's." Rendered or silhouetted, it represents, in its artifice, "a semblance of luxury."

Richards is gentle in his remarks and ambiguous in his artistic voice. He takes no obvious stand on any issue in either dialogue, neither vilifies nor venerates any character or conceptual perspective.

In his studio practice, Richards' says sometimes the beginning of a painting is "just a word." He doesn't specify, but I think The Skeptic and The Skeptic Reprized speak clearly: a pure, fierce girl-child fearlessly, doubtingly eyes an overhead fleet of planes. Her future - whether those planes bring bombs or drop supplies - is uncertain.

For Richards, the skeptic, accomplished young painter, the planes of the future bear fruit.