Michael R. Richards, Winged, 1999
“The idea of flight relates to my use of pilots and planes, but it also references… the idea of being lifted up, enraptured, or taken up to a safe place–to a better world.”
--- Michael Richards
Michael R. Richards in Miami, 1999
On September 11, we remember the vibrant Michael Richards, whose career was certainly on the ascendant when planes attacked the World Trade Center, killing him in the studio of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council on the 92nd floor of the North Tower. Thousands perished on that day and subsequently from health-related conditions caused by spending time at the site, cleaning up or living in the area. The devastation of this heinous act goes well beyond the recorded and unrecorded. We are still processing the moment and the aftermath.
Michael R. Richards, Tuskegee Airman, 1999
We are also still processing the loss of Michael Richards, especially at a time when his work is more relevant than ever. We see the model Mustang planes piercing his sculpted body in a Tuskegee Airman's pilot suit and think "how prescient!" The miniature planes remind us of the attack from the massive passenger jets piercing the WTC Twin Towers on that sunny morning in 2001.
Michael R. Richards, Are You Down?, Franconia Sculpture Park, created in 2000, installed in 2012
Today, nineteen years later, Michael Richards' work seems more relevant to the Black Lives Matter moment, because he work always addressed BLM issues: Black aspirations met with systemic racism that weighed down upward mobility. In Winged (1999) we see black arms fringed in feathers, spread out like Christ on the Cross, reminding us of persecution and the desire to transcend the daily grind of microagressions.
Richards said that his work“allows for an examination of the psychic conflict which results from the desire to both belong to and resist a society which denies blackness even as it affirms. In attempting to make this pain and alienation concrete, I use my body, the primary locus of experience, as a die from which to make casts. These function as surrogates, and as an entry into the work.”
From this statement, we can continue to believe that Michael Richards still lives among us, in these personal effigies that speak more powerfully and poignantly in our current political climate.
Michael Richards: Winged, a retrospective exhibition on Governors Island, Summer 2016
The Michael Richards Grant to support a Miami-Dade artist was established by Oolite Arts a few years ago. For more information click on to this link. For more information about Oolite (formerly known as the ArtCenter/South Florida), click on to the link here:
Today we remember Michael Rolando Richards. May his memory be for a blessing.