“Imagine you were looking at a textbook and you came across an illustration that didn’t quite make sense; it seemed like it was for another story or was a printing mistake,” artist Richard Deon says. “That’s what my work is like.”
Deon’s work derives from his childhood fascination with defacing textbook illustrations. As an adult, he rediscovered that thrill with Visualized Civics, a textbook from the ‘50s used to introduce junior high schoolers to public institutions, American history, and politics. It became the stimulus for figures and situations in his art.
Deon paints in processed colors—magenta, yellow, blue—that prompt recollections of social studies books rather than acrylic on canvas artwork. “The flatness and brightness [of the colors] is a graphic, arresting kind of combination,” Deon says. “You’re not aware if you’re looking at a printed piece or a painting. You come back to it and you can see there’s some painterly aspect, but not much.”
The messages are less clear, and this is part of Deon’s purpose. He takes pleasure in combining disparate elements—in Death in the Long Grass, a white man’s head on a Native American’s body, a spear, and a domestic cow—to create scenes of confusion. “What inspires me is when I can make a confluence of three separate entities work together and unify them as if they’re created for one,” Deon explains. “I like to create a universal platform, a painting that will pose a lot of questions, so that people will want to look at it two or three times.”
Deon calls Death in the Long Grass a “tortured painting” that went untouched for six months until he decided to add the cow as a relational element to the spear, completing a “triad of confusion.” The painting was featured last year in the “Got Cow? Cattle in American Art, 1820-2000” exhibition at the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers.
“Paradox and Conformity, the Paintings of Richard Deon” will be exhibited at the Hudson Opera House through July 14. Deon’s work is also being featured in “Hudson Valley Artists 2007: The Uncanny Valley” at SUNY New Paltz’s Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art through September 9. For more information on Deon’s solo show at the Hudson Opera House, call (518) 822-1438 or visit www.hudsonoperahouse.org; for the Dorsky Museum exhibit call (845) 257-3844 or visit www.newpaltz.edu/museum. Portfolio: www.richarddeon.com.