Sculptor Henry Richardson
(by Shlomit Dror and Annelien Bruins)
To call Henry Richardson (b. 1961) dedicated to his artistic vision is an understatement. For over twenty-five years, he has used the unusual medium of plated glass to create the physical manifestation of that vision.
Much like the proponents of Minimalism, Richardson chose to master an industrial material: cutting large sheets of commercial-grade glass in their raw form into shapes that he refines by literally chiseling the edges. His sculptures are formed by fusing these smaller fragments together, using a high-intensity light welding process. In a way, Richardson treats the glass as if it were stone: resulting in sculptures with flowing shapes and rhythms that transform as a result of their interaction with light.
Light is a vital component in Richardson’s work. It brings alive his translucent glass sculptures, giving the impression that the heavy glass is weightless. The resulting appearance of fragility is a contradiction to the actual mass of the work: a fitting metaphor for the fleeting power of spirituality and the weight of the present, in the sense that spirituality has the ability to bring a transformative energy to our daily lives.
To Richardson there is light in every human being. Inspired by this Quaker belief (God is Light) Richardson creates a sense of mysticism in his works that allows viewers to contemplate and personalize their own relationship with the light (or Light) they encounter in his sculptures. His work bears resemblance to Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko (1903-1970) who, like Richardson, wanted the physicality of his paintings to reassure the viewer merely by their presence, without a need for words to communicate the depth of their spirituality.
Many of Richardson’s sculptures are hollow, allowing light to penetrate the work from every angle, immediately drawing viewers to the idea of looking beyond the chiseled surface. Like British sculptor Anish Kapoor (b. 1954) Richardson understands the power of the void and utilizes empty space to his advantage, allowing for expression rather than explanation. The elaborate sculptural components, altered by light, evoke a sense of empowerment and energy in viewers which encourages them to look inward to find their own inner light.
Richardson’s inspiration also stems, partly, from concepts in Jewish mysticism. For example Tikkun Olam refers to the Jewish concept of Mending the World: our own individual kindness will bring about positive change on a larger scale, finally resulting in a cosmos that is in harmony rather than chaos. Quakerism takes this one step further through the assertion that every person has the potential to do good, and that every person carries this light (or Light) within them. At the same time Karma comes to mind: the Hindu and Buddhist notion that the sum of our individual actions will determine our fate in future existences.
Healing The World (Tikkun), 2000 is a prime example of how Richardson’s vision manifests itself through the physical qualities of his sculptures. The orb is constructed from layered circles of fractured glass, fused together to form a massive crystalline whole, literally representing the concept of putting the world back together, one small shard of glass at a time. This powerful work is testimony to harmony, even if constructed with a metaphorical limitless number of shattered pieces.
Process is extremely important to Richardson, almost as important as the end result. To Richardson “the physical form is only the residue of an artist’s creative process”. He works in an industrial medium for which no artistic techniques existed before he took on the challenge to mold this tough material to his vision. Requiring physical strength and endless patience, Richardson had to take a trial and error approach, accepting that failure is as much or even more a part of the artistic process as success. In a similar vein, contemporary painter Chuck Close (b. 1940) has stated that: “I always say that inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just show up and get to work. Out of work comes ideas”.
The powerful geometrical shapes in Richardson’s work (spheres, columns) demonstrate his minimalist aesthetic. His signature pieces endorse the notion that abstract forms materialize the spiritual without showing the hand of the artist, a Modernist concept. Jackson Pollock (b. 1912) stated that “the modern artist is working with space and time and expressing his feelings rather than illustrating [emphasis added].”
Richardson, like the Modernists, assigns meaning to color. Blue, present in many of his works, signifies the serenity that we all carry within us. "The world is blue at its edges and in its depths. This blue is the light that got lost…It disperses among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water…This light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the color blue.”
Richardson’s thoughtfully conceived and painstakingly constructed sculptures not only enhance our surroundings but also our spiritual well-being - his own contribution to healing the world.
Making emptiness by Homi K. Bhabha, Interview with Anish Kapoor, 1998.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Healing the World, November 1, 2014, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Brooklyn Rail, June 7, 2008. Chuck Close in Conversation with Phong Bui.
From 'The Field Guide to Getting Lost’ by Rebecca Solnit, Penguin Books, 2006.