To listen to this podcast, click on the Play button below.
Living and working in the Central Florida city of Lakeland, Polk County, Richard Boswell is an artist whose work has a metaphysical quality. He is also particularly representative of the region which is home to a vibrant, eclectic and very grassroots arts community. I met and spoke with Richard in his studio.
I first discovered Richard’s work thanks to a Google search as I was doing my homework for an arts media trip to the region. I was immediately drawn to the digital images of his paintings, but initially I wasn’t quite sure why. As an educator and travel journalist, I have learned to trust my “intuition,” which on careful examination I have discovered is nothing particularly mysterious.
In my experience, a person’s intuitive “sense” is primarily a subconscious awareness emanating from the physical senses. I also believe that some people, artists especially, are hyper-sensitized to physical phenomena, landscapes, and sensory signals of all kind. And often this enhanced awareness of the physical world can lead to a heightened conceptual awareness of the universal human experience.
Furthermore by observing such individuals carefully I believe it is possible to “borrow” some of their skills. I used to teach my students that when approaching any situation that requires some degree of interpretation, there are four basic questions to ask yourself:
What do I see? What do I hear? What do I feel? What is actually going on?
The sequence of course is important.
In addition, I often recommend to travellers that they use this same simple technique when they are experiencing an unfamiliar destination or travel experience. This sensory mode of reasoning by the way follows the same principles of the scientific method. By consciously freeing up the senses, you can enhance your powers of observation.
The more I looked at Richard’s work, the more I realized how it appeals to the subconscious. I also realized that his work has very adept narrative qualities. It is not difficult to see how his paintings tell stories; there are techniques inherent in his work that create narrative “layers” and hence levels of meaning. I actually find something Proustian or even Jungian in his work. Through deceptively simple subjects and techniques, his paintings engage the viewer multilaterally. In my view, this lateral and conceptual flow is when art is at its best.
Let me try to explain what I mean by describing why his painting “Between Friends” (which you see at the top of this page) engaged me. This may be a bit of stream of consciousness — how I like to experience art — so please bear with me.
Like many of Richard’s works, the painting “Between Friends” is layered with cognition, emotion, a distinct philosophical viewpoint, and complementary narrative qualities. It is also a painting about intimacy and privacy, luxuries in the modern world because they are also profound human needs. I say narrative qualities because when art is truly alive, the “story” is too; the story has started in medias res.
The latter is a dramatic or theatrical term that refers to a play in which the action has actually been going on before the curtain goes up. The scene has been “set” long before; setting, events, character development, dramatic conflict, have all been pre-established.
In “Between Friends” — initially you may think it a very simple, ordinary scene — there is a strong sense of thesis; this painting is about something. There are events that have preceded this moment which, as Richard has “captured” it, is both timeless and out of time. There is a hint of conflict. All good things often end, sometimes even friendships. There is a suggestion of rising and falling action.
The intimacy in a very public and “ordinary” space — a diner — offers a glimpse of an ideal. How often in life are we disappointed when our ideals are not sustained nor indeed sustainable? There is a conscious-raising process occurring in this painting — maybe even enlightenment. Such studies of human behaviour can induce an understanding of who we are as a species. We love our privacy and solitude but we also need to connect. The primal fear in children is the fear of abandonment; those who are deprived of sensory contact with other human beings are frequently unable to express or accept emotion in later life. If a disconnect occurs in society or in the human psyche, the implications and ramifications are painful. However, art is an essential medium through which we can reconnect.
In “Between Friends” Richard demonstrates his own intuitive talent; intuition and a subconscious logic are at work here. This form of human reasoning is usually not articulated in words, at least initially, but it is experienced emotionally, intellectually, and conceptually. Often this may occur only in retrospect; but nonetheless a real bond between artist and viewer occurs. Like all human drama, “Between Friends” suggests an impending dénouement; a “resolution” to the story, even though that resolution may be an ongoing process as opposed to a single event.
“Between Friends” is also a painting that respects all parties — it respects everyone’s privacy. Note the gentle, non-invasive “telephoto-like” invitation to the viewer to share the intimate, private moment — of the artist. As Richard points out in our discussion, this is the only painting he has done in which he is actually one of the subjects.
I am also aware of the random composition of “Between Friends”; the painting flows — liberally — in and out of the frame of reference. It is fluid and permissive; therefore not voyeuristic. On the contrary, the artist is paying us a compliment. He is sharing something that on the one hand looks very ordinary — a diner, customers, the usual diner visual paraphernalia — and yet there is in the painting a core moment or space where two people are sharing a private moment. There is some mutual awareness. Travel can be like that.
And we identify with this time and space; we look upon the moment fondly. It is an aesthetic moment in the most comprehensive sense of the word. It can evoke all those exquisite private moments that we as individuals and as intensely social beings treasure; moments of simple clarity, perceptive moments, quiet Zen Ah Hah! moments that highly sentient beings experience — if chance and our subconscious skills permit.
And lastly, I admire the soft, almost blurred technique in which the hues, shades, and “human” tones have been rendered: the passage of time, the timelessness, the out of time moment. This is when art approaches “the truth,” when a glimpse of the absolute is offered. At the same time, the life of this painting moves on. The facts of life of “Between Friends” are not hard and fast; they are, like the techniques Richard uses, ephemeral.
And that is why art reminds us to seize the day; to risk intimacy.
Interact with Richard Boswell
To see Richard Boswell’s art, to dialogue with him, or to purchase his art (prints are also available), click here.
More information on the art and artists of Polk County, Florida
Of the Frank Lloyd Wright sites I have seen, in many ways this one is the most community-friendly. It was almost amusing to see students wandering throughout the elaborate and complex structures. I wondered what impact this stunning “context” might have on them.
As a retired high school teacher, I found this commitment to young people (and consequently to public growth in the arts) a breath of fresh air. As the website says, “The Lois Cowles Harrison Center for the Visual and Performing Arts is a public school of choice offering excellence in the instruction of the arts.”
As travellers, I believe we often “suffer” from a case of the “fixed notion”; we have preconceived notions about a destination. This unique and romantic (in the best and most comprehensive sense of that latter word) destination-within-a-destination may surprise you. You may also find it quite inspiring.
Art in this part of Florida is an “indigenous” and grassroots experience. It is the community involvement of this particular municipal centre that also demonstrates why art is a collective experience. .
In Polk County and in the City of Lakeland, there is a very important public and political will to commit to the arts. There is also a strong intellectual awareness that art and other aesthetic “amenities” are integral to urban redevelopment. The Polk Museum of Art also demonstrates clearly why art is a significant cultural industry.
It is my belief that a culturally healthy society has not just one “Golden Age” but many; art is a process not an event. Heritage preservation is also an indication of long-term thinking and a respect for history and beauty. The Polk Theater is a living testament to these principles.
This spunky and highly pragmatic art association is also proof that the “business” of art is a life-giving community force. Director Christy Hemenway is the kind of dedicated individual who understands implicitly the inter-relationship between community and art. Her arts + blood bank program (give blood and you get a beautifully designed T-shirt by a local artist) is a brilliant community initiative.
Is it a restaurant and inn? A soup factory? A heritage destination? A private airstrip fly-in destination? An antiques and arts gallery? Well, all of the above actually. Ah … only in America!
For more information on Lakeland’s Arts on the Park program, telephone 863-680-ARTS.
More of Richard’s art
The Waffle Shop
An Evening at Wild Garlic
Cedar Key Blue
Metro Red Line
Christmas Eve Georgetown
Sunset Flint Point
Through the Forest
Night on Frenchman’s Bay
Images courtesy of Richard Boswell