Picturing Light: Richard Vaux at Massillon Museum
Stepping off the elevator on the second floor of the Massillon Museum of Art you are greeted by a monumental work by Richard Vaux. Elevation VII is an oil on panel that is 79” x 12”. It is a work that needs to be seen in person to appreciate the scale as are so many of the works in this show. From a distance, this painting looks like layers of colored sand in a tall thin jar, but it takes on a different feel as you come nearer, revealing architectural shapes layered with organic shapes, stacked and separated by lines. Vaux said that this was his first painting after returning from a residency in Iceland in 2003. He described this painting as his assimilation of all the experiences he gained in Iceland.
To the right of the painting is a free-standing work called Architectural Lightscape VII. This painting hangs in a fabricated steel frame. The front and the back of this piece read as two different paintings, yet each–with the help of light–informs and interacts with the other. Because it is hanging, the piece has a slight movement, adding a kinetic, back-and-forth movement pushed by the ventilation system, like it is breathing. The lighting on the front and back are different, and I feel that if you turned this piece around the change in lighting would completely alter the look of this piece. These paintings are about light yet curiously, to fully reveal them, they need to drink in illumination.
Off the elevator you turn right and go through the whimsical gallery of the Immel Circus collection, Gallery M is on the left. The entrance gives you a stunning elevated view of the entire room. Pause here and regard the scale before going down the ramp. Entering the gallery space is like walking into the light.
Richard Vaux describes his paintings as visual poems about light and illumination, a process by which each composition leads to the next. His process begins with a frosted vinyl sheet which he purchases in 60-yard rolls. Vaux applies acrylic paint to the very matte vinyl in layers. In between layers of color, he adds a clear coat of acrylic. His completed surfaces are 7-8 layers thick, and he finishes each with a top coating of acrylic polymer that has a hard wax, creating a very durable surface.
The greater the contrast between those values, the brighter the illusion of light. Caravaggio taught us that. Vaux’ process of stacking colors increases the color’s value slightly, and it adds a depth to the image. Vaux’ paintings create the illusion of depth like looking into a piece of amber and trying to distinguish the encapsulated forms. It was interesting that the shapes that looked like trees to me from a distance, up close looked less like trees and more like Rorschach inkblots. It felt like these abstract paintings were sending my brain’s search-engine into overdrive needing to categorize and define the shapes into something recognizable. These paintings are incredibly dynamic and stimulating yet balanced and soothing at the same time.
The quality of edges between the light and the dark areas of Richard Vaux’ painting are thoughtful and well developed. If you look carefully and allow your eye travel from light to dark, considering the softness and harshness in contrast, there is a moment when you will feel you are interacting with sunrise, sunset, landscape, lightscape, and it becomes an experience. Vaux’ paintings have a brilliant trompe l’oeil quality. The linear elements he imposes in many of his paintings guide the eye around the image, while often creating a smaller picture within a painting. You need to engage in a dance with each of these works, experiencing it from many different vantage points to fully appreciate
These images stir memories; something is haunting about them. So many of the paintings remind me of experiences had and places seen. Concerto in Blue V, for me, was the view I witnessed from the front porch of the cabin high up in the Smokey Mountains. The fog would roll in and sit lazily on the canopy just before sunrise, and the blue of the sky was a hue unique to that place and this painting. Several Lightscape paintings were the moment you wake from a nap in the sun and the blur of confusion and light when you first open your eyes. Concentric Landscape II is cornea-like in the center with rainbow flashes of color at the bottom and blotches of shadow and light over surface. For anyone that has had cataracts, this painting is reminiscent of the plethora of optical anomalies experienced. There is a life force inside each of these paintings that make me believe that you will experience something different every time you interact with them.
Vaux considers this show to be a mini-retrospective of his paintings. He began this process of painting on vinyl 50 years ago in 1969, and this show displays work from the 1980s to the present day. After reading his artist statement and his claim that one composition led to the next, I went back to view them chronologically. I could see the flow of what he was saying. Jackson Pollock had developed a “process” to his action painting. With each abstract, Pollock developed techniques on how to flip his wrist to create this pattern or that pattern, and each completed work, similarly, would inform the next. Just like Pollock’s paintings, Richard Vaux’ Lightscapes are environments that become an experience for each viewer.
Picturing Light: The Paintings of Richard Vaux will be on view from through October 6th, 2019 in the Studio M Gallery of the Massillon Museum of Art. Richard Vaux will be exhibiting of his black and white drawings at Cleveland State University in 2020. You can follow Richard Vaux on FaceBook or keep up to date on his news via his website.