‘A certain joy’
Richard Hornaday has lost much of his vision but none of his passion for making art
Chico artist Richard Hornaday has lost much of his eyesight in recent years, but he hasn’t lost any of his sense of humor. Asked why he now paints in his living room instead of his former backyard studio, a well-lighted room with plate-glass windows, he replies, “The light’s too bright out there,” and then laughs at his own joke.
He refuses to lament his loss of vision, and when I liken it to Beethoven losing his hearing, he’s playfully scornful. “You would say that. You and 60,000 others,” he chides. “I don’t want to be ‘the blind guy.'”
As far as Hornaday is concerned, people need to understand that, at the age of 78, he’s simply moved into another dimension of artistry. He’s got some sight left in one eye and still can paint. Using a gooseneck lamp with LCD lights, he can see a “small field” several inches in size on his painting surface, enough to draw an outline in graphite and then fill it in with watercolor. The possibilities are endless, as always, though in a different way.
Viewers can see his new work in an exhibit, “Hornaday and Hornaday,” at the Vagabond Rose gallery through May 27. The other Hornaday of the title is his wife Jenifer, whom he married in 2002. She’s a printmaker who switched to watercolor in early 2004 because, she says, it was technologically simpler and enabled her to work at home. It’s noteworthy that the whole of the show is greater than the sum of its parts, for reasons that have to do with the Hornadays’ relationship: as mentor and student, as artist and assistant, and as individual artists with unique approaches.
From the early 1970s through the mid-1990s, during most of which time he taught art at Chico State University, Richard Hornaday produced dozens of stunning still lifes done in a style that was at once intensely realistic and also mysterious, in a metaphysical way. In his otherwise simple pictures of ordinary cups and saucers and pitchers, of flowers and fruit and glass vases, the objects resonate with an energy and exert a pull on the viewer that transcend their ordinariness.
He has said that his goal was to achieve a subtle visual harmony that gives the viewer a sense of the unity of nature and the cosmos. Hornaday has studied art history and Western philosophy deeply, and he uses a variety of shapes and proportions that both fields have shown are perennial sources of a sense of harmony.
Ovals, circles, rectangles, triangles and squares are arranged in the painting space in a way that is archetypally proportional, harking back to the ancient concept of the “golden mean.” This is a mathematic formula that, when applied to the proportions of an artwork, is always pleasing to the eye.
Hornaday approaches color in a similar fashion. Color in his paintings is always placed with awareness of prismatics, or the arrangement of fundamental colors as seen in a rainbow or when sunlight passes through a prism. Colors also have symbolic resonance to him, and he uses this symbolism in a way that adds depth to his paintings.
Jenifer Hornaday, who is 66, is becoming a strong watercolorist in her own right, as the paintings in ‘Hornaday and Hornaday” reveal. She started painting when Richard turned over his studio to her and says she ‘really enjoys the quiet.” From the studio, she looks out these days on a large flower garden filled with color.
She comes from an artistic family. Her parents, Stell and William Shevis, are important figures in Maine art as leaders in the so-called Haystack school of art and as founding members of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art.
‘They’re still showing,” Richard said. ‘Her father is 92 years old. When he couldn’t paint anymore, he went to writing about art.”
Jenifer calls Richard her ‘graduate teacher.” He’s taught her about proportions, and though she tends to set up her still lifes ‘intuitively,” she likes to look at them through a viewer, or framing device, to see how they relate to each other in space.
‘It’s fun working with Richard,” she says, adding that she’s used to collaborating after growing up with artist parents. He helps her, and she helps him not only with his art by setting out his materials for him, but also by caring for him and the household. They work every afternoon for two or two-and-a-half hours, the most Richard’s eyes can handle, and then enjoy ‘happy hour” while she cooks dinner.
Her paintings, like his, are still lifes, and she too likes to use simple objects—bottles, pitchers, cups, saucers, flowers. His influence is visible, but she has her own style and is clearly finding her way to a unique vision. Fans of Richard’s work will enjoy hers, too.
Richard’s new paintings are at once much different than anything he’s done before and yet clearly related to everything he’s done. Obviously, he can’t easily do realism any longer. His ability to perceive space has become limited, and so has the range of colors he can see. The bottles, pitchers, candle holders and vases are still there, but now they’re the objects he sees in his mind, not sitting in front of him. As a result they have become liberated, one might say, from their previous grounding in space and time and set into some other dimension.
The images have a childlike quality, as if drawn by someone who is happy to give them a new shape and color and free them from gravity. Hornaday says people at the April 13 reception for the show described them as ‘dancing,” a term he liked.
‘People said they had a certain happiness, a certain joy, and I was pleased with that.”
He works by first using a graphite pencil to outline his shapes with lines large enough for him to see. Then he fills in the spaces with color, carefully applying his washes to reflect everything he knows from a lifetime spent studying color relationships and symbolism.
Making art continues to make him happy. He believes all good art engenders an ‘esthetic emotion” in the viewer. And what is that ‘esthetic emotion"? This is something Richard Hornaday has thought deeply about and studied by going back in history. To the ancient Egyptians, he says, it was nothing less than ‘exaltation,” a kind of ‘lifting up,” a rapture. And so it is.