Artist Sir Roland Richardson
A creative tour-de-force on the Caribbean arts' scene for close to four decades, Sir Roland Richardson has earned his stripes as one of the most prolific artists in the region, yet at sixty-four he remains as committed to his craft as he was at seventeen when he first devoted himself to a life of artistic expression: “There is no end to discovering the mystery of the beauty that art leads us to experience – which draws us to higher understanding and consciousness as human beings.”
Born in 1944, Richardson’s roots run deep in the French West Indies, dating back to the mid-1700’s when his ancestor, Sieur de Durat, was commissioned by King Louis XVI to build a fortress protecting the harbour. Deeply entrenched in four centuries of St Martin’s history, it is this ubiquitous connection to, “one of the most dramatic places on earth” that pervades all his works, providing an unwavering cornerstone from which he celebrates the vagaries of colour, light, flora and, through his portraiture, the island’s people. His family’s historic nineteenth-century Creole townhouse in the French capital of Marigot, is the perfect venue for Richardson’s eponymously named gallery. Here his work showcases the spirit of the Caribbean – the summer squall over a stormy ocean, fish, mangos, limes and plantains or bouquets of Flamboyant blooms – all creative fodder for St Martin’s ‘modern-day Gauguin’.
Respected worldwide, Richardson received the highest award of the Dutch royal decorations, the Knight in the Order of Orange Nassau in 2007, from the court of Queen Beatrice of the Netherlands (one in a long list of high profile collectors including Jackie Kennedy Onasis, the Getty family and Harry Belafonte), and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the French Government. With countless exhibitions to his name, including the distinction of being the first West Indian artist to exhibit at the major Art Hamptons exhibition in New York this summer, Richardson’s gift endures. Represented in collections as far a-field as Amsterdam, Beirut, Moscow and Zurich, he unleashes the vibrant spirit of the Caribbean on a global scale.
Described by Harlem Renaissance painter, Romare Bearden as seeing, “with the lens of a painter and the inward gaze of a poet,” Richardson’s empathic renderings communicate a mesmerising spontaneity of form and motion, born of a desire to capture the essence of his subject at a single moment in time. “Working from life is the most challenging undertaking in painting because there is no fixity, only a constant change revealed in colour, shadows and changing form… bringing you closer to a sense of being in the present.”
Devoted to a simple life of “genuine focus,” he revels in the dynamic relationship forged between artist and subject, claiming that he is ‘called’ by the pure light and intense colour of his subjects, acting merely as conduit for what emerges from the canvas: “Colour felt is nourishment… is the messenger of illumination,” he states. “Colour is my language.”
Chiefly using oils on canvases as large as ten by seven feet, Richardson’s oeuvre includes a diversity of media from copper plate etchings and pastels to charcoal and woodcuts. Committed to enriching and expanding the Caribbean cultural experience, Richardson’s profusion of ‘snapshots’ form an invaluable historic record of the region’s transformation. Like Monet at Rouen Cathedral, he paints scenes repeatedly from the same vantage point, open compositions that are “mirrors of their time.””
Nowhere is this more evident than in the exquisite mastery of his Flamboyant trees. Synonymous with his name, the iconic, fiery red blooms give primacy to colour over line, emanating the vibrancy and energy of new discovery. “The Flamboyant tree is emerging as a symbol of the Caribbean – a region of emergent self-awareness and self-determination. It is fitting that its spirit plays such a central role in guiding my career.”
Sir Roland may well be all about capturing moments of transience, intensity and immediacy, but with each brush stroke he paints himself into the collective consciousness of the Caribbean – into the visual history of a fast-evolving culture. His is the mark of a true patriarch: an artist who answered the calling of colour; one for whom first impressions last.
To view more Sir Roland Richardson’s work visit: http://www.rolandrichardson.com
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