Sweet Spot: A Q&A with Justin Richel

Justin Richel of Rangeley, Maine recently participated in the group show Wall Works at DeCordova Sculpture Park + Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts. In Richel's mural, appropriately located in the museum's cafe, cartoon-like desserts fly through the air in the midst of furniture and household appliances. I had a chance to ask the artist about the biggest misconception about his work (that it's all light-hearted and whimsical) and whether he has a sweet tooth (he doesn't).  —Kate Singleton, NAP contributor

KS: First of all, it's really exciting to see your work translated from paper to a large-scale installation in both the exhibit at the DeCordova and the CMCA Biennial. Do you see yourself doing more installations?
JR: The shift in scale has opened up my practice to a whole new way of working. I’m really excited about the installation work right now. Doing the installation is a totally different experience than working in the studio. Working on site puts me in a position to make decisions quickly, rather than deliberating for hours over composition and formal choices, it’s really freeing. I just completed another install at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art here in Maine for an exhibition titled The Question of Drawing. It's another incarnation of the “Whirling Dervish” with a few more parts and pieces. I’m really happy with the end result.

Your wall is in the museum's cafe. Was it a different process of conceiving art for a place where visitors are thinking primarily about food not art?
Well, because of my subject matter, it really wasn’t a stretch for me to create art for the café space. It’s also hard to imagine anyone not thinking about art at the Decordova Museum, even in the café. The museum is quite special, it's located on 35 acres of sprawling sculpture park nestled in a beautiful old growth forest. The museum itself has an interesting, and at times challenging, architecture. Fortunately the curatorial staff fearlessly makes use of every available space, inside and out, making for an entirely inspiring experience everywhere you look.

You sell prints on Etsy and through The Working Proof. How do you see this kind of business in the grand scheme of your art? If you were making $50K a painting, would you still sell prints?
This is an interesting question. At this stage in my career as an emerging artist, I think that it is important for me to reach as many people as I can. Selling prints is a way for me to make the work available to anyone who enjoys it. Art is for everyone, and I don’t think it should be exclusive. I think often folks get turned off by art because they think it’s only for the wealthy; not everyone can afford to collect art, however collecting prints can be just as rewarding. Any artist who is making $50K per painting is in a different stage in their career, which comes with a whole different set of guidelines. They are creating work that someone is paying a very high premium for. An artist who has reached this type of status also has a gallery who handles every aspect of sales, etc. You don’t typically find big name artists selling prints for $15-$30.

You hail from the beautiful state of Maine. Does geography play a part in your work?
Absolutely. I draw inspiration from nature. The area where Shannon and I live is beautiful. We live in Rangeley which is a region surrounded by lakes, mountains, and dense young forests and wildlife. We will often spend hours outside exploring or working in the garden(s). Where we live is also fairly isolated, in that we are off the beaten path. We are hours away from any sizable town or city, and this provides us with the space and peace of mind to create. Although it’s not always obvious throughout all of my work, the influence of nature is most apparent in my wig series, which is concerned with ideas of conservation and misuse of the natural world.

What's the biggest misconception about you or your work?
My work tends to be at first glance very light and whimsical, I think that a lot of people don’t see the underlying commentary or darker undertones. However I like this about the work. I want the viewer to be pulled in and delighted by the detail and color, and if they should want to look further into the work, my hope is that they see the message that is within. However I don’t think the success of the image depends entirely on my thoughts being conveyed to the viewer. Ultimately I’m satisfied if the viewer enjoys the work.

Do you have a sweet tooth?
Actually I don’t. I do enjoy some cake or sweets now and again though. I like vegetables.

What do you listen to when you paint?
Most recently I have been listening to: Radiohead, Fleet Foxes, Can, Andrew Bird, Jose Gonzalez, Beastie Boys, Bob Dylan, Bibio, Fruit Bats, Horse Feathers, Dept. of Eagles, Grizzly Bear, Dr. Dog, Eero Johannes, Lightnin Hopkins, Roscoe Holcomb, Ratatat, Silver Apples, Sun Kil Moon, Songs Ohia, Woods.


Wall Works at the DeCordova Sculpture Park + Museum, Lincoln, MA, is on view through April 29, 2012.

Kate Singleton is a Brooklyn-based blogger and art consultant. She runs ArtHound.net.

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