Italy-bound art questions male artist myth

By ANDY NAU                       Daily News art reviewer

     Donald Ricker's "Alaskan in Florence" exhibit at the D street cafe features five large-scale oil paintings, two of which will compete in this year's International Biennial in Florence, Italy. Ricker's compositions are pastiches of classical and 19th-century art history.

      They investigate the myth of the heroic male painter and his gratuitous use of the nude female figure. Portrait Battle features Vincent van Gogh and Henri Matisse (sic) seated at a table at a French outdoor cafe with two models that could be prostitutes sitting between them. 

taketwo.jpg (8576 bytes)
"Party for
(detail of
Pablo Picasso and
Vollard) is
an oil on
by Donald
R. Ricker

Though not as concise at times as they could be, Ricker’s paintings address a now-familiar discussion on issues of gender politics and cultural hegemony.

Each painter holds a canvas in his hand and appears to be
painting, competing with the other, hence the title.

The scene is similar to that in van Gogh’s Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum while the figuration, as with most of Ricker's paintings in this exhibit, have a Max Beckmann feel to them in their simplified
curves, patchy shading, odd proportions and thick contours.

     The oddity of this painting is the group of three female figures lounging on the beach in the distance.

     These figures, in semi-erotic poses, stand taller than the buildings sitting in front of them. This scale change seems inconsistent with the rest of the painting and the purpose it serves is unclear.

ALASKAN IN FLORENCE, paintings by Donald Ricker, will be on display at the D Street Café through Wednesday.

    Judgment of Paris  is a multicultural   mythical scene set on a patio overlooking an inlet, green snow-capped mountains and a small, modern city in the distance. On the patio are a number of sparsely clad figures and a dead Dall sheep draped over a chair. Suspended in the air with her back pinned to a column is an Amazon wearing nothing but a red cloak, bronze shield  and bronze head-piece. An African female glides across the floor holding a sparkling diamond ring in the air. Mercury hides behind a column on the right side of the canvas with his backside prominently sticking out as if he were posturing for that purpose.

      A dripping-wet Middle Eastern woman sits suspended in the air, gazing at Mercury and grasping the arm of a European woman who screams in front of a male Incan. This figure holds a golden apple with the word "fairest" phonetically spelled in a mix of English and Greek letters.
     The exaggerated cartoonlike rendering of the breasts and the revealing poses the female figures assume make eroticism the clear conceptual focus of this painting. One wonders if the "Judgment" of the title is intended to be that of colonialism, considering the reversed roles of the dominant culture. But the mythology and history represented don't quite match such a reading.  

  The role of the female model is most clearly explored in Party forRousseau, in which fully-clothed figures representing famous painters such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Rousseau lounge around a room, nonchalant and entertained by a violin player. A nude European female lies on a couch in front of a set of drawn curtains behind which grows a garden of signature-Rousseau design. Meanwhile, a nude African woman carrying a snake walks off the canvas, stage right.
     While this painting could serve as historical evidence for a gender-political debate, the blank facial expressions on all characters involved and the fact that
none of the artists or models are looking at one another make the dynamics unclear.
     Though not as concise at times as they could be, Ricker's paintings address a now-familiar discussion on issues of gender politics and cultural hegemony, exposing the crass tradition within which the female figure was used in the early days of "modern art" and the mythology surrounding the artists who painted them.


Andy Nau studied art in Germany and received a bachelor of fine arts degree from Carnegie Mellon University.

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Anchorage Daily News

Sunday September 26, 1999

reprinted with permission



2/16/00 Anchorage Daily News Wednesday FOOD section reviewing AK XXVIII: "Alaska artists choose their own way --- What’s missing is the brightness of new trends and media commonly found in modern American art. ... Kay Marshall’s Rescue Dog was awarded best in show. Loose brush strokes reveal a life-size image of a faithful companion pulling a limp human figure from churning water.... Perhaps it is the large size of the painting that helped win its award." --- Mikki Smith

Ooh.  Sting!! As one observer noted, "Other parts are not so limp." Making the invitations and the catalog more special by their use of a pertinent detail from Ms Marshall’s painting. Careful scrutiny of  Rescue Dog   reveals the protagonist to be canine above water and aroused human below the surface.  BTW, it is the large size of the painting which helps the artist use a gestural expressiveness involving the whole body which is eminently suited to the monumental nature of full figure representations.

1/14/00 Anchorage Press listed news of my shenanigans under  HAPPENINGS in their weekly entertainment calendar. To wit: "Straight out of Italy --- Local painter Don Ricker just returned from the Florence Biennial, where he was awarded the Premio Lorenzo il Magnifico, a medallion for painting. He'll show his drawings and slides from the trip Friday January 14th at 9pm at the D Street Café"

1/9/00 Anchorage Daily News Sunday Arts and Entertainment section column Art Beat spelled my name right in this newsy fashion today: "No wonder the mail didn't arrive: Fifty paintings by American artists involved in last month's international Florence Biennale, including work by Daily News contributor Donald Ricker, have been organized into a show at the Angel Orensanz Foundation Center for the Arts in New York City.  Sort of a post-biennale bacchanal.  The press release gives Ricker's address as "Anchorage, AL", but he lives here (in AK), not in Alabama."

12/19/99 Anchorage Daily News Sunday Arts& Entertainment section column ArtBeat made this mention of the Firenze Biennale and my participation today:"Anchorage artist noted in Italy: Portrait Battle by Anchorage artist Donald Ricker received a Fifth Degree Medallion in the second Florence International Biennial of Contemporary Art earlier this month. More than 500 artists from 32 nations exhibited. First place went to Giuseppe Rocca of Italy. The jury of six international authorities was looking for unheralded artists. It was the first major award for Rocca, who is considered a treasure in his hometown, a village in Calabria. Jury member Francis Naumann, an expert on Marcel Duchamp and curator of the recen New York DaDa show at the Whitney Museum of American Art, was quoted as saying, 'I don't think there's another world-wide biennial where an unknown and unpromoted painter without a gallery could show and gain instant recognition like this.'"