See our interview with Ric Dragon at the end of the article.
Every once in a while you come across an anomaly. My latest anomaly was walking into the, one week only exhibition on Partition Street in Saugerties, NY of Ric Dragon.
With monumental works that could easily hold their own on the walls of Cheim and Read or Berry Campbell galleries in Chelsea. It’s not the painting show you’d expect to see here in Saugerties.
The exhibit is a pop up, it was curated by the artist’s son and run in conjunction with Cross Contemporary who’s gallery across the street shows a surprising collection of better known artists and lesser knowns who shouldn’t be. They run a tight program with a singular vision. Not your typical regional gallery in the Catskills.
While Ric Dragon studied art in New York during the early 80’s he left the city for the Hudson Valley while his contemporaries, some of who went on to international fame, stayed in the city.
I personally have always felt a kinship with the quiet ghosts of New York artists. I walk the streets and wonder sometimes who and what genius has walked these blocks and never been recognized for their hard work and the sacrifice that making art takes. I think of them as friends I’ve never had the chance to meet and most often never seen their work.
In a way meeting Ric was like meeting a living entity that embodies these ghosts. But he’s been living and painting in the Hudson Valley and not New York City. His work has been overlooked, possibly because he left New York to have more space and quality of life. His paintings are as good as any major abstract artist of the last 30 years. His obscurity and his lack of careerism is, if anything a testament to the sincerity in his work.
This exhibition is up for one week. At the end of that week he is packing these paintings to move them to Bogota, Columbia. Why? From what I can tell he’s worked all his life to make support his artwork. Now he’s going we’re he can paint full time, without working a job to go struggle in the studio.
Interview with Ric Dragon:
Have you had many solo exhibitions?
Not many – over the years I’ve had solo shows in the local arts organizations, at a gallery in Bushwick, and at the Munson Williams Proctor Institute. But as I mentioned in our conversation, I have not enjoyed a lot of success in that arena.
Please tell us how this one is different for you. Obviously it’s a 33 year retrospective, can you also tell us about the evolution of the work in the exhibit?
This is the first time I’ve been able to see a lot of this work side-by-side; and that´s exciting. It´s really incredible to see work from different decades next to other work. It’s the opportunity to see the threads that exist between all the work; that thing i can point to and say, hey, that´s me! I get to see the obsessions that have persisted, and perhaps even my foibles. And it´s possible that we all have a tendency to think back on work we’ve done, and in our imagination think poorly of old work. Getting it up on the wall I can see, hey, it wasn’t that bad after all – it had a certain something!
Some of those obsessions have been about a feeling of embrace in the paintings; not as though you´re outside an embrace, but from within. How would you paint an embrace or a kiss from inside the embrace or kiss? And in doing that, the whole painting becomes the figure and wraps around you, the viewer. Even if other aspects of the paintings have changed, that´s been there from pretty early on.
What do you enjoy most about it, dislike most about it,(the process and act of exhibiting?
There´s so much that is positive about exhibiting – that getting it up there on the wall and seeing these patterns that you might have missed. And because other people are coming in to see the work, you might make more of an effort to try to see it through other eyes, too. The author Ralph Ellison might have gotten it right, that one of the greatest horrors isn´t being treated poorly, it´s not being seen. So in an exhibition, we get as close to being seen as we can.
Of course, the obverse is true, too. A lot of people are bound to come in and look at the work, and not see it; and every time you experience that it can be a bit of a stab.
How does exhibiting affect your work?
It´s funny – I haven´t thought about it too much – but once you’ve shown certain work, maybe you’ve laid something to rest and can move on. You know, most of the time while making this stuff, we’re alone in the studio. Exhibiting is that moment in which we’re not alone – we’re very much with others. There can be a nice rhythm to the process; going from being alone and working, to being with others in the exhibiting. There’s a point in each when you’ve had enough, and are more than ready to return to the other. But doubtless, the balance is in favor of spending the majority of time with painting!
We spoke earlier about your imminent move to Bogotá, can you tell us how and why you’re making such a big move? How did your painting come into play making the decision.
So, I moved there two years back, and now am finalizing that move by shipping all of my paintings down, too. The story is a bit lengthy, but I’ll try to make it short. 20 years back, I had been doing everything under the sun to make a living while also being a painter. But at that point, the internet was becoming something, and I developed the ability to program websites. That, in turn, became a company, which became another company, which all resulted in my becoming an entrepreneur and marketer. I finally was able to sell my share of that endeavor, and get back to painting full time. But if I stayed in the US, it wouldn’t be possible, so I scouted out other places in the world.
Bogotá has a gigantic and vibrant cultural community. It’s a bit rough around the edges, but the chaotic yet colorful environment is stimulating. Other artists have been moving down from the US, too. Currently, there´s two other large-scale painters with bodegas in my own neighborhood. We’re right on the border of the so-called Bogotá Art District which has been becoming more and more populated with galleries and artists. The Bogotá art world has an openness, too, which is really refreshing – an openness that might have existed in New York back before the 80s
The fundamental challenge I’ve had since leaving college has been how to live and just make art. It’s been a journey getting here that took a lot longer than I anticipated – but I’m able to do that now. So, exhibits or no exhibits, I’m out to make some paintings