- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 3, 2002

Fusebox gallery visitors happen upon W.C. "Chip" Richardson's 10-foot-by-10-foot floor installation almost by accident. After entering the recently opened, pristine white gallery on 14th and P streets NW, they find Mr. Richardson's "Bottom" in the back "project space area" and what a find it is. Swirls of glistening red paint cavort across vibrating white and black geometric patterns applied in layers of black, blue and red oil pigments mixed with alkyd resin to make the work "jump." Each of the squares is covered with polyurethane coating.

For the first time, the artist invited viewers to walk on one of his works, to physically become a part of it. Visitors constantly change their relation to the painting as they reach its corners, then amble back to certain swirls near the center.

The artist, 49, wasn't thinking of the red nudes frolicking in a circle in Henri Matisse's "Dance II" (in St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum), but the same energy is there. Matisse pulled the flattened figures to the edges of the canvas, then pushed their dance movements toward the middle.

Mr. Richardson achieves similar dynamism by creating a geometric grid of interlocking T-shapes and squares, then propelling the flying spirals up and from them. The floor piece is both moving and motionless, free-formed and patterned, chaotic and orderly, much like his usual wall paintings. He aims to create tensions, reflections of what he sees as the ambiguities of nature.

This may seem difficult to see initially as the connections with nature are both complex and subtle. The artist once studied science, concentrating on quantum physics, cosmology and biology, to understand the interactions of nature. "I work with interference of patterns and geometric structures," he says, smiling and standing dead center on the floor piece.

"For example, 'interference,' a term in physics, is like throwing a rock into a pool and seeing the kind of circles that fan from it," Mr. Richardson adds. Whatever the intellectual rigors behind the paintings, they are joyous and sensuous and among the best work being produced in Washington today.

The tall, serious and affable artist wears a white T-shirt, black pants and black flip-flops for the summer weather. He is an associate professor of painting and drawing in the art department at the University of Maryland, College Park, and has frequently shown in New York and Washington galleries. His work is in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Corcoran Gallery of Art and Artery Corporation as well as many other public and corporate collections.

To implement his philosophical aims in both the floor work and wall pieces, Mr. Richardson uses a complex working process, starting with pencil sketches on graph paper. When he finds an image he likes, he transfers the enlarged sketch to the canvas, often adding the freely drawn spirals that are especially evident in the floor piece.

Mr. Richardson lays the work on the floor at this point, drips and spatters the paint and then begins the long process of refining and reworking. The wall paintings are mounted carefully on a supporting wall.

Working through ideas on the floor has always been part of his creative process, but the "Bottom" installation derived from a specific project: last year's Artscape, a public citywide arts festival in Baltimore. Its curator asked participants to focus on single word themes ("Sound," etc.) for the show, which was called "20 x 20" because there were 20 exhibitions throughout the city. Mr. Richardson chose to make an artwork in keeping with "Floor," which included the option of making pieces to be walked upon.

"I chose this theme as I'd always been interested in Byzantine and Italian Renaissance floor mosaics and because I was commissioned to make a work at Ronald Reagan National Airport where mosaics line the main floor." (His Artscape work was shown at the Decker Gallery of the Maryland Institute College of Art.)

Fusebox's 17-feet-long by 19-feet-wide space is perfect for the work. The 14-foot-tall ceilings add to the drama. The artist says he painted the center first, then found it difficult not to step on the other floor pieces. The individual squares shine because of their multiple layering and the alkyd resin which is similar to linseed oil mixed with the oil pigments. He finished off the whole with a protective layer of polyurethane paint. Mr. Richardson used a multiple density fiberboard for the base so the work would shift slightly as people walked on it.

It's plain "Bottom" was an adventure for the artist. He aimed to make a floor piece related to traditional floor tiling. He also wanted it to be an individual painting in its own right.

"I wished to create a painting that was oriented to the floor," he says. His future work in this direction will be interesting to see.

WHAT: "W.C. Richardson: Bottom"

WHERE: Fusebox, 1412 14th St. NW

WHEN: noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; Sunday, noon to 6 p.m. through Aug. 25


PHONE: 202/299-9220

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