Richard Aldrich

by Natalie Haddad

Portraits, abstraction and missing pieces; hobbits, systems and Syd Barrett

‘Jugband Blues’ (1968), the last song on the last album that Syd Barrett ever recorded with Pink Floyd, includes the line: ‘I’m wondering who could be writing this song’. Sung by Barrett, who also wrote it, the song famously prefigures the mental breakdown that transformed him from an art-school mod to a reclusive cult hero. Barrett has been a presence in the work of Brooklyn-based artist Richard Aldrich for much of the artist’s career. In Syd Barrett Portrait (2006) the musician’s head and shoulders float in the middle of a white canvas, his blue eyes peering nervously from behind a mangy, Medusa-like mane. Aldrich’s thick, painterly brush strokes only intensify the instability of the subject.

For more than a decade, Aldrich has been producing paintings and sculptures that play with ideas of identity. His works – mostly abstract paintings, some with cuts and missing pieces, others with collaged media or texts – evoke the genres of 20th-century painting like distant memories. Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, even German ‘bad painting’ of the 1980s are discernable. But as quickly as they appear, precedents disappear.

By his own admission, Aldrich is interested less in the finished work than in ‘systems’. It’s the sort of statement that raises more questions than it answers, in that ‘system’ denotes a function rather than a thing. If Aldrich’s works can seem varied or hard to pin down it’s because they are not objects as culminations of a concept so much as the products of an unseen (and unfixed) theatre of thoughts and actions.

Focus,-Aldridge,-1.gif

Looking with Mirror Apparatus, 2008. Oil, wax, Perspex and mirror on cut linen. 2.1 x 1.5m. Courtesy: Bortolami Gallery, New York; Corvi-Mora, London, and Marc Foxx, Los Angeles.

Looking with Mirror Apparatus, 2008. Oil, wax, Perspex and mirror on cut linen. 2.1 x 1.5m. Courtesy: Bortolami Gallery, New York; Corvi-Mora, London, and Marc Foxx, Los Angeles.

It’s a process that was made explicit in Aldrich’s 2008 exhibition at Corvi-Mora in London. ‘Narrative with Five Characters’ comprised a series of small abstract paintings, along with four small sculptures (a dragon puppet, a paper bag, a troll figure, a concrete cast of the letter ‘O’) and Hobbit Painting (2006–8), a cartoonish drawing that imagines hobbits as grim versions of Snow White’s dwarves. If the title re-configured the gallery as a theatre, it also triggered a tension between the players. The facile division between the five representational pieces as the ‘characters’ and the abstracts as the ‘narrative’ disintegrates, as the correlation between a recognizable form and a character intersects with ‘narrative’ abstraction. The interdependence between narrative and characters that constitutes conventional theatre is posited as a fragile semantic function.

A similar process is evident in the two paintings of Looking with Mirror Apparatus (2008). The same image – a muddy brown head shape atop black shoulders, approximating a figure seen from behind – is repeated on a large and a small canvas. The lower third of the large painting is cut away to reveal a small mirror fixed to the middle stretcher bar. While the repetition of forms in different sizes activates a formalist dialogue between the two paintings, the missing piece intercepts the one-to-one identification. The addition of the mirror adds to the disequilibrium by involving the viewer: two figures become three or more; paintings on a wall become both scaffolding and actors in a drama with neither a narrative nor an end.

Looking with Mirror Apparatus was among the primarily abstract paintings in Aldrich’s 2009 exhibition at Bortolami Gallery in New York, all of which echoed one another in the flatness and soft, autumnal tones of the paint, without submitting to the finality of a closed conceptual set. In the three-part press release for the exhibition – a composite of narrative, poetry and explication – the author (presumably the artist) states that, ‘meaning is created by the interpretation […] The art works become connecting tissue for the thoughts and revelations of the viewer. The art works become mirrors for the viewer to re-view themselves in.’

Focus,-aldrich,-4.gif

Coward Painting, 2007. Oil, wax and cloth on linen, 213.4 x 147.3 cm.

Coward Painting, 2007. Oil, wax and cloth on linen, 213.4 x 147.3 cm.

Aldrich has described his paintings as taking the ‘back way’ out of meaning. It’s another statement that raises more questions than it answers; it means refusing the expected, pulling away just as A approaches B. In a sense, Aldrich is evading his role as a creator of images. His paintings are understated and often beautiful and his use of oil and wax invests them with the weight of endurance. These are precious objects, whether it’s intentional or not. But Aldrich’s equivocations deny neither the works’ meaning nor their value. Rather, they are reminders that a painting involves seeing, thinking and doing. His latest works include a series of ‘slide paintings’, vast, white canvases with coloured slides of past art works and installations attached to them in a spare grid formation. Time elapses. If something seems inconsistent or missing, it may be that we can’t discern its logic.

Split Syd (2008) is a sparse canvas with a two-toned brown arc at the top and fuzzy red lines, which could be an abstracted spider or a striped shirt, near the bottom, with nothing but the white ground in between. If Syd is there, he’s not talking, but ‘there’ is not where the action is.

Natalie Haddad

frieze magazine

October 2010
Issue 134

First published in Issue 134

October 2010

Most Read

Review

Kukje Gallery, Seoul, Korea

Review

Kunsthaus Zurich, Switzerland
Agata Bogacka, Composition With Eyes, 2015, acrylic on canvas, 114 x 146 cm. Courtesy: Dawid Radziszewski Gallery, Warsaw

Critic's Guide

The pick of the shows opening today as part of Warsaw Gallery Weekend

Culture Digest

Following the recent New York Art Book Fair at MoMA PS1, Dan Fox profiles three independent publishers

News

Vincent Fecteau and Mary Reid Kelley are awarded MacArthur genius grants; Ulay victorious in court case against ex-...

Influences

Mealworms and Chinese scrolls: Ahead of her show at London's Cell Project Space, the Berlin-based artist...
Haegue Yang, Cubes (Small), 2015, commissioned for ‘The 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT8). Installation view Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane

City Report

Within the city’s tropical climate a tenacious and passionate art scene is thriving

Profile

A newly-released album gives overdue attention to the innovative, politicized music of the late Julius Eastman

Feature

A report from the culmination of the 2016 Bergen Assembly 
David Hammons, The Wine Leading  the Wine, c.1969, body print, 1 × 1.2 m. Courtesy: George Economou Collection, Athens; photograph: Bill Orcutt 

Review

Mnuchin Gallery, New York & The George Economou Collection, Athens

Review

Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, UK

Feature

A new Smithsonian Museum highlights African American history and culture

Feature

The multiple worlds of Hugh Frost and Leon Sadler’s experimental magazine-turned-exhibition, Mould Map

Culture Digest

From gay communes to surrealist ethnography: what to read about this weekend

Culture Digest

The final part of this week's Culture Digest looks at two recently reissued books by Eileen Myles

News

Finland cuts state funding for Guggenheim’s proposed Helsinki museum; Barack Obama to inaugurate new Washington D...

Picture Piece

Georgiana Houghton's 19th-century spirit paintings

Feature

On using art to reflect on its own labour
Anna Ostoya, A Kiss, 2016, oil on canvas, 61 x 76 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Silberkuppe, Berlin; photograph: Timo Ohler

Critic's Guide

The best shows opening as part Berlin Art Week

Latest Magazines

Frieze Week

London 2016
frieze d/e issue 25, Autumn 2016

frieze d/e

Autumn 2016

frieze magazine

October 2016