Three Short Diatribes:

  Originality Craftsmanship Vision

was born in Columbus, Ohio in the same year the war with Japan ended. A few years later his father, William Ricker, son of a German-American violin maker, moved the family to California where he would teach architecture to returning veterans.

Growing up in Carmel Valley in the 50's, Bruce had very Bruce Ricker 2007little exposure to T.V. or any kind of city life. So, from the time he was small, it was the landscape of hills and redwood canyons, the Carmel river, the oaks and chaparral, that formed the basic template for his imagination. Later, his stepfather Ted Gawain (father of writer Shakti Gawain), a professor at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, gave Bruce one-on-one explanations of physics and astronomy from time to time and significantly influenced Bruce's view of nature as a mystical miracle.

At 17, Ricker was not quite ready for college so he joined the Navy, and when the summer of love bloomed in San Francisco, he was finishing out his duty as a hospital corpsman in Vietnam.

He decided to attend San Francisco State University as an art major but, after two years, felt as if the main thing they were teaching was what one should like, which was of course what was stylish on the west coast in 1968. His drawing teacher had two things to say: that Bruce had "too much" control of his medium, and that he would "never make it" in the art world. So, Bruce went across the bay and studied architecture at U.C. Berkeley's College of Environmental Design. Design it seems, is a more teachable skill than what was available in art school: learning how to design things in a highly disciplined way. It seemed to Bruce at this point that the sun came out in his life (and it was sunnier). Perhaps being two years separated from his Vietnam experience helped and the creative intellectual atmosphere was stimulating. His main transportation was a 10-speed bike. During this time he began a long period of mystical inquiry, reading many books on spiritual and philosophical ideas, and attending lectures and teachings. And his love of nature was satisfied by frequent hikes in Tilden park in the Berkeley hills and around Mount Tamalpais in Marin county.

To this day, Bruce can probably show you places in Tilden park that you've never seen before. These early Berkeley years were punctuated by a short stint in southern California working for an architect right after graduation, and during a short side trip to Solvang, Bruce first saw the work of Eyvind Earle. He was flabbergasted! He looked and looked and when he walked out of the gallery he was changed. It was as if he had taken a month long course in painting by Eyvind Earle himself. From Eyvind Earle, Bruce learned a precise way to "construct" a landscape painting and while staying at his cousin's house in Pacific Palisades he got hold of a piece of masonite and some acrylic paints and painted a painting which became the precursor to all that has come after it.

It was about this same time that Bruce began to feel the need to explore the possibilities of plastics. The three dimensional laminated designs which plastics made possible were called plexules by Bruce, and they eventually found their way into the Richmond Art Center and many private collections including that of visionary architect, Bruce with his Plexules in 1975Paolo Soleri, who was a major influence on Bruce's thinking. This influence could be paraphrased as "if you're not visionary utopian you're part of the problem." Ricker explains that the modern city of today is more like a very large town than what a real city should be—the main principle of a true modern city would be that horizontal transportation runs throughout the city on as many as 10, 20, or 50 separate levels perhaps every 5 stories or so.

Bruce was working for an architect in San Francisco but not satisfied creatively, when he quit his job and used a 400 dollar income tax refund to launch a new career—as an artist/craftsman/entrepreneur. It is not clear whether he was reckless or overconfident, naive or just fearless. As the song goes: "I'll tell you folks, it's...harder than it looks". Nevertheless, Bruce rented a warehouse space in Berkeley and later a bigger space in Oakland in a corrugated tin sawtooth warehouse a block from the freeway on Livingston street.

The local art culture was beer, cocaine, fork lifts and cowboy shirts and Peter Voulkos was God. Ricker created a line of screen printed laminated acrylic jewelry and plexules and began painting not just on masonite but on Plexiglas (not on the front but from the back). A sign making stencil material was used, the hand brushed detail was first put on the clear acrylic and then the background was airbrushed on with appropriate colors. Two reasons are given by Bruce for this medium: first, the use of stencils is greatly simplified this way, and second, the finished work has the smoothest glossy surface possible. At this point in history the only "serious" art was abstract, yet Bruce persisted in going to art museums and reading Artweek every week. He hoped the fine art world would unveil revelatory experiences similar to what occurred when he saw Eyvind Earle's work for the first time. Disappointment tended to be the rule rather than the exception, but he also went to every Eyvind Earle opening at the Conacher Gallery in Maiden Lane in San Francisco. He told Eyvind once "I hope you don't mind that I'm emulating your style" and Earle replied that that was ok and that he had learned everything he knew from other artists. Bruce wished that Eyvind would become his mentor but was disappointed in this regard.

