New American Paintings/Blog

Richard Aldrich at SFMOMA by New American Paintings
January 12, 2012, 8:15 am
Filed under: Review, San Francisco | Tags: , ,

An artist based in Brooklyn, Richard Aldrich’s paintings are products of his eclectic interests and environment. With piece titles that range from being inspired by French philosophy to Kanye West lyrics, his engagement with history and popular culture merge to create a dynamic painting practice. His paintings are often based in abstraction, with hints of figuration. He says of his work, “I don’t really differentiate between what makes a painting abstract or not, because it’s all part of the art…I’m interested in the machinations of contemporary society, or of information in general and how it moves along. With the internet, magazines and catalogues, gossip and all of that, I’m interested in how all this information comes to be known, how it moves around and how that movement affects it.”* – Nadiah Fellah, San Francisco Contributor

New Work: Richard Aldrich
; photo: Ian Reeves, courtesy SFMOMA.

New Work: Richard Aldrich
; photo: Ian Reeves, courtesy SFMOMA.

New Work: Richard Aldrich is the artist’s first solo museum show. Bringing together fourteen of the artist’s paintings from 2004 to the present, they display a range of styles and techniques. Two large canvases, Reality Painting #1 (my apartment) and Reality Painting #2 (Patricia’s studio), both from 2009, are abbreviated excerpts of larger scenes, framed so as to appear abstract at first. The source material for these works was in fact photos captured with the artist’s iphone, and later translated into larger-than-life paintings. In this way, his practice succeeds in combining the slow and meditative process of creating a large painting, with the digital immediacy of recording a cell phone image.

Left: Reality Painting #1 (My apartment), 2009; Oil, wax, and graphite on linen; Ovitz Family Collection. Right: Reality Painting #2 (Patricia’s studio), 2009; Oil, wax and graphite on linen; Ovitz Family Collection; photo: Ian Reeves, courtesy SFMOMA.

Richard Aldrich’s eclecticism in inspirational matter is markedly contrasted by his tendency to work in only two formats: large canvases, always 84 by 58 inches, and small wood panels, usually about 15 by 11 inches. Preferring to work exclusively in these two sizes, he’s said that to do otherwise would be “too arbitrary.” He compares the two painting sizes to the human form, described the large canvases as “person-sized,” and the small panels as face-sized.

Reality Painting #1 also recalls the work of Philip Guston, particularly in his reoccurring imagery of disembodied shoes and legs. The scene is actually of the artist’s legs, crossed, and the tip of his shoe can be seen in the lower left of the picture. The notion of disembodied limbs also recalls Aldrich’s comparison of his paintings to the human form.

His work walks the line between painting and sculpture, sometimes evoking Rauschenberg’s combines in materials and scale. At times he builds up his canvases with layers of oil paint and wax, working up a thickly textured surface. Other times he experiments with removing parts of the canvas, cutting pieces away until the viewer is left with little more than an exposed stretcher, forced to confront the bare basics of the object.

If I Paint Crowned I’ve Had It, Got Me
, 2008; Oil and wax on wood and cut linen; Collection of Carlo Bronzini Vendor; photo: Ian Reeves, courtesy SFMOMA.

On the whole, one truly gets the sense that Richard Aldrich is an artist whose practice is grounded in experimentation and exploration. As an artist, his work grapples with the question of what a painting is, what it means to be a painter, and how he fits into the painting tradition. He says, “The problem I have with a lot of contemporary painting is that so much of it serves a purpose today that’s too directly related to the idea. Whereas my paintings, there are no ideas. The idea is more a structure of framework.”


Richard Aldrich was born in 1975 in Hampton, Virginia, and received his BFA from The Ohio State University in 1998. He lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. New Work: Richard Aldrich was organized by senior curator Gary Garrels, and is on view at SFMOMA through March 25, 2012.

Nadiah Fellah is a curatorial assistant at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

*Quotes are from interviews with the artist conducted by Gary Garrels in 2011, and printed in the brochure accompanying the exhibition.


6 Comments so far
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These are some of the worst paintings I’ve ever seen on this blog. There is a lot talk behind these paintings and not a lot of worktime or technique. There was probably more labor in stretching the canvases than applying the paint. Minimalist painting is over and shouldn’t be used for money making like Richard Aldrich is doing here.

Comment by michaelchernoff

Maybe you should read a little before you start typing and make yourself look stupid. First, Aldrich isn’t a minimalist, he was born in ’75. Second, his paintings aren’t involved with minimalism anyways. Third, worktime and technique have no bearing on the value of a painting – you would know this if you payed the slightest bit of attention to the last 50 years of painting.

Comment by Josh Smith

I love worst paintings, why do we always think what we think is good is the most interesting to look, experience or challenge for us? I think Michael’s comment is funny and typical. It’s so funny when people make statements like: “conceptual art is dead” “painting is irrelevant” etc., where does that desire come from? Probably less thinking invested in making the stretcher and stretching the canvas for sure, it’s a closed system. However, the thought and time invested in creating the composition/alteration is something that is a thriving process, a subjective system that is more infinite. I’m excited and inspired by Aldrich’s subjective force, especially in the company of people like Michael (there are millions of them). And who cares about some dedicated and consistently working artist, ass broke all his life making decent money. Cheers to him. And cheers to Mr. Garrels for having the balls to put on a show like this in SF.

Comment by Anderson

I have to agree with michael chernoff (worst paintings comment), but as Nadiah states, his work is grounded in experimentation and exploration and he is still grappling with the question of what it means to be a painter….I’m willing to wait til he answers that question (or someone answers it for him) and finishes exploring and experimenting for the “finished work”, because I do see some potential.

Comment by Turtledove

It’s not the destination, it’s the trip. Aldrich is on to something bigger than painting.

Comment by Maurice Thibideaux

These paintings are vital, concise and sophisticated. Exploration is what makes painting worthwhile, otherwise it’s all finish, poise and ego.

Comment by Tricia Firmaniuk

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