American Icons: Paintings from the Baseball and Marilyn Monroe/Joe DiMaggio Series
Art New England, June/July 2008
New England College Gallery
Henniker, New Hampshire
March 4 - April 12, 2008
By Craig Stockwell
Carl Yastrzemski hit a foul-ball pop- up to end the one game play-off game against the Yankees in 1978. Moments of intense failure in sports are always the most heart-rending when it is the best doing his bestÉand not able to succeed. One large painting by Lance Richbourg shows Yaz in the moment after he has swung hard and popped high, it may not be THAT moment but it brings it all back, for me.
American painting has often done a magnificent job of sneaking in masterful painting under the guise of superficial imagery. Think of Jasper John’s Flag. This was the Pop argument, as I always understood it, forget all the meaningful content and expressive brushwork…let’s look at common things and let paint do what it can.
Richbourg’s subjects, baseball and Marilyn Monroe, are depicted here through action-painting. The images emerge out of the brushwork. These paintings are fast and loose and painted wet. These images leap from depiction to metaphor. Painting and baseball are useless and obsessive activities that, nonetheless, bring out extraordinary moments of human effort and beauty. This much is immediately apparent in these paintings. And it is here that Richbourg captures the paradoxical nature of painting and sport; a rich moment of spontaneity, color, and action contained in tradition, restriction, convention, and conceptual limitations.
I recall seeing baseball paintings of Richbourg’s at OK Harris in NY in the 80s. Richbourg Sr. played for the Boston Braves and this matters because those paintings, at that time, were loaded with a rich nostalgia and quiet grace. It helps to understand that they had an elegiac quality in reference to a remembered father. Richbourg has, more recently, turned to manically painting and repainting Marilyn Monroe. Baseball…Joe DiMaggio…Marilyn Monroe, a crooked but solid line unites them all. And there’s also the entire Pop lineage of Warhol, Marilyn, etc. Finally DeKooning comes up as well…all of these hundreds of rapidly painted Marilyns on newspaper reprises DeKooning’s efforts to find…Woman. Of course we’re many years down the line and those particular painterly issues aren’t as pressing. But what Richbourg has done here is pressed out some beautiful painting that vividly references Marilyn, Joe, baseball and American desire.