In Glowing Color: Richard Andres 2.0: Selected Works, 1975 – 1990, at Wolf’s

Richard Andres, 2.0: Selected Works, 1975 – 1990, installation view at Wolf’s Gallery through June 29. Image courtesy of Wolf’s Gallery.

While not exactly invisible, Richard Andres had a low profile during his lifetime, supporting himself as a high school art teacher, occasionally showing in the May Show (where he won some awards), quietly working away in his home studio in Hudson, Ohio in a house that was largely of his own design, its large windows looking out on the surrounding woodlands.  A tall, rather sober-looking character, he was a regular presence on the local art scene, although generally rather silent and notable chiefly for the intensity with which he scrutinized the art on view.

Artistic appreciation and acclaim often come posthumously.  Paradoxically, the fact that Andres sold little of his work during his lifetime makes it easier to appreciate its significance today, since it makes it possible to get an overview of his career as a whole rather than in disjointed fragments.  Credit goes to Michael Wolf, who appreciated the significance of the trove of paintings that he created over the course of his lifetime. Wolf has gone to the trouble of scholarly research to work through issues of dating and changes of time; and has been presenting Andres’s body of work in a series of well-conceived, well-chosen exhibitions, accompanied by a stunning catalogue with vibrant color plates. Richard Andres 2.0: Selected Works, 1975 – 1990 is on view at Wolf’s Gallery through June 29, 2024.

Andres grew up in Buffalo and came from a modest working-class background, but fell in love with art at an early age, his influences being a set of watercolors, a book on watercolor painting, and regular visits to the Albright-Knox Museum of Art.  After winning some art awards in high school, he enrolled in the Cleveland School of Art, where his principal mentor was Carl Gaertner, a master of urban and regional scenes, executed with bold brushwork rather reminiscent of that of George Bellows. (Watch for James Stone’s exploration of Gaertner in the Summer 2024 issue of CAN Journal).  During this period most of Andres’s work was in a social realist, socially conscious vein, and he was influenced not only by American practitioners of that approach, but by German expressionists such as Munch, Nolde, Kirchner and Beckmann.  Notably, Gaertner–while he himself worked within the idiom of American scene painting–did not impose his own style on his students, and encouraged them to experiment.

Richard Andres, February 1986, #30. Image courtesy of Wolf’s Gallery.

It was shortly after World War II, however, that Andres went through a sort of artistic somersault, and embraced the manner that he would follow for the remainder of his career.  He became a convert to the giddy freedom that characterized the masters of the New York School.  Figures such as Pollock Kline and De Kooning became his principle models, although he also sometimes drew also on the painters who inspired these masters, notably Picasso and Matisse.  Andres’s conversion at this time was abrupt and complete, and he never significantly departed from it. 

It’s not entirely clear why it happened.  Perhaps Andres’s awareness of the artistic changes taking place in the New York art world came through art magazines, or through the shows circulated by the Museum of Modern Art that came to Cleveland during this period.  It’s also notable that the Albright-Knox Gallery, thanks to its great benefactor, Seymour Knox, has one of the finest collections in existence of paintings by the Abstract Expressionists:  masterworks by Gorky, Pollock, De Kooning, Kline, Rothko, and many others. 

Andres himself was well aware that his artistic roots were grounded in this particular artistic moment.  As he wrote:

Essentially, the closest I can come is to say I’m a 1950s painter. The ‘50s was sort of a new attitude toward art. It was going to be big. It was going to be strong. This great big group of painters had this attitude toward painting and it’s hard to pin it down because each painter was different.

The dialogue between figuration and abstraction is a central, recurrent theme in Andres’ work.  In some cases, as with the linear drip paintings of the early 1980s, he seems to have started with rather random doodles and then sporadically introduced a touch of figuration.  In other cases, he seems to have begun with what was essentially a figure drawing and then broken it up into bold color blocks, transforming it into something close to an abstraction. 

While it’s sometimes said that Andres remained stuck in the 1950s, and never moved beyond the influence of the New York School, in fact he seems to have kept up with what was happening in the art world well after that.  In the 1980s he was clearly very influenced by the work of the Cobra group and the Art Brut of Jean Dubuffet, which he was able to view and study first hand at the Carnegie International in Pittsburgh.

Many of the strongest paintings in this exhibition date from the 1980s, and display a technique that Andres learned from looking at the paintings of Pierre Alechinsky.  He would unroll a long tube of paper on the floor—the kind used for architectural blueprints—and paint on it.  He would then cut these roll of paper into pieces and glue them onto the canvas.  The transparency of the paper gave a glow to the color a bit like that of stained glass.  He also emphasized this resemblance by using rich colors—in particular intense reds, but also intense greens, blues—and by boldly outlining forms in black, like the lead-lines of a stained glass window.  Andres himself was surely aware of this resemblance since he gave titles to these paintings such as “Window.”   

Richard Andres, Windows, 1986, #28. Image courtesy of Wolf’s Gallery.

That said, it’s clear that Andres had no interest in art of an ironic or purely formal nature, of the sort that became increasingly dominant in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, such as Pop Part, Op Art, or Minimalism.  He always remained essentially a romantic.  It’s clear that what Andres responded to in art was the power of is emotional expression, whether in the work of the German expressionists, that of the New York school, or that of Dubuffet and the Cobar group. 

Henry Adams is Ruth Coulter Heede Professor of Art History at Case Western Reserve University

Richard Andres 2.0: Selected works, 1975 – 1990

Through June 29, 2024

Wolf’s Gallery

23645 Mercantile Road

Cleveland, Ohio 44122

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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