Given a rich family history and youthful exposure to cultural pursuits, it seems David Richardson was destined to become an artist.
At the height of the Mad Men era, his father was vice president of advertising for Cheeseborough Ponds. Her mother was a model and fashion artist in New York City, who painted her entire life.
Born in 1951 and raised in a suburb of Rye, New York, Richardson and his siblings made frequent trips to Manhattan with their mother to visit the Met, MOMA, and the Museum of Natural History. Growing up “in a house that knew and made art,” he knew the work of Picasso, Dali, Warhol and Wyeth.
At sixteen, he wanted to be Picasso. He wanted to buy houses in the south of France, fill them with his art (undoubtedly scantily clad women), meet, converse and drink with painters and poets.
His father arranged for him to work as an unpaid intern under Bill Vandivert, a former photojournalist for Life magazine, who had documented some of the horrors of Hitler’s death camps before becoming a commercial photographer. Richardson ran errands, worked in the darkroom, and took part in outdoor shoots.
Photography is the first artistic medium that he fully adopts. Later – after dating Woodstock with his girlfriend – he continued his education at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he studied with famous photographers Aaron Siskind and Harry Callahan.
RISD turned out to be a dynamic experience. In his freshman year, Andy Warhol was invited by the school museum to create “Raid The Icebox,” a legendary show from the stored collection. Visitors included performance artist Vito Acconci and Swiss photographer and filmmaker Robert Frank.
One of his classmates was Mary Boone, who later became a gallery owner in New York. And a few students were starting a little group called Talking Heads.
After graduating, Richardson took a road trip with his cameras and a few carpentry tools, touring Colorado, the Southwest, Mexico and California before returning to Rye. Bored, he finally started working at a furniture restoration company in Lynn, Massachusetts, which he describes as a “day job” for life.
He took a lifetime drawing course in Boston, where he met Japanese artist Kaji Aso, whom he describes as his “most important mentor” (and who would later be his best man at his wedding).
“Mr. Aso” – as Richardson always called him – taught painting, drawing, and elements of Japanese culture, including calligraphy, traditional sumi-e painting, and the tea ceremony. Richardson ended up teaching the life drawing course for a decade.In this drawing course, he met the woman who would become his wife in 1983.
They moved to the South Coast and Richardson opened his own furniture restoration workshop.
Beyond the actual restoration work, he embarked on the manufacture of contemporary furniture. He also resumed painting, which led to exhibitions at the Grimshaw Gudewicz Gallery in Fall River and the Colo Colo Gallery and Star Store Gallery in New Bedford.
He began to create furniture that incorporated elements of painting, screen printing and photography as well as echoes of calligraphy. He quotes Samuel Beckett: “… the role of objects is to restore silence.”
Although primarily a furniture artist, Richardson draws his inspiration from classic Japanese tea bowls, which combine the contemplative and the utilitarian… “high art” meets useful form.
A particularly significant influence on Richardson was the painter Cy Twombly, as he took it by his synthesis of marks and forms which signify the meaning, even if the meaning is abstract.
Nearly seventy, Richardson still loves Picasso but no longer wants to live his life, noting:
“But I could live happily in a white house overlooking a sea with nothing but Picasso’s ‘Vollard Suite’ and Twombly’s ‘Sea Poems’.”