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Pop-Up Gallery with Garden

The Artist and his Muse

“His objects convey a residual feeling of tribal art reinterpreted in modern terms.”

The Times

An Artist & His Muse

The project was a celebration of art whilst raising awareness and funds for nature conservation and improved mental health.

It initially involved making a residential space suitable as a temporary public art gallery with capacity to show hundreds of works of visual art – paintings and sculpture – to create as much like a white cube as possible.

In addition, it was necessary to curate the show, prepare the text, plan out the promotional activity, event manage the space, etc.

The Feeling & Matter exhibition supported the charities WWF-UK and Oakleaf and displayed the diverse creative output of the English painter, sculptor, picture restorer, writer, husband and father, John Rich.

The following text is from the project website:

His creative talent was obvious at an early age and upon seeing his art, a teacher told him he should definitely “take it up”. The young John interpreted the word ‘up’ as an instruction not simply to pursue a career in art, but a far greater responsibility – to raise the form to another level. From that point onward, he resolved to take art ‘Up’.

Elizabeth with John in Paris

John Rich studied at the Epsom School of Art and then the Slade School of Art. He won a scholarship from the Guildford School of Art to study in Paris, at the Academie Grande Chaumiere and Academie Julien, whilst Elizabeth became his muse, a model and their chief money-earner.

A contemporary of Peter Blake and David Hockney – exhibiting alongside them – John Rich would go on to have critically successful one-man shows at the Rowan and Grabowski galleries in London.

“The intention of the artist is to invest matter with meaning.” John Rich in a London gallery with some of his early work on the walls behind him.

Reviews in the Guardian, New Statesman, Observer and others followed. The Times described him as “an inventive and determined artist with a line of his own.” He became an artist of some standing, exhibiting with the Young Contemporaries and the London Group.

An artist is both creator and creature of art, a product and producer of its history, the past to which the artist responds and the future for which he or she is responsible.

John Rich

Despite this auspicious start to his career, John Rich ‘retired’ from painting and did his best to focus on a growing family. He resolved to take art up again after this more immediate demand on his time. He taught himself picture restoration and achieved a reputation for excellence in this field – supporting his family whilst falling into obscurity from the contemporary art world.

Years later, burdened by the responsibility to take art ‘Up’, he energetically established a large studio in Surrey. He quit restoration and started to paint again and to write.

However, his self-imposed exile whilst affected by bi-polar, encouraged a growing feeling of disillusionment about the contemporary art industry. The focus was firmly on youth and the new. At this time, awards such as the Turner Prize, were not open to those aged over 50 and the tumultuous rise of Damien Hirst and the latest Young British Artists dominated the headlines with shock and spectacle.

“In the Sixties the history of art was taught… as if it began with the Impressionists, in the Eighties as if it began with Andy Warhol and at the turn of the century… as if it began with Damien Hirst.”

John Rich

Informed by aesthetic judgement and expertise gained through intense study of artistic movements and trends, the works of John Rich did not appear to fit the fashion of the day and, not for the first time, he questioned his place in the new art world order.

“The concepts of ‘quality’, ‘better than’ or ‘of a higher or finer order’ – indeed any judgement – is seized upon as evidence of the heresy of elitism, class privilege and snobbery. The punishment for which is exile.”

John Rich

Eventually he would give up any attempt at recognition and with renewed focus he went on to produce a significant body of work, rapidly developing through various styles.

If we are open to them, there are occasional, fleeting moments of insight, comfort or revelatory engagement which strike us, often by surprise, for example in encounters with the natural world. Through his art, John Rich’s work serves both as a record and as a source of these experiences.

The original works and studies by the artist can be seen at his website dedicated to his art, which is a small step toward the artist regaining the recognition that eluded him for many years.

The quotes above are from John Rich. His writings on various topics are currently being edited and will be published online shortly.

The Pop-Up Gallery with Garden took place in Shere, Surrey, UK just prior to the pandemic and there are currently plans to reopen in 2022.

“One of the most pleasing works in this year’s London Group by John Rich …controlled by an individual personality.”

The Listener
Comments from visitors to the Gallery with Garden

“An inventive and determined artist with a line of his own.”

The Times
The entrance path to the Pop-Up Gallery with Garden

“[They] have an exotic beauty that belongs to the same dark world – the blue cascading shapes of one is like the tail plumes of a bird of paradise.”

Rowan Gallery
More comments from visitors to the Gallery with Garden