The Flesh Behind the Florals: Katy Richards at HEDGE

Katy Richards, Leda’s Eggs (Anatomical Venus), oil on panel, 36 X 60 inches, 2021 – 2022. Image courtesy of HEDGE Gallery.

Death cracks open and the flowers come out in Katy Richard’s Pocket Full of Posies, now at HEDGE Gallery until May 5, 2023. Here are rooms where skeletons ache behind strips of floral wallpaper, bodies shimmer underneath a heavy mask of stylized blooms twisting on vines, and the underside of a pink petal shifts to show skin.

O, do these florals proliferate. There are roses on the walls, on furniture, on limbs, and blooming up and over and out and through bodies. Big, blowsy peonies scream so large they don’t fit on their small canvases. Here is the dark side of chintz. Because wherever flowers appear, so does death: here are the translucent skulls, there are the skinned animal heads; see those shape-shifting portions of bodies, almost smell that rotting fruit.

It’s a delicious memento mori, so lovely in its overarching palette of pinks and oranges and purples, so stunning in its surrealism of bodies split open or disguised behind or dipping and simpering off the wall.

What comes to mind is good old T.S. Eliot’s “Whispers of Immortality,” with its opening lines:

Webster was much possessed by death            

                   And saw the skull beneath the skin;          

                   And breastless creatures under ground   

                   Leaned backward with a lipless grin.         

                   Daffodil bulbs instead of balls

                   Stared from the sockets of the eyes!        

                   He knew that thought clings round dead limbs         

                   Tightening its lusts and luxuries.

Two large pieces reference the Anatomical Venus, the life-sized mannequins used in the late 1700s to teach anatomy. The historic Anatomical Venus was always female; the medical students at that time, always male.

In “Decorative Vessel (Anatomical Venus)”, a woman’s waxy figure opens to reveal diagrammatic viscera embellished with baroque traceries and garlanded with sweet, pastel flowers. On the opposite wall, “Leda’s Eggs (Anatomical Venus)” presents a shattered woman with an elegantly awkward twisted neck and masses of honey-colored hair. Another nymph with a broken back, perhaps? Only this one wears insouciant pearls and gazes off beyond the viewer.  

Katy Richards, Wishbone, oil on panel, 24 X 36 inches, 2021. Image courtesy of HEDGE Gallery.

A third large piece, “Wishbone,” shows a figure layered peek-a-boo-style behind bone fragments and blue and white florals reminiscent of Islamic porcelain patterns. Such weight is on this figure, the only identifiable male body in the show.

Not all pieces occupy highly stylized interior spaces. “July Heat” provides a strong contrast with its sea of movement outside, as staccato palms march across the painting’s top, almost fencing in the roiling mass of arms and backs and flesh that melts down and through and away.

Richards took a year off from teaching painting and drawing at Kent State University to finish the works for this show. Thank goodness, because now death walks among us, frozen in the moments of bloom and decay, concealment and revelation, layered with the pretty on top.

HEDGE Gallery, located at at 1300 West 78th Street, Suite 200, Cleveland 44102, is open Wednesday and Thursday, 11 am – 6 pm; Friday, 11 am – 5 pm; Saturday, Noon – 4 pm; and weekends by appointment.

The opinions expressed on CAN Blog are those of the individual writers. Art is somewhat subjective. Well, somewhat. But yes, everybody's a critic.

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