|Turnbull, Dot Studies I, 2013|
Richard Turnbull grew up in a hard-resist world, as anyone who explores his website can verify. He's gone through a checklist of varnishes, putties and lacquers and mucked up an assassin's satchel of knives, blades and other weapons, all in an effort to harness that wild bronco that is the chemigram. More often than not he's been successful, but that's not been enough. His restless spirit has drawn him back to more innocent beginnings, to those first steps in chemigram class where they teach you about soft resists - the glues, the syrups, and the tapes. A lot of professional chemigramists ignore the soft resists but it is here that, for the time being at least, he has found a home, and where he is producing some amazing art. Arthur Danto, the late philosopher, said there will be no more linear progress in art as a continuity because we're at the end of it: you do what you want, go where you want to go. Richard Turnbull is a fine case in point.
Dot Studies I, shown above, was picked by the jury at the prestigious Center for Photographic Art in Carmel, California, to hang in their main hall during the annual show which runs until March 1, 2014. It's made with dot labels, the stick-on kind, and with tape; Rich roams the streets of New York looking for new kinds of tape and labels since each, he says, has a characteristic stickiness, and an associated chemistry. Under repeated assaults of fixer and developer the dots and tape eventually detach and lift, leaving behind a signature of the last chemical they were in contact with. Different materials produce a different randomness and present the artist with different choices of when to block or snatch - technical terms of the chemigram trade that refer to an act which terminates a chemical attack. He's also drawn to stick-on materials for their ability to generate hard and relatively precise lines which, after a good pummelling by chemicals, become little islets of stability and order in a sea of disorder. Isn't this the beauty of chemigrams, after all?
Rich will offer a workshop in chemigrams at Manhattan Graphics Center on February 22, 2014. Plan to be there. In his spare time he teaches art history at F.I.T. and lectures at the Metropolitan Museum, and is also - this must be a sideline, or is it? - an accomplished cook of south-east Asian cuisine.