Johansson Projects presents Running Wild, a solo exhibition featuring new work by Gregory Rick. The exhibition opens April 7 and will run through May 27, 2023.
Gregory Rick is a history painter for the 21st century, transforming past and current events into allegorical meditations on paper and canvas. Contrasting the genre artists of the age of enlightenment who depicted idealized scenes from historical events, Rick eschews the strictures of realism with cacophonous compositions of bodies and objects tangled together in unreal assemblages that poetically analyze different scenes in the history of empires. Running Wild at Johansson Projects presents new work in Rick’s ongoing painterly examination of American Imperialism and the aesthetics of violence.
In Light Brigade and El Alamein, Rick uses historical battles to deconstruct the imperial glorification of war and to expose the white supremacist, capitalist exploitation of Africa by Western powers. These representations of history provide a ground for confronting contemporary American imperialism and accompanying domestic fascism. While works such as Protest, Pile of Po and Op, Po do not illustrate specific events, they capture the hierarchical violence of state sponsored class exploitation symbolized by the police. This is particularly clear in Protest, which depicts two militarized police officers with weapons of war converging on protestors either unarmed or with the proletarian weapons of clubs and molotov cocktails. Figures appear as gestural outlines over blocks of color, as they often do in Rick’s work, while splatters, drips, and stains of black become like blood, obscuring the details in bodies and faces. This language of painting converges on a broader aesthetics of violence, which provides Rick with a framework for analyzing both history and contemporary imperialist propaganda.
While we tend to think of history as fixed, defined by indisputable evidence collected in archives, it is in fact malleable, shaped by ideologies past and present. This mythological dimension to history enters Rick’s work through personified animals, as in Book Burners 2, and borrowed symbols and designs from Ancient Egypt, as in The Birth. In Before the Fall, a massive tiger takes down a man with a very Trumpian look wearing an SS armband. While there is a kind of hope in the victory of the tiger over the nazi, symbolizing the failure of American fascism, there is also an ambiguity brought by the title—afterall, Hitler’s first coup attempt failed; what will precipitate the fall of the United States? Somewhere between an esoteric political cartoon and a mythology, in USA our nation is depicted as a monstrous humanoid figure with blood stained claws for hands and a fleshy, neck-less mound of a head, smiling maliciously through pointed teeth. Straddling a fallen man and raising its hand to attack another, the US-beast embodies violence, forcing the viewer to reckon with past and present as a unified entity. Painting from within the American empire, having participated in the war on terror, Rick’s representations convey the same truths that we find in myth, truths not about facts or events but that lead us to contemplate the human condition and our place within history.
Developing a historical imagination and fondness for drawing stories, Gregory Rick’s cathartic mark-making process collapses history while confronting personal trauma. His works reflect episodes of individual experience while in dialogue with the wider world, touching deeply on the political nature of oppressive systems. Inspired by a youth fascination with graffiti, Rick’s blatant narratives convey symbolism and cryptic language that capture the recklessness and hysteria of present-day America. He paints on a shaky historical line cemented in humility and conviction, and populates his pictures with “characters who serve as archetypes,” in conjunction with memory and self-exploration.
Gregory Rick was born in 1981 and grew up in South Minneapolis, Minnesota. He received his BFA from California College of the Arts in 2019 and graduated from Stanford University with an MFA in Art Practice in 2022. Developing a historical imagination and fondness for drawing stories, Rick collapses history while confronting personal trauma. His works exist as reflections of his personal experience, while in dialogue with the wider world. Rick has received the Combat Infantry Badge, the Yamaguchi printmaking award, the Nathan Oliviera fellowship, the Jack K. and Gertrude Murphy Award (2021), the Artadia Award (2022). He has exhibited in museums and galleries throughout the United States including Rochester Art Center in Rochester, MN (2021), Beyond The Streets Gallery in Los Angeles, CA (2022), Patricia Sweetow Gallery in San Francisco, CA (2022), Hair and Nails Gallery in Minneapolis, MN (2021), and Truman State University in (2022). He is a recipient of the distinguished 2022 SECA Art Award, and is currently showing at SFMOMA and Johansson Projects. Rick lives with his wife and daughters in Oakland, California.