The still-life is a genre that asks the artist to look truly, clearly, selflessly. Nuances of form and color, light and shadow are transcribed with a regard that is usually reserved for objects of devotion. Embedded in each artist’s patient practice is an unspoken act of veneration.
In the still life’s of Richard Bolingbroke, we see the art of watercolor performed with a lyrical precision. With the directness and subtlety inherent in the media, he represents convoluted flowers and bold patterns with equal ease. But for this artist, rather than just conjuring gratifying illusions, he creates imaginal worlds that pay tribute to the vivid and vulnerable reality that is our world.
Bolingbroke’s two recent, ongoing series have distinctive, yet related approaches to this homage. In the Studio Still Life Series, he has chosen prized objects: flowers, fruit, vases, shells, Japanese kimonos, and a glass of water, and from these he has lovingly created complex visual fields. The welter of fabrics and things, viewed from above, can be disorienting, even intoxicating, as the patterns’ images appear as real as the objects placed upon them. The watercolors of this series seem to honor the gloriously confounding attractions of the tangible and visual world, with its ever-slipping sense of what is real and what is illusory.
Bolingbroke’s second series, Rituals and Meditations, focuses on a Japanese lacquer plate, with faceted sides. Centered on a square sheet of paper, with a plain or patterned background, the plate sits filled with flowers, surrounded by leaves, thorns, or stones. From this repertoire of geometric and organic objects, again seen from above, the artist creates a kind of mandala-like altar with offerings. Standing before the watercolor, the viewer may realize that this is a shrine to life itself, both abundant and fragile. Contemplating the image of dry, brown leaves and the over-sized thorns of a locust tree encircling the plate with four irises, we recognize that this is a vision of suffering and blooming freshness, seen in their reciprocal wholeness.
Bolingbroke asks the viewer to look at rocks and flying cranes, red amaryllis and blue glass with equal reverence. An artist’s faith in seeing and making visible bears witness to the never-ending gift that is this world.