“Several works are like cryptic crossword clues. Once you’ve grasped their inner pun, you should, to all intents and purposes, move on, smiling at your own cleverness”
The wiles and wittiness, obscurity and dark edge of Samuel Beckett, whose candid engagement with the substance of his craft, through interrogating the texture, meaning and unmeaning of words, has long underpinned Colin Richards’ passions. Richards’ approach to Beckett, however, is not simply that of a reader. His exhibition Parrot Parrot offers insight into the thinking of an artist cynically engaged with education, literariness and literality, sadness and loss.This ostensibly simple exhibition grabs you by the eyes, leaving you inebriated by its visual intensity and ruthless splaying of words from their meanings. Richards’ work is irrevocably tight. He enmeshes his forms in a consistent network of fine line, describing it traditionally, legibly; his vigilant eye watches over a lunatic mission toward hand-made perfection. Flaws in images’ edges prevent them from being soullessly perfect, jostling them from drawings into art.The African grey parrot is central to the show, literally and literarily. One of its intellectual pivots is about parody, learning and educating. The book works, including Ivory Tower, a three-dimensional architectural piece cladded with tiny strips of paper, attest to this. But the literal presence of the bird in a meticulous watercolour lends the show’s central logic a madness: the bird’s cold avian stare juxtaposes values burlesquely; cruelty and display aren’t conceptually unacknowledged here.Books – their open pages show tears in one, shadows in another; a third presents margins, another is simply void of content altogether – contain found and unfindable text. Richards further uses scraperboard on foil, digital prints and the juxtapositioning of more tiny strips of paper. Their texture is echoed in Ivory Tower – like a castle of playing cards in its fragility, it is replete with clouds of text around its pinnacle, sheep grazing at its base. Ivory Tower is however only physically present in the gallery as a photo, taken by John Hodgkiss; it is a strange, rather disappointing play on authorship. Parrot Parrot begs this tower to be present as a ‘live’ installation, not as a photograph.Several works are like cryptic crossword clues. Once you’ve grasped their inner pun, you should, to all intents and purposes, move on, smiling at your own cleverness. However, this is where the analogy dies: the intensity of Richards’ rendering is too seductive to allow you to go. The images snatch you by the collar, compelling you to wrench yourself away, bruised and baffled by the meanings they contain over and above that initial pun.Aligning the books to animal rights concerns, the artist further offers two horizontal prints; they confront one another in the gallery’s roadside display area. Library of Lies and Lives of the Animals are digital images of shelved, published books (barring the textless spines of Richards’ own artists’ books). They bring a self-consciously bibliographical presence to the show, one of intellectual affectation. Certainly the most directly visual images here, the obviousness of these two pieces weaken an otherwise devastatingly subtle central chord running through this exhibition.