Artist Richard Limber describes himself — more than half-seriously — as “a thorn in the side of the Vineyard art world.” The Oak Bluffs–based artist has opted not to go the typical route of creating pretty landscapes and other types of “living room art.” He has things to say, and he isn’t afraid to say them.
“What I’m interested in is the boundaries put on artists on Martha’s Vineyard,” he says. “The formula is, The galleries have high rents, and they have to pay that rent. That puts restrictions on what they can show in a resort community.”
These days, Mr. Limber’s focus tends to be on political and social issues. His recent work has commented on topics ranging from immigration to the disparity of wealth to trophy houses to environmental issues. A sampling of his statement art can currently be found at the West Tisbury library. Still, not everything in the exhibit has a message. “The show has political elements and fun elements,” says the artist.
Just about everything in the show can be fairly described as attention-grabbing. In fact, the exhibit itself is almost more like an installation — although the work is not necessarily related in any way. “It attracts attention and draws you in,” says Mr. Limber. “And either you scratch your head, or you enjoy it, or you don’t enjoy it.”
At the entrance to the room housing the show are two huge (7-foot by 9-foot) mixed-media pieces titled, respectively, “Id” and “Creationism.” These abstract paintings, featuring faces and other imagery, take up the entire width of the wall from floor to ceiling, effectively drawing visitors in to the exhibit.
Examples of Mr. Limber’s political art include a poster with the words “Refugees Rejected Then … and Today. Why?” along with an image based on a photo of two German Jewish refugees on the SS St. Louis in 1939 who were rejected. Says Mr. Limber: “These people were portrayed in the press as having ‘criminal tendencies’ and other negative attributes. Now we find ourselves hearing similar xenophobic vitriol (they are rapists and terrorists), a continuous thread of politicians playing to our most irrational fears.”
Mr. Limber compares another image titled “Fukushima Inspectors” to a present-day situation. “It’s a topical political painting,” he says. “The Pilgrim Nuclear Plant is a similar model. They’re going to close it down because of all sorts of safety requirements.”
“Most people don’t know me or my work,” says Mr. Limber. “The scale is very dramatic. The scale and variety to me is a combination of presenting serious issues and play. There’s an element of play — playing with scale, playing with the pictures by adding to existing images.”
Among the less serious pieces are a thrift store find which Mr. Limber embellished with a little Teletubby doll who appears to be splashing into the waves of a rather amateurishly executed seascape, and an interactive portrait that can be manipulated by viewers.
Mr. Limber is less concerned with finding a market for his work than in making a statement. Although he has previously shown at the Field Gallery and at galleries in New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C., for now the artist is focusing on spreading a message.
“Especially on the Vineyard, you tend to have a sense of removal from the outside world,” he says. “I wanted to draw people in with something that would engage them. Engaging people is really a trick. We’re all jaded at this point.”
One of the subjects that has grabbed Mr. Limber’s attention of late is the issue of megamansions and the concept of trickle-down economics. Recently he created a multi-media piece called the “Trophy House Project,” addressing an issue he sees as being represented clearly on a local level. “One of my current projects is to introduce the insidious force of trophy-house proliferation, placing it into our Island ‘fine arts’ scene,” says Mr. Limber. “We pretend to be removed in this bubble. We are the bubble. We’re part of the national perception. We are the resort end of the bubble.”
In his artist’s statement, he writes, “A hard look at our Island reveals a landscape that is a reflection of the nationwide crisis of income inequality. Some people look at our proliferating mega homes and see this as a perfect Darwinian setup for the cream to rise to the top, reasoning that if only our country had less regulation, there would be more super-rich people, creating more opportunity for all … This viewpoint is blind to the ongoing destruction of the middle class (slipping for 30 years), and the extreme wealth and waste “houses” represent (piles of materials to construct, and huge amounts of energy used for heating and cooling) for a home used only briefly.”
Mr. Limber is continually adding to his “Trophy House Project,” which currently features, among other things, a song called, “Trickle Down Town,” a short film, and an installation piece that includes a desk with multiple objects and images.
The outspoken artist certainly is fearless about expressing his point of view — both through his art and in conversation.
“This is what motivates me — what I find interesting,” he says. “Every artist doesn’t have to probe and push and be provocative, but people who have put things into the back of their minds need to put them into the front of their minds. At this moment, if you’re an artist you don’t need to hold back. After the election, I was quite disturbed to find that there was quite a bit of apathy. Holding back after this election is totally counterproductive to how we need to get involved.”