Richard Spare | Reviews

The joy of being… Richard Spare

Written by Robert C Littlewood for Richard Spare's solo exhibition 'The Joy of Being…' (21st July – 25th Aug 2012), Gallery on Sturt, Ballarat, Near Melbourne, Australia.

Collectively, Richard Spare’s colourful images are a party of drypoints. It is the artist’s intention that his audience be immersed in the joy and happiness that his pictures evoke. The artist simply wants to capture an uplifting emotion utilizing floral arrangement, holiday harmony and other design motifs that reflect the joy of being.

Richard Spare (born 1951) is a senior artist printmaker with a life-time committed to his chosen medium. Spare’s art did not occur through serendipitous happenstance. His unique drypoints are informed by British artists who work two hundred years apart and it evolved as a natural consequence of Richard Spare’s work as a Master Printmaker. Richard Spare’s original creative aesthetic appears to be born out of his close association with an unlikely mix of well known artists: David Hockney (born 1937) and Joseph Banks (1743-1820). True, Banks was foremost a naturalist and botanist but, along with Dr. Solander, he created Banks’ Florilegium which is a massive oeuvre of some 743 engravings.

Banks' Florilegium

Banks' Florilegium is a collection of copperplate engravings of plants collected by Sir Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander while they accompanied Captain James Cook on his voyage around the world between 1768 and 1771. They collected plants in Madeira, Brazil, Tierra del Fuego, the Society Islands, New Zealand, Australia and Java. Between 1771 and 1784 Banks hired 18 engravers to create the copperplate line engravings from the 743 completed watercolours at a considerable cost. The first edition from the original copper-plates was published in thirty-five Parts by Alecto Historical Editions, in association with the British Museum (Natural History) between 1980 and 1990 and over a two year period Richard Spare was engaged as a master printer to edition thirteen of these engraving plates. The engravings were printed in color à la poupée, up to ten colours being worked directly into the single plate before each print is pulled, with additional details added in watercolour.

Spare’s drypoints are poetic graphic statements that instantly communicate the beauty of time and place and nature. Familiarity doesn’t diminish this beauty … these images are layered in a subtle manner giving the viewer the desire to gaze into each picture to absorb a calming harmony and to be transported to another place.

From a draftsman’s viewpoint, it is the rich velvet line in Richard Spare’s drypoints that is effectively the artist’s hallmark. Spare invented this aesthetic and it is his original and enduring creative contribution to our ever emerging visual culture. The unique drypoint line is created with a hardened steel needle that cuts through the surface of the copperplate throwing a burr under which ink can hide during the wiping of the plate. Under the pressure of the printing press this shy ink is revealed as a soft velvet line on the printmaker’s dampened paper. The retardant nature of the copper is responsive to the varying pressure of the artist’s hand holding the needle which labours to create an eccentric line that cannot be replicated in other drawing techniques such as pencil on paper or pen & ink on paper. Richard Spare extracts the pleasure of creating only an artist can know … it is the tactile physicality of drawing into copper, the masculinity of the printing process and the engagement of a new colour palette for each image where Spare’s creative satisfaction lives. In the end, it is the pencil signature that serves as the artist’s final kiss goodbye to each drypoint as he sends them to a greater world-wide audience.

Themes

It first appears that Richard Spare’s chosen medium of hand coloured aggressive drypoint is best suited to organic subject matter such as his flowers, birds and animals but he has employed it successfully in his portrayal of the sun drenched summer sea-side habour villages of southern England and France. Mostly, Richard Spare’s observations are made on his field trips which he euphemistically refers to as ‘holidays’ … no real artist ever takes holidays from creativity and good art never sleeps!

The artist’s job is to make observations of the neglected and through their art bring such observations forward in the consciousness of the audience. Refraction through the water in a vase presenting the broken continuum of a flower’s stem reminds the viewer of visual realities and through Spare’s art we remind ourselves of familiar things seen but never really observed. In the same way, when we drive through Spare’s landscape … taking the road west of Penzance driving through Newlyn and suddenly happen upon a Richard Spare fishing boat stranded in dry dock just like his iconic Marseillaise. Share this experience and you’ll understand the effective magic of Richard Spare’s observations presented in his drypoints.

It is Richard Spare’s floral compositions that cause us to reflect on Le Japonais influence in western art. Spare’s arrangements are determined by the size, shape and physiology of the particular flower and the vessel in which they are presented. Although they look as if they are randomly placed before the artist, the harmony each design presents suggests a very careful and consistent arrangement totally in defiance of the Japanese masters of ikebana. Throughout Spare’s entire oeuvre of floral designs his unique sense of arrangement have created his aesthetic signature or ‘brand’ that always says ‘this is a Richard Spare’ floral drypoint.

Japonais

The Japonais feel is more to do with the sparse design elements and the placement of these objects as if floating on a theatre backdrop of negative space. This concept of white space was introduced to western art through observations of Japanese printmakers made by the great master, James McNeill Whistler in the late 1800s. However, Spare’s ‘white’ space is not white. Most often each drypoint image carries the gentle scars of random scratchings that purposely pre-exist to give dimensional layering to a two dimensional object. From the observer’s view point, such subtlety goes unnoticed at first and deeper observation reveals Spare’s drypoints as a visual magnet to which we are drawn trying to understand the artist’s magic.

For the past twenty-five years, Richard Spare has exhibited his drypoints at the prestigious Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy in London. It appears that he hit his high point in 2012 when his ‘Goldcrest’ drypoint sold the complete edition of one hundred signed proofs at the Royal Academy which is equivalent to having a number one success on any hit parade. Richard Spare’s drypoints have a universal appeal and, not surprisingly, he has found a ready marketplace in Japan and the New World. It comes as no surprise that he recently toured Japan staging his one man exhibition in fifteen cities.

Richard Spare’s drypoints take us to another place. In the same way that centuries earlier Orientalism took most of its audience to another world, so Richard Spare takes us on holidays to the sun drenched summerness of Cornish fishing villages or the south of France … and in it’s simplest form, one can extract warmth and joy from the colourful richness of his birds and floral arrangements. This is the joy of being Richard Spare.

He is an Englishman with a delightful and highly developed talent for creating stunningly attractive hand-coloured drypoint etchings.

Robert C Littlewood in “Art For The People” Keenan, S. “ Art For The People”, The Melbourne Review, October 2012.