We’re Good, collage charcoal, 24 by 18 inches

Bob Richardson

Miss California, oil on canvas, 26 by 60 inches

The art press occasionally likes to tweak the zeitgeist by announcing a “return to the figure” or a “new take on realism.” But the truth is, good figurative painting never really goes away, and through all the upheavals of the last 75 years or so—Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, Land Art, Performance and Installation Art—there have always been artists who find a lifetime of inspiration and subject matter in the infinite mysteries and possibilities of the human body.

Bob Richardson is a latecomer to painting, but in the last decade, he has achieved a remarkable body of work that encompasses portraiture, paintings of animals (he has a particular affinity for dogs), and likenesses of people from all walks of life, from overstuffed sunbathers in Arizona to down-and-out street people in Albuquerque. To each of his subjects he brings an unsparing but compassionate eye. There is a particular dignity to Miss California, a prostitute seen in triplicate, fumbling with her cigarette while squinting warily into the sun. The proudly naked model in Me Again regards herself speculatively in the bathroom mirror and projects a hefty grace and beauty reminiscent of a luscious Rubens nude. The twisted figure of O, an older man perhaps struggling with disease, maintains a gravitas in the face of the ravages of age.

It may be a good thing that Richardson came late to his calling—he started painting, he says, “because I felt this was where I was supposed to be my whole life.” Someone with more academic training might have developed a slicker approach or might not have had to courage to tackle difficult, even uningratiating, subject matter in the first place.

Richardson spent much of his younger life feeling lost and out of place, traveling cross country, working at odd jobs, and finally settling in Santa Fe, NM, where he ran a successful carpentry business before selling it to paint full time 20 years ago. “Once you’ve seen the darkness, it’s always there,” he says. “You can be as happy as you want, but there’s always that darkness.” And it’s those life experiences, the years of believing he was out of sync with his environment, that give the work an extra edge, lifting it to a realm where careful observation meets sympathetic understanding.

— Ann Landi

Bareiss Gallery | 15 State Rd 150 | PO Box 3366 Taos NM 87571 | 575-776-2284

My Friends, oil on canvas, 12 by 16 inches