Studio Visit

Richard Garrison

October 2019
Richard Garrison

Richard Garrison working in his Delmar, NY studio. ©2019 Gina Garrison

In September of 2019 we visited artist Richard Garrison in his Delmar, NY studio to see new work, find out more about his history and discuss his working process.

Part One:

RHC: Where did you grow up and where did you get your professional education?

Garrison: I was born in 1971 and raised in Albany, NY. I earned a degree in Studio Art from The College of Saint Rose, which also is in Albany in 1993. Immediately after my undergraduate studies I attended Cornell University where I earned an MFA in painting in 1995.

RHC: What ideas or which artists or teachers have had the biggest influence on your work?

Garrison: I was fortunate to have some really great teachers that were extremely influential. Probably one of my most memorable moments was in Sculpture II, taught by Paul Mauren at The College of Saint Rose. Class assignments were based on historical movements after 1945.

Richard Garrison, Untitled, 1991, Wood, copper nails, rubber bands, 48” x 48” x 5” (1.2m x 1.2m x 12.7cm), ©2019 Richard Garrison/Robert Henry Contemporary

RHC: That seems like an interesting place to start...specially considering current events about Confederate Monuments and the like. Do you remember a specific project that still has bearing on your work today?

Garrison: The last project of the semester was process art which I despised and initially resisted creating. The entire concept of allowing the final result be defined by process was something I just at first couldn’t get my head around. As I remember it, Paul was bemused but patient regarding my attitude towards the project. After seeing sculpture by Eva Hesse and Jackie Winsor, I decided I would unenthusiastically give it a try. An abandoned wood shipping palette I found on a street corner would serve as my base. I then begrudgingly hammered in thousands of copper nails to its surface. Lastly, I stretched hundreds of rubber bands between the nails. Eventually, while constructing this sculpture, I started to see the inherent beauty and potential of process art, forever changing my own artistic practice.

RHC: How would you describe your interests or art you were interested in making early on?

Garrison: In undergraduate school, I was heavily influenced by the work of Jasper Johns, Phillip Guston, and Robert Gober. Once I started graduate school, my interest and ideas changed rapidly. Like Gober, I started to think of my work in terms of installation. Individual works that could essentially stand alone, but when shown in the same space, they spoke to one another, creating a stronger voice. Art history classes I took with Hal Foster exposed an undercurrent of modern art and further developed my interest in art theory that was initially introduced to me by Thom Lail at Saint Rose.

Richard Garrison, Untitled, 1994, Mixed Media, 8’ x 4’ 6” x 8’ (2.4m x 1.3m x 2.4m), ©2019 Richard Garrison/Robert Henry Contemporary

Garrison: Within the realm of art theory I was introduced to Susan Sontag’s Notes on Camp and Robert Smithson’s A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, NJ. Both of these essays were so incredibly important in shaping the development and understanding of what it meant to be an artist.

RHC: What made them so important to you?

Garrison: Both authors were cultural observers that balanced their perspectives with a mix of critical perspective, history, humor, and fantasy. How Smithson interacted and documented the contemporary landscape has and continues to be very influential. It was in my second year of graduate school that I finally started to construct the beginnings of my own voice through the work of Smithson, Gober and an artist whose work I saw at University at Albany Art Museum, Gayle Johnson. Johnson faithfully repainted paperback pulp fiction covers. How she studied and personally recreated book covers depicting various female stereotypes deeply resonated with my own interest in masculinity and identity construction seen through the lens of pop culture.

Richard Garrison, Star Wars Copy Project (Han and Leia), 1995, Acrylic on cardboard, 5” x 7” (12.7cm x 17.8cm), ©2019 Richard Garrison/Robert Henry Contemporary

Garrison: I did a series of 4 ½” x 3 ½” paintings where I “copied” selected Star Wars trading cards that I collected when I was very young. I selected cards depicting the male heroes in the movie and repainted them on thin cardboard sheets, just like what the trading cards were printed on. Looking back on the The Star Wars Card Copy Project, I believe this was my first attempt at mapping.

