Sometimes, actually usually, it takes some considerable time alive to become our authentic selves. There are those ultra rare Mozart types who know exactly who they are meant to be by age five but, for most of us, it takes some living, some trial and error with different metiers and personas to get it right. Although getting it right may only mean getting it right for the moment, as we are all dynamic beings and what may fit perfectly now may not as we ourselves change with time.
For Richard, his moment of illumination came in his 50s, when he started doing work to please himself rather than others. This time frame of the 50s is one we often hear about; people often make a life/career change in that decade. Perhaps it is enough life-living time to have reached escape velocity from our parents’ expectations, or the converse, our rebellion against those expectations. It seems like a time when we can make decisions non-reactively, or so we have heard.
Whatever the reason, this is wonderful news, for if we may actually be expected to live healthily for 100 or so years, 50 is not at all too late; it becomes a halfway point and we essentially get a do-over.
How old are you?
Yikes, we’re going deep already! I’m 71.
Where are you from and where are you based now?
My father was in the military, so we moved every 2 or 3 years; so I never really know how to answer that. We lived in the DC suburbs two times so when people ask, I usually mumble “DC.” I’ve been in NYC for about 47 years so that makes me a New Yorker. I actually think I was born a New Yorker and was just waiting to move here!
What is your working process?
The process depends on whether it’s a commercial/commission piece or a painting I’m working on. Either way there is usually a pattern of anxiety, not unlike writer’s block, followed by getting in front of the paper or canvas and then starting to make some marks. Then things get easier.
Where did your interest in fashion come from?
Like a lot of people my generation, there was a real emphasis, growing up, on appearances. That was the case with my family. Also growing up as a closeted kid, I put even more emphasis on dressing well, fitting in, belonging. But I also have a real love of fashion and style as an expression — the color, fabrics, the cut. I designed clothes for years and it came pretty naturally to me.
“The biggest change in my work happened late — in my 50s — when I stopped drawing to please other people and started to draw for myself”
How long did it take you to develop your current style of work?
It’s always changing; evolving, hopefully. I’m always challenging myself to edit and be more selective in my line. And now I’m starting to paint, which is an entirely new medium. The biggest change in my work happened late — in my 50s — when I stopped drawing to please other people and started to draw for myself. People could sense the change and were attracted to it immediately because it was coming from a real place. There’s a real ‘it’s never too late’ story here, too!
Is age a factor in your work? Do you plan to stop doing your work at any time?
Age always plays a factor — in stamina, wisdom, and process. The irony of aging is the amount of confidence I have vs when I was young. I was good looking in my 20s and 30s but a mess internally. I’m so much more assured about what I want now, and, as they say, have zero fucks to give about what people think. It’s the liberation of age!
Do you collaborate with designers, or mostly editorial?
Really, both. When I started drawing authentically I started getting offers to collaborate with designers I really admire — people like Prada and Dries Van Noten. There seems to be less editorial work now because of changes in publishing, but I’ve worked with companies like the New York Times, which was great.
What was it like being born in Panama? How long did you stay there?
I don’t know how to answer that because I don’t know anything else. We were probably there for a year, then we moved to DC. I think, as a kid, Panama felt very special and unexpected; I was always surprised when I met classmates in high school and they were born and grew up in the same place — that, to me, felt exotic and unusual.
“I’ve had a number of personal and career reinventions and I felt like NYC was always willing to give me another chance”
What is it about New York City that attracts you?
The vitality, the acceptance. The speed and tolerance — the amount of different cultures all mixed into one place and everyone basically minding their own business. I love it. I’ve also had a number of personal and career reinventions and I felt like NYC was always willing to give me another chance. I don’t know if other places would offer that.
What artists inspire you visually?
I’m a real Francophile so most of the artists are French. My love affair for Matisse never wavers, Toulouse-Lautrec, an illustrator named Christian Bérard…there are many, but they always come to mind first.
Do you have any designers that you find particularly inspiring?
So many! Of course Prada and Dries because I worked with them, and then designers like Vivienne Westwood and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons. Strong designers who have stayed true to themselves season after season.
When did you know you were a creative?
For as long as I can remember. I realize now it was a coping method for growing up in a very dysfunctional household. I withdrew into myself, and color and beauty via drawing were a way to get me through the day.
What advice would you give to aspiring artists?
Stay true to yourself. Don’t make art to be loved or approved; that’s the wrong reason. And certainly don’t make art for social media clicks — it will leave an artist empty and hollow.
“Stay true to yourself. Don’t make art to be loved or approved; that’s the wrong reason”
Any fashion advice for men? Guys seem a bit handicapped in this area.
That’s such an old trope that men don’t need to be or have to have an interest in dressing well. I always say: make an effort, not everyone has to be stylish or of-the-moment, but try a new haircut, grow a beard or trim a beard, wear an interesting jacket over a T-shirt. It’s good for self esteem, and makes the world a bit more pleasant.
Nice glasses. Is there a story to them?
Ha, thanks. No real story to these frames — I got them at a place on Greenwich Ave called Surreal. Glasses are part of my identity and, at this point, a statement — I’ve been wearing them since I was 5 (not these frames, others lol). I found a bag of glasses I’ve had over the years and they are basically versions of the same shape, so I’m very consistent with my ‘brand.’
Do you listen to music when creating your work?
Usually. Bose noise-cancelling headphones are pretty life changing. I like a lot of alternative stuff like The xx, Portishead, Thievery Corporation, then I’ll dive into some ’70s disco if I need to get motivated for work, then back to ’30s French tearjerkers. It’s a wide span…
How do you stay connected to popular culture?
I’ve always been fascinated by it and had a pretty good sense of where it’s going. I wound up in Bushwick by accident, and this is one of those places that’s really shaping pop culture. It also doesn’t hurt having a very savvy 25-year-old kid who lives close by.
Favorite NYC hangouts/eating establishments?
That’s all changed so much since Covid. I used to have regular places but less so now. Sadly, I still brace myself when I walk into a crowded restaurant and think, “This looks crowded, should I be here?” And I love going out and hate that hesitancy. There are some real dive bars here in Bushwick where I’ll meet a friend for a drink, and I have favorite places in Paris, but I’m happy any place where there are interesting people and I can have a coffee and observe.
Favorite summer travel destinations?
Definitely Paris and France. I threw a birthday party for myself at a club on Place des Vosges last year, to really mark the occasion. I then spent 5 weeks in Paris over the summer with trips to Aix-en-Provence and Monaco. The perfect summer holiday.
What are your ambitions for the next 5 years?
I’m challenging myself with painting vs drawing. I have a show of paintings coming up at the gallery that represents me, Daniel Cooney Fine Art, and after that I have a residency for three weeks in the Canary Islands. I’d also like to have a substantial relationship, but that seems to be in the hands of fate. And I’d always like to spend more time in Paris…
What are your three life non-negotiables? The things you can’t live without.
Interesting people to know and observe, knowing my kid is happy and thriving, and a sketchbook and charcoal pencil. (I guess that’s 4!)
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I am a long time friend of Richard’s since the 70’s in DC. We fell out of touch but thankfully got back in touch via social media after many years. What a delight to get my ageist email today and see someone I know as the lead story! Thank you David!
Thank you so much for your advice for aspiring artists, such as me. Those two paragraphs gave me a lift and some hope. I think I have been trying too hard to please everyone, other than myself, with my paintings.
Sounds like you have had a very interesting and rewarding life. Good for you!!!
Well done, Richard. Especially enjoyed hearing that your 50s was when you made some major shifts in your life. I did, too, and have never looked back.