There is a place where distant memories merge with dreams and legends. Catherine Richardson’s imagery seems to arise from this place. In Figments for a Warrior, currently at the Hammerfriar Gallery, her paintings on canvas and wood panel explore real and imagined archeological sites and ship burials. There is a sense of time-travel suggesting the flow of civilization’s unending continuity. Hints and clues of where and when are found among the layers blurred in time and history. Along with thirteen paintings, two small objects, cast in resin and placed on pedestals, offer tangible evidence of found treasures.
For Richardson, this ancestral history is in her bones. In the paintings imagination merges with remembrances of her many visits ancient burials, including the Sutton Hoo site near the East coast of England. The British-born artist states; “As a child I would bury dead birds and mice, mark the grave and dig them up later to examine the remains. During my many visits to the British Museum what continually captivates my curiosity is death and decay and the ritual preparations for an afterlife evident in ancient burials. When graves are excavated what is released? How does this deep history of place inform us?” The work in this exhibition probes deeper into these mysteries, making inquiries without conclusions.
Richardson’s choice of media, color and process enhances the feel of an excavation. In Ship Burial, brown-black pigment is applied, scraped and scored, revealing layers of history, bits of bright colors from another time. A white spirit ship lies partially buried in the sand, its graceful translucent planks still holding the fading memories of sea-faring warriors. The space is ambiguous, perhaps beneath the sea, perhaps on the shore with the golden dusky sea stretching beyond to a vague horizon. Egg-shaped forms toss about above the ship or rest below, still buried with what they know inside. Other objects, no longer quite recognizable, emerge from the sand released from their long burial. We can make up our own stories of their purpose and history.
The paintings present a multiplicity of space—the ambiguous division between land, sea and sky—calling to mind the surrealist paintings of Yves Tanguy. His otherworldly landscapes, with a dense unbreathable atmosphere, are populated with odd biomorphic objects. Though for Richardson, the objects are less abstract and the compositions grounded in a more familiar time, space and history.
In Close To the Wind, the prow of a ship plies forth, leaning to port into the unknown misty blue, in the near distance the looming dark gray shape of another ship threatens. The use of what appears to be a photo-transfer process for the ship in the foreground adds perspective and nice touch of nautical detail. The ship’s mast darts diagonally upward, piercing a three-point star. The two are joined by a striking bold red line, which becomes a stay for the mast, holding it and the composition taut. A flurry of additional pale gold three-point stars creates effervescent spirals twirling off and fading into the distance like strange sea birds.
Recurring motifs and colors weave through the body of work; the red line, the three-point stars, and of course the ship as well as other objects, give a sense of continuity, if not familiarity, as one travels through the exhibition, searching for something lost, something remembered.
The exhibition continues through July 2, 2011 at Hammerfriar Gallery, 139 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, CA 95448. 707-473-9600. http://www.hammerfriar.com