Arts September 27, 2019

Unbridled Artist

Jean Richardson's intentional vagueries on canvas liberate the viewer's soul

“Most women artists in our art history books were lovers of men artists,” Jean Richardson said of her crossing from 25-year-old Okie art teacher—and decidedly not a male artist’s shadow—to being declared a professional artist with her first show in 1965. In spite of holding a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Wesleyan College and having trained with the Arts Students League in New York, “I did not consider myself a professional painter until then,” she explained in a recent interview.

Proving once again that history belongs to the one holding the pen, an excerpt from Khan Academy’s “A Brief History of Women in Art” supports Richardson’s view of the construct:

“According to a story by Pliny the Elder, a Roman writer from the first century C.E., the first drawing ever made was by a woman named Dibutades, who traced the silhouette of her lover on a wall. It is worth noting that although Western mythology tells us that a woman was the first artist, her female successors received little attention until the end of the 20th century. From antiquity onwards, only a small sample of women found their way into the tales of the greatest artists. Even then, they were often described as unusually talented women who overcame the limitations of their gender in order to excel in what was believed to be a masculine field.”

“I think the advantage and disadvantage of being a woman artist balance out in the long run,” noted Richardson, who shows her art at Kneeland Gallery in Ketchum, as well as at dozens of galleries nationally and internationally. “Most gallerists are women, and they seem to promote men in a more supportive way. On the other hand, women are freer to explore their vocation in the necessary formative years. A bigger problem for women artists is the lack of female role models. None seemed to be mothers or wives. My generation were probably pioneers of ‘having it all’ ambitions.”

Today, the nationally-acclaimed painter with a fascination with the wide-open West and broad, expressive canvases continues honoring herself, elevating women and liberating souls with her abstract forms of horses and landscapes that dance in cloaks of precisely placed color and wind-swept strokes.

“My style has evolved but has some consistent aspects; transparent washes of color, textures overlaid, and gestural brushwork. My subjects have always been figures, horses and elements of landscape. I painted a herd of stampeding horses (the abstract version) when I was a junior in college. Never painted the feet or the eyes—just the vague impression of movement and energy,” Richardson said.

The result is a palpable experience that literally changes the beat of one’s heart and puts the rhythmic sounds of hoofbeats in one’s ears. They have a soothing, hallucinogenic effect on the eyes. The painting titles are as lyrical as the paintings themselves: “Sky Herder,” “Dauntless,” “Wind Chaser,” “Quiet Incantation.”

In her oft-cited artist statement, Richardson has explained the draw of the horse as a subject: “The horse as a real being is lovely in itself, and I enjoy the power, the speed, and the physical beauty of the animal. My paintings, however, take this real image and make it a symbol. The horse as a metaphor for the human spirit—unbridled, striving, sometimes heroic, often restless, full of energy, and calling us to other realms.”

She concedes that the horse is a mythical and recurring theme across cultures and generations, from cave walls to Broadway, but holds that “in the contemporary vocabulary of modern painting, I have tried to explore my subject and find therein my emotional response to it.”

Richardson’s response has resonated with critics and collectors. She has been recognized by “Who’s Who in American Art,” and “Who’s Who in the South and Southwest.”

Her work has been featured in “Southwest Art” and “American Art Collector,” and is in galleries, installations and private collections nationwide. She has her own history books, including “Turning Toward Home, The Art of Jean Richardson,” a chronicle of her development as an artist by Dr. Joan Carpenter Troccoli, former deputy director of the Denver Art Museum; “Voices from the Heartland”; and “Plains Myths and Other Tales,” a catalog of her paintings.

Having an authentic career has meant embracing all that she is passionate about: faith, family and friends, literature, art films, travel, politics.

She explained three pieces that will be on exhibit at Kneeland Gallery this fall.

“‘Wraith,’ or, visible spirit describes the ‘there-not-there’ image in this painting. The almost disappearing line lets my iconic horse emerge from the background; ‘Cool Night,’ a very recent experiment in midnight colors; ‘May Matters,’ painted in May, in upbeat colors with lots of white.”

Kneeland Gallery Director Carey Molter said one doesn’t have to connect with a
horse to appreciate Richardson’s work.
“Jean’s paintings have a universal appeal, which transcends the subject matter. Her work is more a study in motion and energy and the spiritual c

This article appears in the Fall 2019 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.