Artwork of the Day; Northwest Passage by Richard D. Weis (2019)

Written by Elizabeth Spadea for Ellenbogen Gallery
Jan. 9, 2020

Northwest Passage (2019) by Richard D. Weis. 27" x 40", Acrylic on Canvas
(this artwork is available for purchase)

The real art is in the process and the work in the gallery is an artifact of that process…” Richard D. Weis

The work of Vermont-based artist Richard (Dick) Weis invites the viewer to see beyond what hangs on the wall. In his 2019 exhibition at Ellenbogen Gallery in Manchester, VT, ‘Beyond Words’, Weis explores what it means to be human. By using his work as a visual diary of interactions within our environment and over time, Weis addresses sensory shifts, played out by ever-changing dynamics within the natural, constructed and metaphysical worlds.

Using rich color, abstract marks and the occasional figurative suggestion throughout ‘Beyond Words”, Weis creates the opportunity for all of his artworks to be at the mercy of the eyes of its beholder.

Taking a deeper look into Northwest Passage begins simply with the title itself: Northwest Passage (2019). “Northwest” implies direction, “Passage” implies movement. As Weis explores movement throughout the piece from the foreground to the background, from the canvas itself to the imaginary space outside the canvas and within the boundaries of the canvas, bottom to top, right to left, all captured by the textured trail of his brush, it is clear that the essence of this work is the journey itself.

It is important for the audience to remember that Weis is a process artist and that his artworks are a series of reactions to the last step taken, ultimately arriving at a supposed ‘outcome’, or, a final stage of the journey. In order to trace the narrative, the composition of the piece must be broken down.

Blue is the overwhelming background color featured in this work. By using a variety of tones of the color blue, starting with a base of steel blue, and adding layers of midnight blue and teal etc., Weis adds depth to the flat canvas. The color blue lends itself to a series of assumptions and questions: Is it a body of water? Is it an atmosphere? The natural world absorbs and reflects the color blue through many facets, allowing an audience to draw parallels beyond the 2D work on the wall. Blue is the environment in which we live. There are splashes of primary and secondary colors throughout. Are the four red slashes a warning? Is the yellow swirl a moment of joy? Are the green patches a pleasant memory of springtime?

The Conjurer (1959) by Hans Hoffmann. Oil on Canvas.
The Conjurer (1959) by Hans Hofmann; Oil on canvas, 59 1/4 x 44 7/8 in. (150.5 x 114 cm)

By comparison, German-born America artist, Hans Hofmann and Weis both enter the genres of colorfield and abstract expressionism. Considering the vast collection of works produced by Hofmann throughout the twentieth century, his later works seem to pull the most parallels. Drenched in color, Northwest Passage focuses its combustion of brush strokes to the southern hemisphere of the canvas. By isolating the bursts, Weis creates a narrative. Abstract shapes pour into the canvas and are suspended in blue. Maybe they have been captured mid-motion, suggesting that the figures in the following scene may continue to move and may land in a different position. This snapshot could be adapted into a series based off of this particular abstract figure’s journey across the blue abyss alone. The painting on the wall is meant to be seen as one part of a much larger story.

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