Tommy Richards

Northridge Gallery

Tommy Richards is a self-taught sculptor who makes wall assemblages from industrial building materials. Richards knows these materials intimately: he is a plumbing inspector for the city of Atlanta, and he began making his pieces inside the walls of high-rise buildings. The works are now independent of the structures that inspired them, but they still bear traces of their source in terms of material, color, and imagery Richards turns the city inside out. The glass and concrete skins of tall buildings are peeled back to reveal a riot of color-coded grids and conduits. Some pieces take as titles the specific location that inspired them. 191 Peachtree Sub Level Two, 1989, for example, is a purple- blue disc about 30 inches in diameter and just over an inch thick. The surface is marked with a grid of raised lines, through which spots of red, yellow, and blue bleed up to the surface. To the left of center, an axe-blade-shaped piece of steel, rusting at the edges, is embedded in the surface. The juxtaposition of color and bare metal and the suggestive abstraction are typical of Richards’ work. Other pieces, such as Eric’s 1064, 1987- 88, use sheet metal disks and rectangles painted in grey, blue, red , and yellow stripes, broad bands of painted or unpainted steel, snaking sections of flex conduit, and grids made of cloth or plastic ceiling tiles. All these elements are combined in an assemblage that is a condensed schematic representation of a single building or of the urban landscape as a whole.

A few pieces include abstracted figures and one of the two floor pieces in this show features a three-dimensional hand. These are the only human references in Richards’ work; suggestions of traffic lights or of a city skyline are more typical. In most pieces, the abstract elements play off one another, implying the massive scale and structural detail, the exteriors and interiors, of the architectural environment. Richards uses color in a subtle and confident manner. He combines the bright and pastel shades of industrial enamels, separating the bands of color with black-painted welding scars. In some pieces, rectangular patches of color connected by diagonal lines float on flat sheet-metal surfaces. Some pieces resemble the recent work of Frank Stella, others use circular motifs very like those of Judy Pfaff, and still others present a gridlike cityscape that recalls the geometric, architectural fantasies of AI Held. But Richards uses neither Modernism nor regimented modernity as a reference point. Rather, he creates exuberant sculptural artifacts that are literal, condensed equivalents of the structure of the city.

Glenn Harper