Thursday, December 06, 2018

North Sea Magic Realism: The art of Guy Richardson

'In seventy or eighty years a Man may have a deep Gust of the World, Know what it is, what it can afford, and what ’tis to have been a Man'. [1]

Guy Richardson (1933 - 2021) was a British artist and sculptor who exhibited his art for over six decades. He was also the senior member of the North Sea Magic Realism art-movement.

Early in his long and varied life, Guy attended Dartmouth Naval College and later studied at Chelsea School of Art for his National Diploma in Design, along with fellow-artist Prunella Clough and the sculptor Elizabeth Frink. He attended UEA as a mature student reading European Art History. For many years Guy combined art with puppetry including a one-man show of Orpheus in the Underworld which was performed at the National Theatre in London. Richardson's influence upon his contemporaries is reflected in the British puppeteer and environmental artist Meg Amsden's  (b. 1948) reminiscence -

'There were so many artists around that I knew and worked with that it was possible to learn things. With a little touring dance and education company we went into schools and did shows and through that I met someone called Guy Richardson, who did Punch and Judy shows on Yarmouth beach.' 

Guy showed Meg how to make masks for dance productions and, almost immediately, she started making puppets too. Amsden recollects on her apprenticeship with Richardson-

'Guy had a way of working that was experimental. All the time we were trying things out,” she says. “I think you learn by doing that. I have the sort of mind that likes problem solving so that worked well. I worked with him for four of five years altogether but gradually started setting up my own ideas too.' [2]

Richardson has held exhibitions of his art at Covent Garden and Hampstead in London, at Norwich, and Halesworth and Southwold in Suffolk. Three examples of his medallic work are currently held at the British Museum. 

Its beyond the confines of this post to recollect in detail Guy's long and extensive biography, besides, as C.G. Jung reminds us-  

'The personal life of the artist is at most a help or a hindrance, but is never essential to his creative task. He may go the way of the Philistine, a good citizen, a fool, or a criminal. His personal career may be interesting and inevitable, but it does not explain his art'. [3] 

Working mostly in ceramics, primarily in grogged clay, Richardson's pieces are painted or sponged with underglaze paints before biscuit firing, creating sculptures which are at turns humorous and erotic, often featuring people in unusual situations. His amusing and intriguing sculptures echo the humour and salaciousness of 'What the Butler Saw' peep-shows with a Jack-in-the-box inventiveness. With an extensive knowledge of world art, Richardson's 'Back-stage' (top of post) depicts the behind-the-scenes operations of stage-hands whilst an opera singer performs to an audience. His 'Shark-wrestler' (above) is influenced by the artist Rene Magritte, whilst his 'Bluebeard's Larder' (below) is inspired by Charles Perrault's sinister fairy-tale.

Richardson's art possesses all the sophistication of Czech animator Jan Svankmajer or the Brothers Quay with their imaginative automatons, while retaining his own quite unique vision.

The psychologist C.G. Jung reminds us that- 'Every creative person is a duality or a synthesis of contradictory qualities. On the one side he is a human being with a personal life, while on the other he is an impersonal creative process. As a human being he may be sound or morbid, and his personal psychology can and should be explained in personal terms. But he can be understood as an artist only in terms of his creative achievement'. [4]

Peter Rodulfo and Mark Burrell both acknowledge Richardson's influence upon  their own personal artistic development. Rodulfo recollects - 

'I first met Guy in 1980. At the time I was exhibiting at Norwich Castle Museum. Guy had  seen my work there and got in touch  with me so as to see more of my art. In due course Guy showed me his work which greatly impressed me. For some time I had been making ever more encrusted collages, and seeing Guy's work gave me the courage and inspiration to take my collages a big step forwards, in the form of three-dimensional constructions and assemblages,which in turn led on to free standing sculptures'. 

Mark Burrell, a Lowestoft neighbour of Richardson, states-

'I first saw Guy's work over 30 years ago when I was lucky enough to see a one man show by him. I was utterly spell bound by the sheer imagination of his 3D pieces, many were ornate boxes with spy-holes to peer into; within these he created great depth and all kind of imaginings. His themes over the years are many and varied, but his frank, honest and quirky depiction of human sexuality, playful and uncensored make me smile and think. 30 years later I still get a feeling of excitement when I pop round to see him and his unique work.'

Guy Richardson exhibited with Peter Rodulfo and Mark Burrell at the Tripp Gallery, London, in November 2017, attending the opening preview of the first collective North Sea Magical Realism exhibition. 


[1] Sir Thomas Browne Christian Morals Part 3:22
[2] The Puppet Master: Interview with Meg Amsden East Anglian Daily Times 8th July  2013
[3] CW 15:157
[4]  CW 15:162

                        Photo of Guy Richardson circa 1980