A new show at the McLean County Arts Center in Bloomington looks back on a lifetime of work from local artist and educator Richard Finch.
“A Retrospective” is currently up through Oct. 18 and features prints, drawings and paintings from the retired Illinois State University professor of art. In addition to his studio work and teaching, Finch served as director of Normal Editions Workshop, the University’s print research facility.
When approached by the MCAC about a retrospective of his work, Finch was excited and leapt at the opportunity. Then he was faced with the task of sorting through decades worth of work to select the right pieces for the exhibition.
“I tried to figure out how far back do I want to go,” Finch said.
At first, he had no intention to include any work created during his days in graduate school. And then ...
“I found a drawing from 1975. It clearly would have been in my last year of graduate school. I found it in my archives, and I thought it was a pertinent piece. My first drawing class in college was a figure drawing class. There’s something about that subject that engaged me.”
Although the work is abstract, it’s based on a figure.
“At the time I was working in photography. Not fine art photography, but as a means to create images. My goal was printmaking, drawing and painting. So that’s what this is, based on the figure, double exposures overlapping, quite a bit of abstraction. It was based on a figure, not just to represent the figure, but hopefully to evoke other feelings, other thoughts from the viewers.”
Finch is fascinated with still life, seeing items such as books and vessels as stand-ins for the human figure.
“For me, the objects represent vessels, much as human beings are vessels. So, they’re stand-ins for the figure and things that I can ultimately control completely.”
Working with still life connected Finch with many of the artists from whom he drew inspiration, particularly the Dutch masters, such as Vermeer.
“I looked at a lot of 17th century Dutch still life painters who went to still life, as I recall, during the Reformation when artists were no longer getting commissions from churches. So, the artists had to come up with something. They looked at still life as a way to, at first, illustrate what a patron's life was like. ‘Here are my things, here’s what I have, don’t you want to be me?’ But that eventually evolved into other still life painters who decided to go beyond that. I want to treat still life as imagery, but also I want it to be symbolic of things.”
Finch has also found inspiration in the human form, frequently using family members as models for his work. A portrait of his wife allows the model to level an unflinching gaze across the gallery. Finch utilized a mixture of alkyd paint and wax for this work.
“I like it because with the alkyd paint, I can manipulate it like oil, but it would dry quicker. I could do something at night and the next day it was dry enough to do something else to it and continue to build it up.”
Finch wanted to achieve a sense of light with this portrait, something quiet and full of air, as well as strength.
“I wanted the figure staring at us because there’s a certain amount of confrontation with that, with the stare. She’s looking at us as we’re looking at her. It just seemed to be fair.”
And Finch hopes gallery visitors will take their time gazing at the array of his life’s creativity.
“I hope they become engaged in the work,” Finch said. “I want my viewer to come to something I made and look at it and study it and be able to come back later and look again and see something else, see something new. I want my work to be a slow revelation.”
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