Artist Richard Limber wants to shake things up in the Vineyard art scene. He finds that most local galleries focus on the conventional and the tried and true, rather than taking chances.
“The Island is very static as far as the art world goes,” he says. “There are limitations on what is promoted. There are no hard images. The feel-good, nostalgia, the well-crafted painting are what people tend to present. You don’t cross a certain line. I see that line, and I say that’s not a healthy art market. I’m more interested in being creative than thinking about an audience.”
That approach to art applies to his subject matter as well as his process. Limber tends toward portraiture, and he often selects political or social justice figures for his subjects. Paintings on view at his Oak Bluffs home studio include portraits of John Lewis, George Floyd, and Ecuadorian-American author Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, who wrote the acclaimed book “The Undocumented Americans.”
Among those who have paid visits to Limber’s studio are Michael Collins, who served as Lewis’ chief of staff for more than 20 years, and a woman from the National Museum of African American History and Culture in D.C., who took a print of one of Limber’s portraits to present to curators there.
The paintings are very contemporary and highly stylized, featuring quickly drawn lines, with paint applied in such a way as to create indistinct patches of color, sometimes in surprising combinations. Limber achieves this effect by using acrylic ink on wet paper. The colors bleed across the surface before drying, at which point the artist adds more distinct marks with the ink. The contrast between sharp lines and a soft focus painting technique create an interesting effect.
Far from the “happy” images that Limber eschews, his paintings have a somewhat somber, serious tone.
That’s not to say that there’s anything dark or off-putting about the artist himself. He is happy to show people around his studio and talk about his process, his chosen subjects, and his experience as a longtime Island transplant.
At the entrance to his driveway, off Upper Circuit Ave., Limber displays a huge banner featuring a portrait of George Floyd (which he hung in front of the controversial soldier statue on Ocean Park last summer), along with two poster-size images of his John Lewis paintings. The artist has placed the work there as a way to direct visitors to his studio, located on the lower floor of his home. His property has a rustic feel to it, with a tangle of grapevines and a small pond that is home to various fish and frogs.
Limber is quite opinionated, and not afraid to espouse his anti-corporate, humanitarian views on issues. Sometimes he is even rather extreme in his opinions. He seems to welcome a label of controversial, even provocative.
“I don’t fit into a convenient narrative,” says Limber. “My work is edgy. People look at it and say, ‘Here’s this work that doesn’t make for a tidy little story.’”
In his artist statement, Limber writes of his efforts at “drawing the future viewer with a dramatic image that isn’t afraid of telling a difficult story, like listening to an engrossing argument, both engaging and dissonant.”
With his work, Limber likes to stretch the boundaries and experiment with various visual art forms and interactivity. Some of his paintings have been engineered to be internally backlit. The viewer has control by flipping a switch. For one piece, the artist has cut out portions of the image of a face so that eyes and a mouth from an underpainting can be revealed by pulling a tab. “For me, art is not about making the perfect painting,” says the artist. “I look at it as a malleable thing. Creativity doesn’t stop with making the painting. That you can play with the pictures is a big part of what I do.”
Limber has also been experimenting lately with videography, incorporating his static images with video. “If I do a work that I really like, then I think, What else can I do with this?” he says. “I realized that with video, I could theatrically do whatever I like. Limiting yourself to thinking a painting has to be on canvas means ignoring the past 50 or 100 years of what art can be. It’s 2021; mixing up media is the norm. For me it’s exciting to take a picture and cross those boundaries. I think it’s more interesting for people and for me.”
While Limber has shown his work at galleries on the Vineyard and in major cities throughout the Northeast, for now he is enjoying the freedom of working and showing what appeals to his individual outlook on art in his home studio.
“In order to have vibrant work, I need to push myself in and out of my comfort zone and the comfort zone of others,” he says. “The conceptual ‘softening’ of Vineyard art is a recipe for visual banality.”
Richard Limber’s studio is at 184R Circuit Ave. in Oak Bluffs, 200 feet down the driveway.