A short while ago I learned that one of my friends, an art professor and my mentor at San Jose State University, had passed on to that great art studio in the sky. Although I had not seen him in many years, in a sense Sam Richardson (1934-2013) has been with me every day. For nearly three years (1971-73) I was privileged to serve as his apprentice. I worked with him in his studio in Oakland and assisted on location around the country with exhibitions and his many one man shows.
First and foremost a painter, Sam also made his mark as a, "Surrealistic Landscape Sculptor" which is just another way of saying that his sculptures are unrealistic, or dreamlike. As one of America's very first major artists with an environmental message, he always had a wonderful approach to whatever he was doing.
Sam's sculptures would focus on just a small plot of earth somewhere in the world. These sections of honored ground looked as if they were plucked from the earth with a giant cookie cutter. He would then mask-off a square in the center of a sculpture and paint it brilliantly. Sometimes there would be a single tree within the painted square, or a farmland furrow across the painted square, or a earthquake fault across the painted square; it depended upon his message which always came in the form of a poem. Many of his pieces where inspired by our own Sierra Foothills and Yosemite.
Art critics have noted that his innovated work of the 60's and 70's pushed the boundaries of the landscape art genre. And recently, people have begun to realize that Sam's 1969 piece titled, "Most of that iceberg is below water," anticipated global warming. Sam Richardson's painting and sculpture can be found in major museums and private collections on every continent except Antarctica; although, he once did a series of works that were based on that icy place.
Sam would often talk about artistic influence and how it has the ability to change the course of things to come. It took me a while to fully understand what he meant, because first I had to understand the many ways that the word "Influence" applied to art. For instance, artists are influenced by other artists; artists are influenced by events; art is influenced by society; society is influenced by art; artistic cultures influence other artistic cultures, and so on.
Art also has the power to influence the character, development and behavior of its beholders. This is a phenomenon that not only applies to the visual arts, but also to the overwhelming influences of the performing and literary arts, such as music; acting; dance; poetry and prose. And, the amazing thing is that all of these imperceptible and intangible effects are produced without any force whatsoever. Influence is a very powerful word indeed!
Sam Richardson was an unbelievably positive influence on me and several thousand other students during his forty year tenure as an artist and art professor at SJSU. His presence and attitude will be greatly missed.