Mary­hill Mu­seum of Art presents 40 paint­ings by renowned Amer­i­can re­al­ist Richard F. Lack.

American Art Collector - - Contents - By John O’Hern

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.

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