Richard Garrison,  Star Wars Copy Project (A Crucial Moment for Luke Skywalker), 1995, Acrylic and ink on cardboard, 2½" x 3½” (6.3cm x 8.9cm), ©2019 Richard Garrison/Robert Henry Contemporary

RHC: What ideas were most prevalent in your thinking after you completed your MFA in 1995 and how are these evident in the work?

Garrison: Between 1995-2000, I created a number of site-specific installations that addressed ideas related to masculinity, fantasy, and landscape evoked through images of fictional film and literature. I utilized elements that evoked cinematic special effects, like blue screens and bubble machines in installations with audio and visual textual works.

Richard Garrison, Bluescreen/Special Effect, 1999, Drywall, wood, chroma key blue paint, audio recording and fabricated bubble machine, installation view at The Arts Center of the Capital Region, Troy NY, 10’ x 28’ x 2’ and 2’ x 3’ x 2’6” (3m x 8.5m x 61cm and 61cm x 91.4cm x 76.6cm), ©2019 Richard Garrison/Robert Henry Contemporary

Garrison: For some time I was also incorporating a “giveaway”  into my work, such as popcorn-filled white paper bags screen-printed with the words “desire” or “despair”, and blueprinted bookmarks with quotes from various forms of literature exemplifying male stereotypes.

Richard Garrison, Blueprints, 1997, Plexiglas, wood, paint and blueprinted bookmarks, Installation view at Hudson Valley Community College, Troy, NY, 3¾” x 3” x 18' (9.5cm x 7.6cm x 5.5m), bookmarks 7¼” x 2” (18.4cm x 5cm), ©2019 Richard Garrison/Robert Henry Contemporary

Richard Garrison, Blueprints (uncut sheet), 1997, Blueprinted bookmarks, 7¼” x 2” (18.4cm x 5cm), ©2019 Richard Garrison/Robert Henry Contemporary

RHC: When did color begin to be an important element in your work?

Garrison: I started teaching Color Theory at Saint Rose in 1998, and became very interested in the presence and abstraction of color, but had no idea where to go with it. It wasn’t until July 4, 1998 in a Kmart just outside of Buffalo that I saw firsthand how I might be able to use color.

RHC: That must have been a revelatory experience to remember the exact day! What happened?

Martha Stewart’s Everyday Colors for KMart paint chip sample

Garrison: It was on that day I was introduced to Martha Stewart’s Everyday Colors. This was her house paint line produced specifically for Kmart. The color chips were not your typical design. Instead of listing different values of the same color on a paint chip, Stewart selected four colors she felt went together, creating a formula or color scheme for design and decoration. And what really blew me away was HOW the color chips were displayed. I discovered them on a partition wall end cap encased inside a minimal clear Plexiglas container. It looked like a conceptual artwork! I was instantly captivated by this visual presentation, but had little direction on where to go with it. It wasn’t until 2001 that I found a subject for the color chip concept.

Richard Garrison, Parking Lot Color Scheme (Toys-R-Us), 2001 Collage watercolor, graphite and ink on paper, 9½” x 9½” (24m x 24cm), Collection of Albany Institute of History and Art, Albany, NY, ©2019 Richard Garrison/Robert Henry Contemporary

RHC: And what happened then...?

Garrison: I was exiting the highway in Colonie, NY on an elevated ramp when I saw a brand new parking lot with red lampposts that was built for a newly constructed Target. The store building wasn’t complete yet, so the pristine empty parking lot had a presence I’ve never experienced before. It reminded me of Tony Smith’s drive on the New Jersey Turnpike before it was officially opened. For the first time, I saw parking lots for what they really are, landscape. So using Martha Stewart’s Everyday Colors and Ed Ruscha’s Thirty-four Parking Lots in Los Angeles as a starting point, I drove to 16 retail parking lots in the vicinity of Albany and matched the colors of the asphalt, painted parking lines, mulch, and lampposts with watercolor en plein air.

Richard Garrison, Parking Lot Color Scheme, 2001, Collage, watercolor, gouache, graphite and ink on paper, Installation view at the Albany Institute of History and Art, Albany, NY, ©2019 Richard Garrison/Robert Henry Contemporary

Garrison: I was very interested in how to “see” these landscape spaces that I would simultaneously utilize and disregard. I then took these color samples and created a screen print for each “parking lot color scheme”.

