Samuelle Richardson: Of Fine Art and Fabric

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Samuelle Richardson may have entered the world of fine art as a painter, but her work now is in creating astounding fabric sculptures.  These beautiful pieces seem ready to spring to life.

“The figures I make are hand-built armature with fabric stretched and stitched over the form. The character of a shape is my most important concern and I achieve it by building up layers,” Richardson relates. “My art practice is rooted in life drawing and long ago, I saw that a deeper knowledge of anatomy would help me make better decisions in rendering the human form, so I immersed myself in a process called écorché where a scale model of the skeleton is built by hand, in clay.”

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Her pieces feel magical in their completeness, as if motion were simply frozen within their fabric, and should one look away, the pieces would come alive.

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Her Ghost Dogs, which use wood as well as fabric, seem ready to take off and run. They live up to their title, haunting figures, beautiful and frail.

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A different sort of beautiful energy infuses the artist’s earth angels, figures that are flying toward and carrying earth to safety.  These gliding and protective figures are suspended in a ten foot radius, soaring and strong.

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To see such powerful work made from cloth is to wonder both at the strength of the medium and the intensely classical form of the artistry.

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“Fabric has been familiar to me for a long time. My background in the design industry is where important decisions were made based on the characteristics of fabric. Various types of fabric yield different results when applied in the same way.  I love the feel of fabric and I see characteristics in fine material that remind me of the way my favorite painters have mastered color,” she says.

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“In my three-dimensional work, I especially appreciate the crush and pull of fabric as it relates to skin over bone.  I also like matching fabric to the character of the sculpture.”

Richardson explains that she saw a catalog of Louise Bourgeois’ Cell Series and knew she’d have to try her cloth figure technique. “I had made figures in clay before but I had not yet thought of combining my knowledge of fabric and the three dimensional form,” the artist explains.

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The result are sculptures that seem incredibly alive, as if beneath their cloth they breathe.  The softness of the material further enhances the powerful and persuasive illusion that there is a living spirit beneath the cloth.

“Today I am looking closely at images of Manuel Neri’s work from the 50’s. The series was made in the image of his favorite model and there are some interesting figure studies done in fabric strips, wire, wood and other found material.  I am also looking for ways to incorporate found material in my work and I gain a lot through the perspective of my favorite artists.”

Asked who those favorites would be, Richardson cites “Calder for his humor, Diebenkorn for his elegant command of color and design, and James Havard for his rare quality of naïve imagery based on a classical knowledge of the figure.”

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Richardson credits her transition from canvas to fabric to the vicissitudes of violent weather. “I might still be a painter today had my studio not been destroyed in a record-breaking storm in 2009. It took a year to repair the damage, so I moved my work into the house and began experimenting with hand-built armature and fabric. I liked my new medium so much that I never looked back.

Richardson will be part of a July 2017 group show curated by Betty Ann Brown at Groundspace Project, It’s a Wonderful World. Looking forward ahead, she’s scheduled for two group shows at MOAH in Lancaster, Calif., in 2019.

“My new work is underway and it will be about human figures.  I plan to make a group that interacts similarly to the figures in Ghost Dogs.”

  • Genie Davis; photos: Genie Davis; and courtesy of the artist