Whitehot Magazine

Catching Light with Rick Prol at the James Fuentes Gallery

Rick Prol, “Empty City 2”, 2021. Acrylic on canvas with artist’s frame (diptych), 85 1/4 x 145 1/4 x 1 1/2 inches.

Rick Prol: Empty City

James Fuentes Gallery

February 19 through March 26, 2022

By JOHN DRURY, March 2022

Lagging generally thirty years behind and thus devoured a decade at a time – we’ve caught up with the nineties and in re-evaluation, those (some) creators deserving recognition find finally (if somewhat stale), appreciation. There was then plenty about town to celebrate, before the day’s attentions were side-tracked in favor the street/skate barrage; the days culture taking a hard-right - giving us KAWS and the others in flavors of candy-coated benign. In characteristic, pre-9/11 fervor, youth was embraced, and half-baked work was pulled from the curb and graduate studio. We find that much of this fodder has since staled, little worthy. Reciprocation can be bittersweet.

Capturing light, like the arriving next train, might be elusive both canvas-top and at turnstile, and it is only with clarity of intent and decisive maneuvering that one might catch either in a satisfying fashion. Rick Prol’s painted stroke is confident, and his decisive manner comes to topic well familiar (his cast of characters oft-visited for decades), in a precision belying the abilities only the inarguably self-assured. The best painters know when to stop and here underpainting is simply knobbed bone beneath tattered pant leg overpainting. We need nothing otherwise. More is superfluous and only clouds brilliance.    

Rick Prol, “Empty City 1”, 2021. Acrylic on canvas with artist’s frame, 96 3/8 x 156 7/8 x 1 1/2 inches (detail).

A favorite here is the dark expanse the elevated tracks of Rick’s Empty City 1 (2021). An empty course reminds us of historical Manhattan’s once elevated portions of railway. Unpopulated, we are left to imagine our own and present connection to that “stage’; a continuance recalling the vacant lots, ghosts and streets of danger defining his downtown – a lived experience during the 1980s. Here however, the avenues are emptied by pandemic, emphasis a plague. Its large size realized in paired canvases – it is at meeting edge that disrupted image emphasizes diptych, a break in the rail reminding us brilliantly that dysfunction is ever present in the city that never sleeps; a glitch. That disruption implies too, a break from the past - if momentary - and in a surreal moment, and in cyclical fashion, what’s old is new again in a Twilight Zone-esque realization. In Empty City 2 (all works 2021), light falls from overhead lamps like showerheads, heavy and impasto. We understand the weight of the moment – now illuminated and endangered by an approaching engine; future vague, and implied perilous. Each work is at a scale inviting “selfie”, as we are absorbed in broad expanses of simple color combinations applied in broad stroke.

Rick Prol, “Empty City 4”, 2021. Acrylic on canvas with artist’s frame, 84 5/8 x 72 1/4 x 1 1/4 inches.

Rick and I had back-to-back exhibitions at the Willoughby Sharp Gallery in 1991…before broken window policing and rampant gentrification below Houston Street…before the make-do and ragged aesthetics reflective the lessons of the East Village heyday had been left to wither on the vine; late fruit (no less sweet), homemade fades and Kinkos-copied broadbills and exhibition invitations subsequently replaced in careers made by stickers. There was the aura of the unique then, artists not easily categorized humming their own tune, in step no academies house band; truly unique. We celebrated the individual, not the follower…not the group think of social media. There were gallerists who were truly seers - Sharp, Papo Colo at Exit Art, Hudson at FEATURE - and others believing and supporting makers, without both eyes focused on the dollar alone. We should get back to that – the lack of experimental and not-for-profit spaces now, in the city, evidence our psychic loss. Even the bars and artist run ventures – CBGBs, Max Fish, XOXO…the Mars Bar – were brimming monthly, with the work of creatives free of five-year plans and career paths. These are gone, in trade Whole Foods, boutique and condo. We had downtown too, in refute the homogenous, the collaborative efforts of the Rivington School and the Gas Station at 2nd and B. 

And although support waned, some of us most versatile, never left (OG’s yo) – the faddish subsequently, but a distant memory; Mr. Prol’s exhibition at the James Fuentes gallery is proof that old blades remain sharp, honed by the time and persistence allowing a conceptual footing sound and sturdy, from which a reach for the stars is rooted in tried-and-true know-how. I salute Rick’s persistence and the quality of his workmanship. I salute Mr. Fuentes, for his support and the ability to see potential in that which stands alone. WM


John Drury

John Drury is a multi-media artist, published author, independent curator and instructor. Drury holds a Bachelor of Fine Art degree from the Columbus College of Art and Design (1983) and a Master of Fine Art Degree in sculpture (1985; including a minor in painting), from Ohio State University. John is the father of two teenagers, living in New York City since 1989 and has received the prestigious Louis Comfort Tiffany Award for his work in sculpture.

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