After 17 years with McGuffey Art Center, artist and filmmaker Russell Richards is moving on. Blame it on the windows.
“The city renovated McGuffey and fixed the windows, so we had to be out for a certain period of time,” he says. “I couldn’t access my studio for a while, so I used that as an opportunity.”
Richards is known around town for his fantasy artwork, largely featuring nudes, which includes drawings, paintings, even designs for album covers and pinball machines.
Because his studio wasn’t conducive to sculpture, he says, he limited himself to 2-D work. But when he began working outside of McGuffey, in a workshop in his Belmont home, something else emerged.
“There’s a series of concrete sculptures I’ve wanted to do for years and years—decrepit and derelict shells of buildings covered in graffiti,” he says. “People don’t know I work in sculpture, lightboxes, concrete, wood and plastics. I rarely exhibit those things, but I’ve recently begun to focus on them.”
Richards believes the shift has less to do with his studio and more about his need to grow and change every decade or so.
In his early days an artist, he says, “I had this whole other career. It was expressionistic, very stylized figures and cities and things. I call it ‘my former style.’ I had exhibits in museums in Roanoke and Amsterdam and traveling shows all over the world.”
But after 15 years, life intervened. “I broke both my arms,” he says. “Then I was ill for a long time with ulcerative colitis, and I had surgery that saved my life. It was rather dramatic.”
When he finally went back to studio, he found he just couldn’t make the same type of work anymore. Instead, he tried his hand at a figurative session at McGuffey and found his new focus.
Over the years, Richards has seen plenty of changes outside his studio, too. “When I first joined McGuffey, Second Street Gallery was just a single room at McGuffey. Now it’s a magnificent building. There’s a lot going on with the IX Art Park.”
Overall, he says, the arts community has grown more vibrant while the market for art has gotten worse. “But I don’t think that’s unique to Charlottesville,” he says. “The internet has done wonders for exposure, but it has inundated the field with images that we process very briefly.”
You could argue that fledgling artists need physical studios now more than ever. Richards’ advice to the new inhabitant of his studio: Persist.
“McGuffey has been very good to me. It’s a supportive community that helped nurture me through my formative years. It helped establish me as an artist in this community,” he says.
“Now I don’t need it as much for visibility. So it’s probably best to let some new young artist have the space.”