In the years before his death in 2013, Richard Artschwager returned to the New Mexican landscape of his childhood to make colored pastel drawings.
Rarely exhibited since their creation, these moving works provide a unique insight into the artist’s approach to color and subject matter in his later life. Landscapes entered Artschwager’s repertoire in 2007, following a visit to his childhood home of New Mexico in 2006. When the Artschwager family first moved to New Mexico from Washington D.C. in 1927, the young Richard thought of it as a great adventure. The colored pastel drawings recall landscapes first introduced to him as a subject by his mother, an artist herself, during trips to the desert surrounding Las Cruces. Remarkably, it wasn’t until his mid-eighties that he began to revisit these early memories within his art.
These drawings show Artschwager once again entering new artistic territory at an old age. Although they do not at first glance seem to fit his established body of work, they show the same basic approaches that shaped his oeuvre.
The relation between the two- and three-dimensional, which is so important for Artschwager’s work, is here explored through the effect of pastel chalk on different kinds of papers. Artschwager once observed that “Paper always talks a lot”. The artist used a range of different surfaces, from colored paper and hand-made paper, to sandpaper and velvet. The blue velvet gives Reflection its irresistible richness and depth. The different surfaces shift our focus from the image to the materiality, making paper an essential attribute of the work itself.
The use of rich, luminous color is completely new for the artist. With these late landscapes, we witness Artschwager abandon his beloved grisaille palate, often preferred for his sculpture, for a startling new approach. Look, for instance, at Road with Fence (2004): a landscape that recalls American road movies, the work offers a stark contrast for his shift into color of such intensity.
Strong compositional elements are typified by bands of dense, tonal colors of varying textures and widths. The passing landscapes blur all visible details into horizontal bands of color, oscillating between materiality and immateriality. Roaming the grounds of Artschwager’s landscapes one comes across vague details, inviting the viewer linger for a moment before diving back into the layers of pastel that conjure a world of their own. In the foreground of Landscape with Tiny Houses, subtly punctuating the foreground, there are two small houses, framed by finely nuanced shades of the hazy sky, shimmering as if at the end of a heady summer day.
The color, composition, and sense of time passing all derive from the feeling of a long road trip across the American west. The shifting landscape invites contemplation of both nature’s capacity for constant change and its eerie timelessness.
All installation views by Timo Ohler