Regarding Richard Elliott’s Most Recent Work
by Dr. William B. Folkestad, Chair, Department of Art,
Associate Professor of Art History & Criticism, Central Washington University

Copyright © 2007

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After graduating from Central Washington University, Richard Elliott embarked on an artist’s career of creative adventure that has grown exponentially through the decades and continues to provide evidence of its professional resourcefulness.

There is lightness in his latest work. Viewers used to marveling at the muscular forms of the reflectors will be stirred by the intellectual strength of these acrylic paintings. Each is an icon capturing the artist’s love of expressive knowledge. Each work is complete in and of itself and exists as a page from a larger text detailing the artist’s lifelong interest in what he terms “the elemental nature of energy”.

On first inspection, anyone familiar with Elliott’s reflector art will discover that the brilliant chemical colors have been drained away. But any suggestion of monochrome or of the appearance of uniformity would be misleading. The brilliance of the reflector palette has been replaced by umber and sienna. Painted lines have replaced the shallow measured divisions between the whorls of various-sized plastic disks that were the trademark of the reflector assemblages. (An artist of great originality Elliott patented his reflector process.) Viewers soon recognize that compositions in neon gas and plastic reflectors have shown the way to this moment.

For decades an interest in designs from baskets, quilts, pottery, cloth and wood, most of Native American origin, have found their place in Elliott’s private and public art. Intimately associated with the artist’s history, these ubiquitous patterns contribute as well to the originality of the current paintings. These most recent works are a tentative exercise in palette, scale, and medium with results varying from vibrating near-monochromes, and mandala-like repositories of stilled form, to computer-generated investigations of line and color. This exhibition bears the weight of nearly forty years of professional practice. Visitors will discover that Elliott’s remarkable first tests with his new medium merits a more scholarly discussion than that presented here.

These paintings require our active participation. The compositional complexity of the palette, pattern, and scale of the work stresses the rigor demanded of each encounter. The irregularities characteristic of even the more uniform of these paintings, energize the image and provide openings for contemplation. It must also be mentioned that the significance of the geometric patterning does not subsist exclusively in the forms themselves but depend as well on viewers who value the ambiguous and indeterminate. This is important because of the emphasis Elliott places on the viewing experience. The challenge posed to the public is to glimpse the whole and read the details. Consequently, the expressive potential of these patterns exert their most powerful effect on a viewer when they are shadowed by our efforts to overcome their perceived impermanence. The viewing experience harvests the rich evidence assembled from the artist’s open-ended search for informational imagery obscured by time and cultural memory.

As with his reflector assemblages, Elliott’s acrylic paintings bridge individual perceptions of time and space. The artist displays a fondness for the common fragment that informs the whole. Through the power of these understated generalizations Elliott encourages us to project the timelessness of our unconsciousness onto our engagement with these peculiarly human products. If there is something in these contacts that might be termed magical, it is that elusive spark of recognition joining time past with the lived present.

This collection remains true to Elliott’s goal of visualizing the eternal structures underlying life’s surface. Through the mediation of these paintings, the artist explores the nature of Nature by searching out the best way to image the universal forces of which the human dimension is by any standard an insignificant manifestation.

Richard Elliott’s vivid paintings plumb the depths of our shared visual history; not that history associated with the more recent visual arts but the much more ancient geometries that are still appreciated today as timeless ministrations.

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