August 23, 2006

A Study In Light: Ken Richards

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Painter Ken Richards doesn't have formal training, but he counts Claude Monet's advice about painting as being formative to his technique. "Paint what you see. If you see some orange, paint the orange; if you see some blue, paint the blue. The objects will then take care of themselves," Richards said, paraphrasing the famous Impressionist.

Richards will be on hand at an art exhibit and gala to raise money for Southampton Hospital's Breast Center and the South Fork Breast Health Coalition on Saturday in Southampton. His painting Sunset Over A Salt Marsh will be auctioned off to raise money for the cancer organizations. His work, including light-infused scenes of Greece, Impressionistic landscapes and vividly detailed studies of flowers, will be on display at the benefit.

Richards' participation in the event came about because of his friendship with Alison Caiola, a hypnotherapist who works with the SFBHC. Richards had cancer 10 years ago and he remembered "a certain isolation" that came with the cancer diagnosis. "We were talking about my need to give back somehow and I just didn't know how I could use my art to do something like that," he explained. Caiola told Richards about the work of SFBHC and the Breast Center, and the idea for the benefit soon took shape.

Richards splits his time between Massachusetts, New York and Greece (his mother was born and raised in Athens). When traveling to the Greek island of Mykonos "where the light is staggeringly beautiful," Richards found the quality that inspired him to take his occasional dabbling in drawing to the next level. "It was Greece that made me first look at light for the first time," he said, noting the blue of the sky and the Aegean Sea are unlike any other he's ever seen.

The interplay between light and color in his paintings is easier done than said, according to Richards. "If I could articulate it, I'd probably be a writer rather than a painter," he said with a laugh.

But, light is only the first part of the equation. "Light draws the eye, but shadows are where all the magic happens," Richards noted. In Mykonos Street and Tree the brilliant whites of a street and houses are offset by the shadows cast by a hibiscus tree, creating a sense of coolness that contrasts with summery elements of the scene.

The extraordinary qualities of the light in Greece didn't blind Richards to the advantages of the different moods in New England. "One of the things that opened my eyes was Greece, but my eyes stayed open when I came back to Massachusetts," he said.

Richards, who works only by natural light, has traveled up and down the East Coast painting landscapes, where the light is softer, revealing "less of the surface of things," he said, but "the interplay of light there is just wonderful." His Fog in Dartmouth series of paintings are reminiscent of Monet's work, the details less important than the muted stillness captured by the works.

Richards, who was a biology teacher before becoming an artist full time in 1992, said his background in science and music (he sings and plays the guitar) informs his art. "Nature provides me with a vocabulary of shape and color and hue so that I can share this with people, share what I see," Richards said.

The shadings of the Blues, Richards' chosen musical genre, are similar to those he creates with his brush. "Blues is about unresolveable, unsolvable things. It's not about answers but coping with the ongoing process of life," he said.

Art is similarly fluid and elusive, Richards noted. "The great thing about paintings is that they can capture a moment, but it is always an ongoing moment," he explained. "You're not summing anything up."

The benefit featuring Richards' work will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. on Saturday at the Parrish Memorial Hall on the grounds of Southampton Hospital. Call 726-8606 for tickets and more information.

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