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Richard Artschwager

1923–2013

about this artist

Born in Washington, D.C. to immigrant parents, Richard Artschwager and his family moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico, in 1935 to help improve the health of his tuberculosis-stricken father. Though he inherited an interest in drawing from his mother, a trained artist, Artschwager studied chemistry and mathematics at Cornell University, where he matriculated in 1941. Drafted into military service in 1944, he returned to the United States in 1947, completing a degree in physics. Not long after his graduation, he decided to pursue his interest in art and traveled to Paris to study with purist painter Amédée Ozenfant. By 1953 however, financial necessity forced Artschwager to abandon his studies and work as a cabinet and furniture maker in New York.

In 1961, Artschwager found a photograph in a pile of street trash showing a group of people playing on the beach, and decided to copy it. “I thought it would be good to paint them as they were, without satire,” he recalled. “It was a romantic idea, rooted in lonely voyeurism.” Soon after, a work by Abstract Expressionist painter Franz Kline introduced Artschwager to the idea of painting on Celotex, a type of fiberboard with a fuzzy texture that enhanced the grainy quality of his photorealistic paintings. He also became interested in Formica, because “it looked like a picture of wood.” Influenced by sculptor Claes Oldenburg, Artschwager began using these distinctly modern materials to create three-dimensional objects that took the vocabulary of quotidian domestic furniture—including chairs, tables, mirrors, windows, and doors—as a point of departure. Hovering between painting and sculpture, Artschwager’s works pose clever questions about the articulation of space and our perception of it. 

Claude Marks. World Artists 1950-1980: An H. W. Wilson Biographical Dictionary. (New York: H. W. Wilson Company, 1984), 42.