An Eloquent Revelation of Light
|Red Window II|
|Concerto in Blue V|
By Tom Wachunas
“When you are painting a landscape, assume the painting is real and the landscape is an illusion.” -Walter Darby Bannard
“…He has given his inborn gift to nature. He has celebrated her minutiae and her grandeur, her openness and her mystery. Is not every serious celebration an acknowledgement of transcendence?” – Dr. Irma B. Jaffe, Professor Emeritus, Fordham University, from her catalogue essay, “Picturing Light: The Paintings of Richard Vaux”
EXHIBIT: Picturing Light: The Paintings of Richard Vaux / through Oct.6, 2019 / At Massillon Museum STUDIO M Gallery, 121 Lincoln Way East (Ohio 172) in downtown Massillon / Viewing hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sunday 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. A visit to the Massillon Museum is always free. Call the Massillon Museum at 330-833-4061 for more information.
The paintings by Hudson, Ohio-based Richard Vaux are deeply poetic visions embracing the stylistic legacy of Romanticism, Impressionism, and Abstract Expressionism all at once. Vaux is a conjurer of the highest order. He doesn’t just make beautiful pictures. He creates experiences. He turns natural light into a practically living thing.
Let me clarify. The paintings – most of them acrylic on vinyl - aren’t ‘pictures’ in the conventional sense. They’re not static configurations of representational lines, shapes, and colors on a single 2D plane, though from several feet away, they do appear to have a certain photographic flatness about them.
But that apparent flatness progressively dissipates and takes on real dimensionality as you move in for a closer look, just as you would to peer through a window at a spectacular atmospheric event. These ephemeral skies open up ever so slowly. Their intensely subtle variations in chromatic tonalities and soft textures seem to undulate, shift, shimmer or fade as if stirred by a zephyr. So no, these aren’t really ‘pictures’ after all. They’re tangible actualities in their own right. They expand and contract. They breathe.
This mesmerizing effect can certainly be attributed to Vaux’s unusual practice of painting on vinyl. While I’m not exactly sure of his precise method, the vinyl doesn’t appear to be a fully transparent, glass-like plastic. It has instead a slightly frosted look, giving the imagery a misty translucency, sometimes with passages of very tiny, amorphous surface irregularities – gentle ripples, or bubbles. While there’s paint on the topmost surfaces, there seems to be paint on the reverse sides of the vinyl as well, and maybe another painted vinyl plane underneath that one. Whatever his process might be, Vaux’s facile, harmonic manipulations of organic shapes and mellifluous hues imbue his iconography with a compelling spirituality. Articulating light as the palpable, moving substance of spirit.
Additionally, there’s a mystical element here in the way Vaux often incorporates delineated, geometric (rectangles, grids, circles) planes or frames with his naturalism, perhaps suggesting an underlying (or overarching?) system or structure. Light as the architecture of the cosmic ether? I’m reminded of an observation by English landscape painter, John Constable (1776-1837): “Painting is a science, and should be pursued as an inquiry into the laws of nature. Why, then, may not landscape painting be considered as a branch of natural philosophy, of which pictures are but the experiments?”
But once again, these aren’t pictures. They’re enthralling, celebratory meditations. Better still, revelations. Transcending the familiar, they make what was old new again.