Richard Garrison, Parking Lot Color Scheme (Toys “R” Us), 2001, Screen print ink and graphite on paper, 11” x 11” (28cm x 28cm), ©2019 Richard Garrison/Robert Henry Contemporary

Part Two:

RHC: Your encounters with the Martha Stewart paint chip display and a bird’s-eye view of a Target parking lot sparked a shift in your thinking from identity to landscape and mapping…but it also seems to have exploded, so to speak, the number of permutations or directions you could explore. It led you to numerous new series. Would you say this was where you “found yourself” artistically as the old cliché goes, and what were some of the earliest series to explore these newfound ideas?

Garrison: Yes and no. The development and realization of Parking Lot Color Schemes was a huge breakthrough for me, and led to many new series and processes of observation and comparison. But oddly enough, besides Storefront Color Schemes and Housing Development Color Scheme, very few involved the element of color. After Parking Lot Color Schemes, I became interested in measuring elements of big box stores and suburban landscapes.

Richard Garrison, Storefront Color Schemes, 2004-5, Watercolor and graphite on paper, 12" x 87" (30.5” x 2.2m), Detail, ©2019 Richard Garrison/Robert Henry Contemporary

Richard Garrison, Storefront Color Schemes, 2004-5, Watercolor and graphite on paper, 12" x 87" (30.5” x 2.2m)
©2019 Richard Garrison/Robert Henry Contemporary

RHC: This is interesting considering how important the element of color is to your work today…so, what did the other series you created involve?

Garrison: First, I used simple devices like a tape measure/measuring wheel and compass to record shadows cast from a Toys “R” Us building, my own home, and the widths of aisles in Walmart, Target and Kmart. Eventually, I started to use a hand-held GPS as a measuring tool. My fascination with parking lots continued with Parking Lot Perimeters and Lot Walking.  For Parking Lot Perimeters, I walked around and recorded the contours of 53 parking lots in and surrounding Albany, NY using a GPS.  The collected data was then translated into scaled CAD line drawings. I then cut the line drawings from ½” (1.3cm) stacks of tarpaper, so a shallow void was created to define each parking lot shape.  Lot Walking was a bit more personal.  For that drawing I measured the distance between my parked car and shopping destination for six months. The distances were arranged in a circular pattern, color-coded and labelled.

Richard Garrison, Parking Lot Perimeters, 2004, Cut and stacked tar paper, Dimensioons variable
©2019 Richard Garrison/Robert Henry Contemporary

Richard Garrison, Lot Walking, 2005-06, Graphite and ink jet print on paper, 36” x 36” (91.4cm x 91.4cm), Detail, Collection University Art Museum, State University of New York at Albany, Albany, NY
©2019 Richard Garrison/Robert Henry Contemporary

RHC: At first look your Spirograph drawings seem like a bit of an anomaly…but on second look are very much tied to suburban life. What led you to switch from work derived directly from measurements of landscape and architectural elements to these more referential drawings?

Garrison: It was also around this time, between 2003-2005 that my wife and I purchased a home in the suburbs outside of Albany, NY, and welcomed the births of our two daughters. I became more interested in elements of domestic life and suburbia but found I had less time to be in the studio. I started making process drawings using a Spirograph drawing kit. The fact that there was a system to making Spirograph drawings really interested me. I also liked the time-based/repetitive element that resulted in dense line drawings that for me were reflections of landscape.

Richard Garrison, Spirograph No. 9, 2004, Ballpoint pen on paper, 36” x 71 ½” (91.4cm x 1.8m)
©2019 Richard Garrison/Robert Henry Contemporary

RHC: Did these more process-oriented drawings…made with a rudimentary machine, no less, lead you in another new direction?

Garrison: Just before the birth of our second daughter, I was experimenting with a drawing device that would record my movement while I was grocery shopping. Literally with not a moment to spare, I finally figured out the drawing device for what I call Shopping Cart Inertia. Like Lot Walking, these drawings were more about my life as a consumer. Each drawing was labelled with the date, time, and grocery list I shopped for while the drawing was being made. Each drawing was made with a black marker, and consisted of meandering lines and ink spots. And the best part was that I was making art while grocery shopping—making the most of my limited time.

