Vienna Gate V by Richard Redd.
When Richard Redd dreams, the nocturnal visions come to him in unexpected forms. They could range from the impossible pairing of the world’s greatest composers to a row of ripe persimmons. The only thing they share is Redd’s compulsion to release them from their cerebral moorings and express them in his art.
“I refer to it as a circling pattern,” says Redd, Professor Emeritus of Art who influenced generations of students from the late 1950s to the late 1990s. “The ideas are like planes going round and round in my head, waiting to get clearance to land.”
The ideas have been landing in Redd’s collagraphs for more than 20 years now, and form the basis for a retrospective of his work in Bethlehem’s Banana Factory, which chronicles his evolution as an artist and a scholar. The exhibit, which will run through the end of September in the Binney & Smith Gallery, features more than 70 prints that are loosely categorized in wildly divergent groupings.
“These I call ‘Green Man,’ ” says Redd, as he leads a visitor to a section of collagraphs composed around the pagan themes of Earth and regeneration. Other sections celebrate the work of great composers, the Judeo-Christian tradition, Chinese landscape and culture, architecture and even food.
“I go where my imagination pulls me,” he explains. “In some cases, I wasn’t even sure where I was going, but these are the result. I could probably have another exhibit just as large of all the prints that didn’t work.”
Allison Mackenzie, artist and assistant director at the Main Line Art Center in Haverford and curator of Redd’s retrospective, describes Redd in the exhibit’s guide as “one of the most prolific artists I have ever known.”
“He’s constantly thinking, playing, experimenting, sketching, testing and retesting,” she says. “His expansive knowledge base, inspiration and eclectic collection of allegory are to be reckoned with.”
Redd, who received his formal art education at the University of Toledo and the University of Iowa before coming to Lehigh in 1958, gained proficiency in several styles and media, including etching, engraving, lithograph, silkscreen and woodcut. He settled on collagraph printmaking during the mid-80s after trading one of his painting courses with a printmaking course taught by Ricardo Viera, Lehigh art and architecture professor and curator of the university’s galleries.
“I loved it,” says Redd, who went on to teach himself the finer points of the process and experiment with different materials so that his work could continue to evolve.
With its rich tactile elements and compatibility with Redd’s expansive reservoir of knowledge and interests, it presented an ideal medium for a man who can converse on topics as diverse as medieval architecture, Biblical figures, folklore, land preservation, culture, and Cole Porter.
Creating works that are both accessible and intriguing
Starting with plates made of four-ply cardboard, Redd builds up the images through a series of layers of varying materials. They could include lace, sandpaper, fabric or found objects. The plates are then hand-inked and then run off on a press to produce impressions that are similar, but characterized by subtly different impressions and nuances.
“My understanding of a plate grows and I come to know it better with subsequent impressions,” he says. “I see how it takes the ink and the plate itself takes on a life and a patina.”
Although his growth is evident in subject matter, design and technique, Redd has included his first collograph in the retrospective: a small plate he titled “Hershey Nocturne.”
“I chose silver and white and chocolate, just like a Hershey bar,” he says. “It was sort of a whimsical design that I created in tribute to Harold Mohler, who was then the chief executive officer of Hershey Foods and chairman of Lehigh’s Board of Trustees. It was featured in my first solo show at Lehigh.”
It was also the beginning of a longstanding Lehigh tradition of appreciation of Redd’s art by several faculty members and administrators, who loaned Redd examples of his work from their private collections for the retrospective and attended the gallery opening.
The list includes Judith Lasker, professor of sociology; Harriet Parmet, professor emerita in the department of modern languages; Norman Girardot, Distinguished University Professor of religion studies and director of the new ArtsLehigh program; as well as several retired professors, administrators and former deans.
Redd returns the loyalty, working in familiar, distinctive aspects of Lehigh architecture in many of his collagraphs, such as stained glass windows from Lehigh’s gothic structures or the chimneys of Chandler Ullman. The chimneys are featured in a 1995 collagraph he titled “Architectura VI,” which now hangs in Lehigh’s department of art and architecture.
“My collagraphs are in department offices all over the Lehigh,” says Redd, who maintains his long-standing Lehigh ties through regular visits to campus. “I like to think they are both accessible to a broad audience, yet still intriguing on a deeper level.”
Richard Redd: Twenty Years of Collagraph Prints will run through Sept. 25th in the Binney & Smith Gallery of the Banana Factory, 25 W. Third St., Bethlehem, PA For more information, please call 610-332-1300 or check out the Banana Factory online