Painter Joseph Richards (1921-2007) never lost his childish fascination with cranes, trains, and big machines. Born in Des Moines, Iowa, Richards grew up watching the workings of freight trains in local switchyards. "They seemed almost to be living entities," Richards once recounted. "Even standing idle with their steam up, they were never silent—they panted, grunted, and hissed." These cornerstone memories served as an early inspiration for the paintings Richards would go on to create.
Throughout his artistic career, Richards painted from photographs, capturing in vivid detail the intricacies of train engines, cupolas, and sundry shipyard machinery like cranes and cargo booms. "Inspired by themes of industrialization and the modernization of the American landscape pioneered by the Precisionists of the 1920s, Richards explored his personal fascination with industry, architecture, and technology via photorealism," says Linden Scheff, director at the Carrie Haddad Gallery, where Richards's work is on display this month. Often taking as his subject just one small aspect of a very large object, Richards developed a vocabulary of visual synecdoche, concisely conveying larger realities of the changing American landscape. "[Richards's] tight and precise painting style with an emphasis on imagery...requires an advanced technical ability and virtuosity to simulate, such as reflections on metal surfaces, and strict geometry," says Scheff.
In Richards' painting Boatyard Lift, you can see his photographic attention to detail and breathtaking use of color. His choice of paint for the sky is a true robin's egg blue, which shows up in many of his paintings. "The clarity [of this color] has the ability to change your mood," Scheff says. "Each painting carries with it a monumental presence and demonstrates a quiet sense of tension."
Richards's work will be on display at the Carrie Haddad Gallery through February 24, along with the picturesque landscape paintings of Bill Sullivan, in the exhibit "Great Estates."