Ray Richardson: Country Got Soul

Publication: The Times.  
May 2017

Painter and printmaker Ray Richardson grew up in Woolwich, South East London, and trained at Goldsmith’s College, where he was a contemporary of Damian Hirst, amongst others.

His cultural points of reference have remained close to his home patch, which he has explored in an extensive series of quasi-filmic narratives, over the past few decades. If there was an artist amongst the cast of Eastenders, he might manifest as Richardson, or a close approximation of him.

He’s definitely a geezer, and his themes are the geezer’s world – dogs (in particular the English bull-terrier), race horses, barber’s shops, groups of people in cars. His cast of characters includes boxers, former rugby players, other geezers with wide sideburns and comb-overs – and there are plenty of Stetsons and the occasional sunset, as the title of the show suggests.

With titles such as Roadtrip, Sweet Thing, Shadow of the Sun, Searching for the Young Soul Rebels, which conjure this milieu perfectly, Richardson also pays tribute to some of his musical influences – among them, Van Morrison, Paul Weller, The Clash and Dexys Mignight Runners.

Richardson has been described as Peter Howson with a sense of humour –  and that’s just about right. Whereas Howson’s ‘gritty’ urban imagery is streaked with fear and neurosis (witness his ‘yobs with dogs’), Richardson somehow manages to convey a lighter mood, dwelling on the everyday as a source of celebratory motifs and situations.

Some of his work (Fish out of Water, Come on You Cowards) is at times rather too sketchy and he does not always seem in command of his medium – this applies in particular to his etchings. He is on stronger form with his more recent paintings, which show a great deal of skill, both compositionally and in the handling of paint. Witness for example, the panoramic All the Fun of the Fair, which clearly celebrates the cinematic format. In other painted canvasses, there’s a clear debt to the US painter, Ewdard Hopper, whose subject matter also included lighthouses, diners and solitary characters.

Richardson’s popularity (well deserved and hard-earned) stems from the closeness of the artist to his subject matter and the way in which he defines the artist, not as a distant observer, but a close participant in the life and lives he so ably describes.