Richard Aldrich at SFMOMA

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.

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