I use the term ‘Collective Iconography’ to describe these paintings because I couldn’t come up with anything more pretentious sounding. Nonetheless, the term fits, since each of these works is a pastiche that combines multiple iconic portraits. Images are drawn from a wide array of familiar media – magazine covers, coins, sculpture, photographs, comic books and the like. Each painting seeks to faithfully imitate the style, medium and vocabulary of the original images to ensure that they are readily recognizable.
Embedded in each work are numerous deliberate juxtapositions to be discovered. For example, in “I Rip-Off Sherlock Holmes,” Lucille Ball is paired with Wilma Flintstone, a cartoon character modeled on Lucille Ball; in “I Challenge Thinkers and Doers to a Tug-O-War,” Albert Einstein, theoretical physicist, faces Robert Oppenheimer, builder of the first atomic bomb; and so on.
Each set of portraits coalesces around a unifying – often humorous – theme. The first-person voice in the titles keeps the focus on the idiosyncratic selection and juxtaposition of images while hinting at – but not explicitly revealing that theme. For example, “I Rip-Off Sherlock Holmes” is an oblique allusion to one of Holmes’ best-known yarns, “ the Adventure of the Red-HeadedLeague.” Thus, viewers can explore the interplay of images and discover, for themselves, the unifying theme.
Each painting is a puzzle to be solved.
While some may be visually pleasing, they are not intended to be aesthetic, sensual or sentimental in a way that speaks directly to the senses or the emotions. Rather, to be appreciated, each painting must be mediated by conscious thought. The viewer is obliged to think about the images in relation to one another in order to “get it.”
However it may be experienced by viewers, for its creator this collection was light-hearted tinkering at the intersection of two worlds. In making the written title integral to the experience and uniting the individual portraits with thought rather than perception, I played at fusing words and images and blurring the boundary between the literal and the visual – but just a little.
Richard Hill: Collected Iconographies
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