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Physical Labor in the Life and Art of GL Richardson

GL Richardson interned at the MP Ranch from 2019-2020. He now lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with his partner Anna, pursuing a career as a full-time artist. We caught up with GL to hear about his reflections from his time with Ranchlands and his goals for his art.

Where did you grow up? What was your family and childhood like?

I was born in the suburbs of Richmond, Virginia. It was kind of a white picket fence neighborhood, but there were still empty lots, and as kids we had tree forts, played football, and caught fireflies in the summer. I grew up hunting, played a lot of sports, my grandfather was one of the biggest influences on my life. He was an engineer and we’d always get to building something. He was also a lifelong scout and instilled in me a love of the outdoors.

Is there anything about the way that you were raised that you think inspired you to become an artist?

I think I push back against comfort. The importance of having some struggle in your life can’t be overstated. Sure, craft has always been important to me and I’ve made art for as long as I can remember but I think I need risk in my life. Before transitioning to art as my full time, my career trajectory as an advertising art director was pretty well laid out for me. That’s no fun.

“The Way to Water.” 64×40. Oil and spray paint on cradled aluminum panel.

Do you think that studying Journalism and Art Direction in college is helpful for your career as an artist today? How so? What exactly is Art Direction and why did you choose it?

Having a concept is one of the most important things in advertising–an idea that says something and that resonates with people (in the hopes of selling something of course). Studying advertising got me to a point where I can sit down and come up with ideas, and a lot of times they are ideas trying to invoke a feeling or say something impactful. I think that skillset and just raising the bar for the quality of work I expect from myself are invaluable lessons from school. Not to mention, artists have to be their own ad agency. I’m not running ads for myself but I definitely understand the importance of branding. 

What did art mean to you during and after school once you were working?

While I was in school, advertising was my main focus. I sort of had to mentally write off art, otherwise I think it would have really kept me up at night. It helped that I was truly enjoying the academic version of advertising too. 

Once I officially started my ad career, I pretty quickly picked back up the brush. I hadn’t painted in about 6 years, essentially all through undergrad and grad school. The first thing I painted were cowboys and I’d never painted a cowboy before. They… are not good. Nonetheless, all of a sudden painting became the thing I’d talk too much about and be thinking about as I walked down the street.

“Gaia.” 28×38. Oil and spray paint on Belgian linen.

How did you get from San Francisco to the MP Ranch? 

I wasn’t loving advertising, I’d picked up painting again, and I was feeling very far away from things I feel are “real” (the land, physical labor, raising animals, quiet, being dirty and tired). Maybe that’s why the first thing I painted were cowboys, but I was starting to look around for a way to work those things into my life. I did not expect it to happen so quickly or result in my life looking completely different. When I saw that the MP was hiring a ranch hand, I applied on a Tuesday, interviewed with Duke on Friday, and put my two weeks in on Monday. 

Did your work on the ranch inspire you to pursue something you’d always wanted to in being an artist, or was it a new direction for you? What made you “make the leap?”

I’ve heard northwest New Mexico referred to as “the land of room enough and time enough.” But really that applies to all these great western states and to the entirety of New Mexico. I had room, time, quiet, I was tested, I grew stronger (physically and mentally). I think space and time might be the rarest resources on Earth. 

Moving to the ranch is a screeching hard left on my life’s timeline, but at the same time it was unavoidable. So off the bat, making a move like that signaled change in my life, but I wasn’t sure where it’d take me. Once you’re out there you get to know the real meaning of self-reliance. You develop a confidence to handle situations presented to you. Sometimes there’s time to think, other times not so much. The decision to pursue art full time was one I had time to think on. I was torn between staying and continuing to work on the ranch or pursue painting. The final decision came from talking it out with Duke and realizing I’d have regrets if at age 50 I looked back and hadn’t really given art it’s fair shake. That decision could not and would not have happened without the personal growth that came from working the ranch. On a side note, that “leap” keeps popping up in my work. Right now it sort of feels like wondering if your parachute was assembled correctly mid-freefall.

“When the Levee Breaks.” 32 x 40. Oil and spray paint on cradled aluminum panel.

Who inspires you today? Is there anyone that you emulate?

A really well made H brace is maybe the pinnacle of art? If I ever have the chance to do a big solo show or something, I want to build one in the gallery, but good luck taking it down. 

Duke Phillips III is a huge inspiration for me. As my boss and friend, I can’t tell you how much I learned from him, and not just about ranching. He continues to inspire me as he seemingly turns the universe to his will. 

As for artists, Brett Allen Johnson, Duke Beardsley, and Glenn Dean are always top of mind. They are crazy talented. I feel a connection to the many artists who’ve taken it upon themselves to come to the West to paint it. Buck Dunton’s story and work are an inspiration. It’s a tough question because I’m inspired from all different directions, musicians to film directors to perfectly ripe peaches. 

Recently I’ve been asking myself, what about the cowboy, why does it feel right to continue to paint this figure? I think I’ve come to the fact that I love physical labor. The cowboy is arguably the king of physical labor, but I’ve been wondering how it’d feel to paint other facets of labor. Specifically from a time when craftsmanship, beauty, and attention to detail were something to take immense pride in. 

“Man Digging” (Study). 10 x 8. Oil and spray paint on aluminum panel.

What is your goal for the next 5 years? 10 years?

Always the goal is to get better. I have so much work to do. Right now I have to set my own pace, and it’s fast. Maybe at some point, when I get complacent… it’ll feel ok to get comfortable. I guess if I built my own comfort it could feel right. My partner Anna and I met on the ranch and are aligned in how we see our future. We’d like to have some land and animals. We will be in the West, likely New Mexico, attempting to chisel off unnecessary things and pursuing a clearer definition of self reliance. 

GL recently joined the Western Gallery’s roster of artists and will be their featured artist from October to November. Learn more at western.gallery, on Instagram @internetgl, or www.internetgl.com.

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