Richard Garrison, Shopping Cart Inertia No. 16, 2006, Ink and graphite on paper, 12” x 12” (30.5cm x 30.5cm), private collection, ©2019 Richard Garrison/Robert Henry Contemporary

RHC: So you shifted from measuring and analyzing suburban shopping environments to recording your movement through these landscapes as you went about your daily life…basically, you shifted from observation to participation.

Garrison: I feel that with all of my work there is a participatory element with how I interact with all of my subjects. But with projects like Shopping Cart Inertia and Lot Walking, it was less about observation and more about how my personal life coexisted with these consumer environments.

Richard Garrison, Measured Hallways, 2006, Folded and printed paper, 21’ x 11’ (6.4m x 3.4m), Installation view detail at University Art Museum, State University of New York at Albany, NY
©2019 Richard Garrison/Robert Henry Contemporary

RHC: It seems measuring your environment has less importance now that it did in the past.

Garrison: One of my last measuring projects was at the State University of NY at Albany. I was invited to create a work that somehow interacted with the University campus. Measured Hallways was what I ended up developing by carefully measuring every doorway and angle in the hallways of the four centrally located buildings on the University campus designed by Edward Durell Stone. I used the data to make scaled folded paper printouts that were hung adjacent to the notes I took while measuring the hallways. The final installation was measured over 20’ tall.

Richard Garrison, Aisle Lights, 2006, Seventeen unique Pinhole camera exposures on photographic paper, 16” x 20” (40.6cm x 50.8cm ) each; 9’ 6” x 4’ 6” ( 2.8m x 1.4m) overall, DETAIL
©2019 Richard Garrison/Robert Henry Contemporary

RHC: Were there any other participatory or performance influenced series from this period?

Garrison: Another project involving a shopping cart was Aisle Lights. For this project I created a pinhole camera that was set inside a shopping cart. Images of every celling light inside a Kmart were patiently documented with the camera. The photographs of the ceiling were essentially negatives, so the fluorescent lights appeared as black lines on the paper. Photography continued to be a tool with the project Shopping Center Lawns where I photographed various grassy areas in the vicinity of twenty-five shopping centers.

Richard Garrison, Shopping Center Lawns, 2006, Digital C-print, 29” x 29” (73.6cm x 73.6cm)
©2019 Richard Garrison/Robert Henry Contemporary

Garrison: Also at this time I was making some drawings while watching television. The first was Ronald Reagan Lying In State Color Scheme, a drawing made by matching significant colors while watching the continual broadcast of Ronald Regan lying in state at the Capitol rotunda on CSPAN. The second was a series of blind drawings made while watching the evening news. These blind drawings consisted of a tangled layer of red, green and blue lines made while watching the local and national news between 6:00-7:00 PM.

Richard Garrison, Ronald Reagan Lying In State Color Scheme, 2004, Collage, watercolor, gouache and graphite on paper, 16 ¾” x 30 ¼” (42.5cm x 76.8cm), ©2019 Richard Garrison/Robert Henry Contemporary

RHC: Time, through photography and performance, has grown increasingly important as an element in your work in addition to color and landscape. In hindsight was there a point where these different directions seem to coalesce?

Garrison: I think probably one of the most important projects for me during this time was Drive-Thru Color Schemes. I was invited to participate in an inaugural exhibition at The Teaching Gallery at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, NY where I have been teaching 2D Design for twenty years. I chose to document and analyze every drive-thru menu found on my commute to the college. First, I photographed each ordering, purchasing, and pickup area of each fast-food restaurant encountered on my commute. Then, I developed a series of rules to interpret the photographs of the drive-thrus before matching and painting observed colors onto a grid. This was for me a return to contemporary landscape painting.

Richard Garrison, Drive Thru Color Scheme (McDonalds) 583 Columbia Turnpike, East Greenbush, NY (7.27.07), 2007, Watercolor and graphite on paper, 22" x 23 3/4" (55.8cm x 60.3cm), Private collection
©2019 Richard Garrison/Robert Henry Contemporary

Part Three: Coming soon! We'll talk about how Richard's work relates to the Hudson River School...advertising, color and his latest projects!

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