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Time and Space

Martin Ålund in conversation with Richard G. Carlsson

I remember around 20 years ago, how Ricky, upon returning from a stay in New York while still a student at The Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm, suddenly started painting from photographs taken during a risky excursion with friends to Hells Gate Bridge (a railway bridge between Queens and South Bronx). They climbed up the arch of the bridge and went where they weren’t allowed to go. Ricky described his experience – the blissful euphoria of exploring an off-limits, undiscovered landscape in the company of friends. Hence bringing to the fore a kind of heightened receptivity.

I also remember how Ricky, during that same period, described how while sitting at his kitchen window, he looked up towards the grey sky and suddenly experienced more colour and light than he previously imagined possible.

I see the new works Workspaces–Dialogues as letters addressed to artists that Ricky has a relationship to. Letters that deal with the lonely work in the studio, the toil, the heightened receptivity, the discoveries and the quest. The ambition to both bridge and dissolve time while also making it present and visible.


Martin Ålund: Workspaces–Dialogues refers to the notion of, among other things, the artistic workspace and the studio. How important is the conceptual to you in your painterly process?

Richard G. Carlsson: For me, painting is about working with something visual. Conceptual ideas pop up all the time, but my starting point always centres on the visual. It can, for example, have to do with discovering and feeling the need to analyse the colour relationship in a specific light situation. I then find myself latching on to diverse associations that turn up on the way. This can either lead to a dead-end or offer an opportunity to proceed onwards. Above all, my attitude is to keep an intuitive approach to make sure I am constantly responsive to impulses or small discoveries that spontaneously arise in the painterly process and that can dictate the next step in my work process.

M: Can you give an example of how that intuitive process might work?

R: Let’s say I’m working on a rendition of my studio in the evening. While painting, I might discern subtle changes in the light relationship affected by events outside the studio. Or I become aware of a time sequence, and as a means of clearly marking that experience or discovery, I might decide to work on another painting as a counterpart to the first, in order to put a focus on, say, the passage of time or a perhaps a time vacuum.

M: Yes, time can almost feel encapsulated or captured in your studio interiors. How do you see the connection between these studio interiors and your more abstract painting?

R: Before I started working with my own studio as a motif, I was more focused on a low-key abstract form of painting where the relationship to the physical room was an important aspect. The actual studio and gallery space subsequently became a vital part of the artwork. At first, working on the studio interiors was a way for me to gain perspective on my abstract painting. When I started working with these two expressions on a parallel basis I noticed my approach was similar from a purely technical standpoint – in both cases the focus was on the immediacy and physicality of painting, the light rendition and the notion of paint as a bearer of expression. After a while I became aware of a new relationship between the abstract works and the studio renditions, with spatiality as a common thread. A form of narrative emerged.

M: A narrative dealing with time and space?

R: Yes, that could very well be. But the narrative is not my main driving force as I paint, instead it takes shape in the relationship between the works.

M: And how do the studios of other artists come in?

R: The fact that I have spent time in the studio, depicted it and related to it over such an extensive period of time can sometimes almost blur the boundary between the room and myself as a person. At times like that I can feel a sense of claustrophobia. That’s one of the reasons I chose to direct my gaze outwards and started looking at images of studios of other artists. I could see this as engaging in a private conversation with artists that have been a source of inspiration for me. It started as a playful pursuit without any loftier ambitions, but the more I worked on the Workspaces–Dialogues images, the clearer it became that it was both a question of directly depicting the studios of specific artists and at the same time of depicting the creative workspace as an idea and psychologically charged place. In the studies I discovered small details of concentrated disorder in say a small corner of Giacometti’s studio. The physical transformation of his studio was the result of his strong presence in the room. It depicted a demanding struggle. Giacometti was never satisfied, he destroyed his works, reduced and reworked. That process naturally influenced the character of the room. Details and traces on the floor, paintings hastily propped up on a bed etc. And in the midst of all that chaos an enormous focus and concentration was brought to bear. Similar traces and signs can be found in all of the artist studios I have worked with. There is that sense of recognition – I can relate to these artists and their approaches regardless of when they were active, be they Ed Ruscha or Whistler, Dr. Seuss or Caspar David Friedrich. You sit focused in your own world, in the feeling of being both submerged in the moment and at the same time completely unaware of the passage of time. A sequence of time where time doesn’t really exist.

M: Where time doesn’t really exist – that leads me to think of death; an existential dimension.

R: There is definitely an existential side to it. In my early, dark abstract Spectre paintings, for example, there is a clear vanitas or memento mori idea there, but nowadays the existential dimension is conveyed instead by a time vacuum and a kind of silence of presence.  I want my works to possess a charge that conveys an active, contemplative gaze, and that there is a dynamic feel to the relationship between the works. Here I often think of the phenomenon of feedback.  Like the feedback of an electric guitar sound that escalates, feeds into itself, and eventually proceeds under its own momentum as it seeks its way forth in the expression. I see the notion of feedback as aptly describing how one work can lead to the other, and how, for example, the abstract and the figurative can enhance each other in mutual influence. My aim is to clearly convey the work process itself with all its stops, starts, passages and discoveries. For me, the way to achieve this is through work, and by being present and receptive to what happens at the spur of the moment.

[Excerpt from the book Workspaces-Dialogues]