RICHARD F. LACK: THE INTERIOR JOURNEY
Maryhill Museum of Art presents 40 paintings by renowned American realist Richard F. Lack.
Richard Lack (1928-2009) remembered studying with R. H. Ives Gammell (1893-1981) at the Fenway Studios in Boston: “He was very direct, very frank. No hyperbole; just right to the point—which I appreciated, although I got a little irritated in the beginning because as a precocious art student you don’t like to have people tell you that your work is awful.”
Lack went on to become a distinguished teacher and, in 1999, the American Society of Portrait Artists presented him with their first Founder’s Award. This award is “given to artists who have elevated and continued the tradition of fine portraiture, through works of exceptional merit and the consistent, thorough training of younger artists. Throughout his long and distinguished career, Lack’s work has exhibited the highest standard of both artistry and craftsmanship.”
Lack studied with Gammell in the early ’50s when Gammell was finishing his pictorial sequence based on Francis Thompson’s poem The Hound of Heaven, which he had begun over a decade earlier. The poem inspired “pictorial ideas for which I remained unable to find imagery susceptible of conveying my meaning,” he wrote. A breakthrough came from his reading the writings of Carl Jung. “For an artist interested in the imaginative appeal of his thesis more than in its lasting scientific, validity, Jung demonstrates convincingly the close relationship between myths, symbols, and poetic imagery, and the perpetually recurring emotional patterns of human life from which they evolved…”
I saw his Hound of Heaven sequence at a museum in Worthing, West Sussex, many years ago. I frequently vacationed in nearby Storrington where Thompson (1859-1907) wrote his immortal poem.
The Maryhill Museum of Art in Goldendale, Washington, showed the sequence in 2013. The museum is featuring Lack’s own epic series, The Interior Journey, through November 15.
Stephen Gjertson, a student of Lack and guest curator for the exhibition, writes, “Lack considered The Interior Journey and the Day of Wrath Triptych his most important works. He worked
"…Throughout his long and distinguished career, Lack’s work has exhibited the highest standard of both artistry and craftsmanship."
on these two series of paintings for over 30 years. He felt that he was building upon the artistic foundation of R. H. Ives Gammell, and further developing the depiction of universal ideas through symbolic imagery. The artistry of these works is sophisticated, and he combined the methods of the Flemish and Venetian painters with brilliant, impressionist color to create works of decorative beauty and expressive power. He spent much of his creative career developing the complex iconography of these symbolic paintings.”
Lack’s paintings are often described as “imaginative” and are based on an educated imagination and classical tradition. Gjertson explains, “Imaginative painting is an updated and broader term that was used by R. H. Ives Gammell and Richard Lack to describe work that was, in the past, designated as historical, or poetic painting. It includes historical, religious, mythological, allegorical, fantasy, mystical and symbolic art. Imaginative painting uses highly specialized generative methods. It also requires a specific type of drawing that integrates nature, anatomical construction, idealization,
“…The images in some of Lack’s works are confusing and the meaning is not readily apparent to some viewers, but that did not concern him.”
proportion and perspective.”
Lack drew from the model and nature and through a complex process of refining his drawings, and making color studies, he arrived at his pristine, symbolic paintings. Not only imaginative, they are also enigmatic.
Gjertson writes, “The images in some of Lack’s works are confusing and the meaning is not readily apparent to some viewers, but that did not concern him. ‘For imagery to be potent it has to be at least somewhat mysterious,’ he maintained. ‘If you explain too much, the meaning of a work can be trivialized. Some commentary may be appropriate, but it shouldn’t be too explicit. Viewers need to respond to the imagery on an intuitive level.’”
Descent into the Unconscious, 1985, is the first painting in The Interior Journey. A nude figure contemplates the revelations of a deck of tarot cards. Tarot decks were used from the 14th century for card games and began to be used for divination in the 18th century. A mask at the top of the painting features a crescent moon that has been a spiritual symbol for tens of thousands of years. Lack brings the symbols together to represent mankind’s search for answers in other realms.
The final painting in the series, Trial by Water, 1998, is described by Gjertson: “This painting expresses the temptation to save ourselves by sinking into the world of emotions, the childish desire to close our eyes, float, and give up the battle of transformation. Water, and descending beneath its surface, represents the conscious mind immersing itself in the unconscious to attain balance.”
Lack, himself, described the imagery in his painting The Revelation to St. John, 1980.
“This painting depicts the horrendous vision experienced by Saint John on the Greek island of Patmos, as described in the book of Revelation,” he wrote. “I have not followed the text literally, but have transformed some of the images to suit my purpose. The seven lamps have become a menorah, and the two-edged sword was changed to suggest a Christian cross. Together, they symbolize our Judeo-Christian heritage. To the left are the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. An atomic bomb explodes in the distance surrounded by the zodiac with the sign of Aquarius rising. Saint John’s vision of the destruction threatening our world in the final phase of the Christian era (Pisces) has proven to be prophetic in an uncanny way.”
Drawing from historical and archetypal symbols, Lack addressed the world of today.
2Trial by Fire, 1990, oil on canvas, 81 x 51"3Descent into the Unconscious, 1985, oil on canvas, 81 x 51"4The Revelation to Saint John, 1980, oil on panel, 67 x 38"
5The Dreamer, 1990, oil on canvas, 81 x 51"6Demons, 1996, oil on canvas, 81 x 51"Images courtesy the Lack Estate.