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Powerful printmaking show in ‘Renewal Of Life’

It took longer than he thought it would, but Omar Richardson finally opened his printmaking show “Renewal of Life” at The Central Bank of The Bahamas last week.

Originally scheduled to open at the end of August, Hurricane Irene threw the opening off-track until now.

It was worth the wait. “Renewal of Life” is a successful show from a Bahamian master printmaker, tapping into powerful human emotion and experience and collapsing time, space and culture through the use of his different techniques. The collection, with its grand scales and deeply personal subject matter, will have viewers experiencing a wide range of emotion.

“It’s hard for me to describe my work because it’s kind of like a Christian trying to describe their Christianity,” says Richardson. “You can’t really describe it; you just know the emotional feelings you get from it.”

Richardson began the body of work after he won the Central Bank’s Annual Art competition in the open category in 2010 under the theme “A Mighty Push Forward”. With the prize money from the win, he developed “Renewal of Life”, this resulting show a direct extention of his winning piece which examined human identity in a society disconnected with its past and culture.

“I always wanted to display my work in the Central Bank when I grew up, but as a painter,” he says. “Who ever knew I’d be in the Central Bank as a printmaker?”

Indeed Richardson started his artistic practice studying painting at the College of The Bahamas—a background that is not lost on viewers as they study the strong painterly strokes of his monoprints.

By the time he reached Savannah College of Arts and Design in Savannah, Georgia, Richardson discovered printmaking and photography at once, earning first his BFA in Painting  with a minor in Printmaking, and then MFA in Printmaking and MA in Commercial Photography at the institution.

It wasn’t until his master’s thesis, however, that he began to experiment with techniques seen in the show—a combination of photography and woodblock printing.

“I sat down one day, put down photography, put down my woodblocks, put down my monoprints, some of the mixed media I was doing. I said, you know what’s missing? Everything,” he remembers. “It needs to be cohesive, it needs to be one, so I had to figure out a way to combine all of these different techniques I’ve learned.”

Such an exercise resulted in a fascinating display of woodblock carvings printed over portraits—though not in attempt to illustrate the portrait itself. Rather, Richardson imposes an entirely different portrait that, through its signifiers of West African tribal Adinkra symbols and Junkanoo, suggests the need for society to reconnect with their cultural identity.

Such portraits are deeply emotional through the facial expressions on the subjects, their stares inviting the viewers to share in them a common experience, establishing some connection, something which becomes magnified as the viewer moves closer to the piece to discovered the intricate lines that harken back to a deeper human identity and connectedness.

“I wanted that effect with the artwork, I wanted that effect like when you walk up to this particular art piece, you look at it and you try to figure out if it’s a painting, if it’s a photograph, a print, if I did stencils, whatever,” says Richardson. “I just want that illusion, I want people to walk up to my work and be amazed by it.”

While the technique of superimposing a woodcut print over a photograph show the attempt to mesh such disparities together, Richardson’s woodcut prints and monoprints stand alone as images that for the most part point out such disconnect. Women, men and children in the same Adinkra/Junkanoo signifiers standalone, staring at the viewer, in a crowd of people in modern dress who continue on with their lives.

The black-and-white nature of the prints and their sheer sizes magnify the effect of such stark stances, leaving the viewer awe-struck by the powerful statement of human connection that Richardson makes through his work which transcends beyond particular cultures.

“If you look at Junkanoo itself, Junkanoo has a heritage of african prints, and if you look at how the costumes are designed, they have a tribal look to them,” explains Richardson. “Bahamian culture itself is a mixture of other cultures. Even though we have  cultural connection to Africa, we also have a cultural connection to everything else, and I try to express that in my mark-making.”

Though his show has a rich thematic background, for Richardson, the collection of work pushes printmaking into new territory. Such a technique, he hopes, will ultimately drive his message home and inspire Bahamians.

“I wanted to let people see what I’m doing and I want people to experience something different in printmaking, because when people hear printmaking, they think copies, they don’t think this is a woodblock carving that I printed,” says Richardson.

“So my coming home is showing the people where I’m from that there’s more to printmaking than just a basic woodcut—there’s different techniques and different styles, different approaches. So it was more an exposure of my emotional feelings and the way I could push it to scale, because I want people when they walk in to be amazed.”

 

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