Anchorage Daily News               A R T S / I N  P R I N T          Thursday January 12, 2006        

Lack of clear intent mars show of Ricker works

LIMBO: Retrospective displays no apparent artistic progression.

By DON DECKER, Daily News Correspondent

     Donald R Ricker's paintings are sandwiched somewhere between realism and fantasy, in an artistic limbo of style and substance.   They have a folk art quality but portray epic themes.  The subjects are realistic in intent but are painted without substantial regard for shading, perspective or anatomical detail.

     The artist describes his show, on display at Out North through Feb.14, as an "epic retrospective" because it includes works from the past decatde or so.  One painting is from 1979, but there is no work representing the years from then until 1994.  In the artist's statement , he writes that he is happy to have the paintings out of the 'crypt' in his basement and on display.   With prices listed up to $40,000 apiece, it is not surprising he still has them.

     Although Ricker writes that his paintings share a theme --- 'heroes of art and love' --- and are part of a 'Nude Excuse' series,   five of the paintings do not contain nudes, and some are simply landscapes.   In  Kachemak Bay Scenic Overlook, done in 2001, the artist describes the body of water as the only figure.  The collection might be more aptly labeled a landscape series since it is the element that all the pieces share.

     In the statement and accompanying brochure, Ricker writes that other artists in history have used nudes in ways that were acceptable and 'invented others.'  Ricker apparently means to continue the practice.  The nudes in his work are all females.  Many are depicted in Playboy-type poses.   Some of the nudity is gratuitous: for example, a bare-breasted Native maiden emerging from a tent to see an oil discovery.

     A large grid of colored tape is fastened to the main gallery wall to show the underlying structure of the paintings.  The method of employing lines and grids to analyze the composition of two dimensional work has long been employed by scholars and art historians in examining classic works.  The need for studying underlying plans of modern and postmodern work has been greatly reduced because artists reject the sort of arbitrary standards of quality the grids came to represent. The compositional grid on the wall and its use in the paintings by Ricker is not readily apparent, except for some diagonals.  05ricker_donald_ongalry_venus.jpg (1976610 bytes)

     The artist paints on the backside of Masonite paneling, which has a rough surface similar to burlap.  A brush holding a modicum of pigment and rubbed across the softwood surface creates a texture that is not particularly aesthetic.  The texture also becomes an impediment to rendering the sensuality and sexuality of human flesh.  In this case, the loose brushwork coupled with the tactile surface results in a mottled effect.

Donald R Ricker Pintura (Allegory of Painting) detail

     As a retrospective, the show demonstrates little or no artistic progression,.  The pieces from recent years are similar in painting syle, media and color scheme to those of 10 years ago.  There is little variation of methodology, contrast or intensity of color.  The purpose of a retrospective is usually to examine an established artist's long career, the transformations and illuminations that result with time, and to provide insights into the motivations and inspirations that resulted in art of influence.

     Ricker provides a formidable price list, an exhibition history and a list of public commissions and reviews spanning more that a decade, including a mention of a medallion for painting in Florence, Italy, and participation in an exhibition that included Ken Gray, suggesting the artist is to be recognized as a working professional.  In that light some of the shortcomings of technique cannot be ignored.  The 1979 painting could be an exception because of its age, but the use of aluminum spray paint to depict a Native motif floating in the sky is a poor choice of material for the subject matter.  Roads in Anchorage Bowl rise straight to the sky past disproportionately large mountains.  A woman in Portrait Battle either has two right hands or is a contortionist.

     Dates, titles, and the artist's name are engraved on plates fastened to the bottom center of each painting, a throwback to classical salon presentation, historically used with ornate gold-leaf framework.  Oddly, the wood-grained frames are boxed and protrude from the surface of the paintings, emphasizing the presentation over the art.

Nude Excuse Series at the Out North Gallery w artist

     Possibilities exist in each painting but are frequently unrealized.  The 1997 Allegory of Painting shows promise in terms of color style and brushwork but is overwhelmed by bright yellow.  The god figure in Seven Sisters is more inventive, but the rest of the composition breaks down.  The vanGogh-like portrait in Party for Rousseau is more painterly, but the style is not utilized elsewhere.

     Shortcomings aside, there are reasons to see the show. (The accompanying brochure is well done and helpful.)  The paintings represent a genre rarely seen or practiced by Alaska artists.  Though individually they sometimes break down on close examination, they do have presence as a body of work.  They are formidably large, filling the space with complexity and variation of content not often seen here.  Ricker, for better or worse, has been true to his original vision of making art --- and determined.

     The Catholic Church has recently re-examined its dogma regarding limbo, so I don't have to pray for it, but I would like to see the artist make clearer choices: impressionism or surrealism, accuracy or distortion, color or limited palette, modern or neo-classical, detail or broad brush.  With meaningful personal choices, his next retrospective could be even bigger and brighter.

Don Decker is an Anchorage artist, writer and teacher.

NUDE EXCUSE, paintings by Donald R Ricker, will be on display at Out North through Feb.14, 2006

Thanks to Mr Decker and the Anchorage Daily News  


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