I SURVIVED THE FIGURATIVE EPIDEMIC
Paint like you are poor. And if you are poor, paint figurative
This is one of the sentences used by Richie Culver, artist and according to some media, enfant terrible of the art world, to welcome us to his first individual exhibition at L21 Gallery’s Barcelona venue. An incendiary sentence, deliberately provocative, just as his trajectory has been so far. Throughout his career, Culver has developed his practice through painting, photography, sculpture, digital performance, video and, more recently, also through music. His work is threaded around his own biographical experiences, first combining text and drawing, and more recently taking it to the extreme simplification of pure writing on canvas, like a furtive graffiti on a city wall that screams the truth in our face with its elusive and imperfect line. Pungent words, arising from a quick and attentive mind, that captures the uncertainties, contradictions and complexities of our present time. And that throws its dark darts at us without any type of painkiller.
Less is less
A few years ago, Culver decided that maybe he had been trying too hard to become an artist. He says he decided from then on to follow his path in a willfully effortless way. With this, he left the (figurative) representation aside to become more strictly conceptual and work only with texts on his canvases. A radical turn, an extreme simplification that has given his paintings a unique and original character. The text had been a fundamental part of his earlier projects, but the transition condensed his style, making it distinctly more unique and recognizable, while radicalizing his art form and his position as an artist. Culver’s work appears to us as a possibility to evade the differentiation between representation and world, a work that, perhaps influenced by another enfant terrible like Debord, is made to annoy the society of the spectacle. Or maybe cheer it up?
Commercial artist drives past conceptual artist in a Bentley
In his previous exhibition “I am the best”, his work gave voice to the impostor, the looser, with clear personal notes. The tone already hinted at an anxious energy, always fueled by his peculiar insight. In another of his latest exhibitions, “Leisure & Tourism”, we found some textual works in tune with the new paintings presented at L21 Barcelona. In them we could read sentences like “I was not born to work hard” or that well-known piece of advice “Find a job you love and you will never have to work another day in your life”. An advice that for any member of the working class could seem almost humorous since the autonomy or economic success it refers to is very far from their reach. In 2022 he presented another painting with a leitmotif that could be intended for himself as well as for any of us: “I wanna do as little as possible but still get that mad money”. In the new works presented, there is on top of that an artist observing the art world and its dynamics, the market, and above all the elitism and snobbery that surrounds everything, making it all a matter of appearance and class.
Super well connected
Culver explains in several interviews how in his teens he dropped out of school to go to work in a caravan factory. His works have been filled with biographical references and thoughts that suggest a dark vision of society and look ironically at the artistic context in which they are produced. Not in vain one of the themes that frequently arises in his practice has been the criticism of the class system. His is a vision of society typical of a generation that, as Mark Fisher noted, has realized that it is impossible to escape the wildest capitalism, and that any attempt to get out of the system is an unrealizable utopia. A generation that leaves postmodernism behind and enters a new era: that of capitalist realism.
*The italicized sentences embedded in the text are the texts that can be read in the new works by Richie Culver presented in the exhibition.