The curatorial and editorial project for systems, non-objective and reductive artists working in the UK

Website: Chestnuts Design

Sunday Salon 26  |  Richard Graville  |   Less Wrong

Saturation Point, Deptford, London  |   23 April 2023

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

For my Sunday Salon, I showed a selection of recent work, including new larger paintings and a video. Sharing the work in this beautifully lit space was a great opportunity. The following is a text written by curator Phillip Hawker for a booklet published to coincide with the exhibition.

‘Upon first encountering Richard’s paintings, I interpreted their simple geometry as anchored in minimalist art’s familiar look. However, such an impulsive assumption led me into a cognitive bias trap contained within the paintings. The sleek, cool look of 20th-century minimal painting captures the viewer’s attention, thus becoming unknowingly hijacked and bewitched by the effects of the underlying codes and content of their biological origin. It was a surprise that such inorganic, almost machine-made paintings could have, as a source, the stories, behaviours, and impulses of zoological survival codes honed by natural selection. These survivalist species tactics, including the human, become the condensed source for the paintings, determining scale, colour and paint finish. In human society, we utilise these colour combinations to make crude signs that protect us in dangerous situations. The paintings use the same colours and formats as these signs.

Prolonged looking also plays a vital role in the process Richard intends to solicit. Limiting colour and gestural detail allows the painting to ‘operate’, encouraging the viewer to spend time exploring its surface. Subtle changes in surface sheen and colour density summon deep primal reactions within us that are so involuntary we hardly register them. They explore the space where our visual sense starts to break down, and we glimpse what we call ‘mystery’. As Richard explains, “My job is to strip everything else away so that I can illuminate what underpins our perceptions. Although I mimic aspects of formalist painting, I don’t share the same concerns. My paintings are diagrammatic, not abstract. I use geometry to maintain focus. My paintings use codes that would exist without humans.”

This focus provokes preconscious reactions in the viewer, triggering thoughts, feelings, or memories that dwell beneath the surface. Deeper still is the evolutionary hard-wiring of codes vital to species survival. Primal signals developed within the animal kingdom over millions of years are simplified and organised, permitting just enough information to present their purpose for being. Using this de-cluttering process, the paintings become blueprints that explore how nature works and NOT how it looks through a romanticised lens.

“I combine two essential principles: aposematism (advertising dangerous aspects) and cryptic (concealment) colouration. I make a direct presentation of these principles. I use aposematism to gain your attention. I use cryptic strategies to make other aspects of the painting strange and less legible. On a perceptual level, you must work slightly harder and have less certainty. You have to participate. In that way, I utilise these codes to capture attention AND imagination.”

Richard sidesteps historical theories of abstraction, rejecting claims of theosophical universality. Instead, he considers these codes and protocols as signs relevant to our biological niche. The paintings act as attention-seeking devices that manipulate these codes into seducing, warning or deceiving ‘machines’. Emotions are an alert system - to either move closer to or avoid something. For myself, being with the paintings provokes unexpected feelings; malevolence, threat, virility and beauty.

Engaging with Richard’s paintings, especially for some time, allows them to throw switches in the mind. Initially disguised behind a minimalist smokescreen, feelings are activated as they seductively pulsate and perplex. Artificial creatures staking their claim to exist.’