Man of Mystery
By Amy Griffin, Special to the Times Union
Peace Deal on Wheels, 2010, 42" x 34" x 8", acrylic on wood, wheels
A 25-foot, sharp-dressed man with unimpeachable posture lies prone above the entrance to the Main Gallery at The Arts Center of the Capital Region. In the window, the same man, from some undetermined decade in the 20th century, hangs upside-down on a banner. No matter his position, he bears the same expression, betraying no emotion. Who is he? That's for the artist to know and the viewer to decipher.
With "Paradox and Conformity," artist Richard Deon doesn't want to provide answers but, rather, to send "truly mixed messages - which speak or don't speak - for themselves." The work is a pastiche, a kind of graphic surrealism in which an anonymous "Instructor" lectures to the anonymous man described above, known as the "Subject." These characters are repeated throughout - hanging from the ceiling are five large gliders with the Subject as the body of the planes. This "Quick Response Squadron" (2011) also appears in multiple prints and photographs in the show, often seen flying over the Grand Canyon.
No. 14 of 24, pigment ink on rag, painted frames, 12.25 x 10.5 in.
Variations on this show, originally curated by Thomas Piché Jr. for the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art in Sedalia, Mo., have been shown in multiple locations over the past five years. There's clearly an appetite among curators for his work. Deon is an especially prolific artist with a boldly graphic style, which betrays his trade as a professional graphic artist. This work is clearly informed by that background but the bigger influence, according to his statement, is a 1950s American history textbook he received in seventh grade. A previous owner of the book had defaced the illustrations, turning the familiar into the unfamiliar. Deon eagerly added his own graffiti until he was caught and disciplined. The book was confiscated but not before it made a lasting impression.
Fast-forward 20 years to New York City's School of Visual Arts, where Deon studied in the 1970s. Marxist critical theory was popular among the faculty and Deon felt its influence. Deon realized he could create absurd compositions by deconstructing historical narratives and placing them in different contexts.
And so a style was born. Deon clearly delights in playing with time and space. Many paintings are accompanied by statements that offer vague insights into his thought process. In "Lincoln Ignores the Carbon Compact," (2007), Lincoln is dressed as a Roman soldier, a kneeling woman presents a strange object on a platter. "The painting is a cluster of confusion," writes Deon, in a way reassuring the viewer that, yes, the work is meant to confuse, as well as to play with our expectations.
The object in the painting is another recurring element. Its vaguely familiar but ultimately unidentifiable shape appears in one especially nice pairing. The painting "Opens Everywhere" (2000), depicts the Object on a table next to a sketchbook with a drawing of the Object. The painting is done completely in black, white and turquoise except for the small drawing, which stands out in red.
Next to it hangs "Yonkers," (2010), a solid black sculpture of the Object and just above that is a red fire alarm. It may have been an unintentional juxtaposition but one that works nicely with the overall theme of mixing metaphors and imagery.
While Deon never directly addresses the title of his show, it might be that the "conformity" refers to his strict adherence to his own style. It's apparent he's interested in paradox in the sense that he presents narratives that are both true and false at the same time, without judgment, leaving the meaning open-ended.
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