Other artIsts Bruce found inspiring from an early age included, most importantly, Frank Lloyd Wright, Van Gogh,and Japanese landscape painting, as well as Kelley Freas and Wallace Wood sci-fi illustration, N. C. Wyeth, Walt Disney and the 60's Pontiac illustrations of Arthur Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman. Later on, Maxfield Parrish, Thomas Moran, Roger Dean, Frank Frazetta, Art Nouveau and Art Deco, and especially both visionary artist Bill Martin and illustrator Patrick Woodroffe were influential, as well as the work of commercial illustrators such as those appearing in Communication Arts magazine. Indeed, Bruce did earn income occasionally doing graphics and commercial illustration but there were times when ad agencies would say "you should be in fine art" and other times when a gallery owner would say "you should be an illustrator." One gallery owner told him "you are a real artist...I don't know if what you do is art, but you are an artist for sure." About the only modem artists Bruce cared for were William Wylie and Wayne Thiebaud.

At the Oakland Museum he saw a show of great "space paintings" (not in the art wing of the museum, but in science) by artist Geoffrey Chandler, and later began attending Geoffrey's artist parties every year in San Francisco. It was wall to wall visionary artists. This lead to the San Francisco Visionary Artist Group which met in a church once a month. One artist of note that he met was Brian McGovern, whom Bruce considered an artist of immense talent—who sadly for this world, died some years years later in a fire. The support and sensitivity Ricker experienced in the Visionary Artists Group was in stark contrast with the testosterone fueled sarcasm of Livingston street but the warehouse was big, highly coveted and well equipped with skylights, a sleeping loft Bruce built, and a covered outside area perfect for air-brushing.

Through the V.A.G. Bruce connected to more shows, such as a visionary art show at the Egyptian Museum in San Jose, and slowly began to cultivate more private collectors for his paintings—he was seriously considered by the Vorpal Gallery in San Francisco but didn't make the cut. He read the Transformative Vision by writer/artist/ academic Jose Arguellos and was impressed by its argument for the centrality and importance of visionary art in art history.

Then our legendary artist was taken on by the legendary Illuminarium Gallery and he had several two person shows at their very classy place in Marin County. He was a bit influenced by the work of their star artist Gilbert Williams in developing several paintings of dome-like structures with perhaps a faint Mayan feel.

Although Bruce had spent three years in the U.S. Navy/Marine Corps, his refined nature had nevertheless for some time began to clash with the local culture of cynicism, loud noise, and vulgarity on Livingston street, and he downsized himself into a much smaller but quieter space in El Cerrito, after being in the warehouse for 10 years. He took an entire U-Haul truckload straight to the dump.

It was time for a change and boy did things change for Bruce Ricker right about this time, when he met a woman who turned him upside down and inside out. It is a well known curse that goes "may you live in interesting times," and another one that goes "may you have a guru who is also your lover." Bruce had been interested for years in eastern religion, and this gorgeous woman lived and breathed Indian and Tibetan mysticism 24/7. It is rare in this day and age that a person finds a spiritual teacher who, in private one-on-one, relentlessly and intensely focuses the student on spiritual lessons, practices, and principles. Bruce was not about to pass up an opportunity like this, even though it required a kind of surrender that left him at times feeling very small. The relationship took a lot of time and energy and he got very little artwork done for 5 years or so. It was an intense relationship but it partook of a rare tradition thousands of years old. Eventually she moved to Colorado on the dubious advice of an Indian shaman and Ricker was able to resist the temptation to follow her there. He learned a lot.

His life in a disorganized state, Bruce left the Bay Area and returned to the bosom of his youth in Carmel Valley, California. He rented a studio where he was able to live and work with space for all the tools he had by this time become accustomed to using on a regular basis, including a table saw, air compressor, buffer, router, table sander and drill press. He became enthusiastic about a new process whereby he would mount prints of his art on the back of Plexiglas and include a border design and a finely finished edge to give a unique kind of artwork Ricker calls "plexigraphic." They are beautiful, unusual pieces, often with hand painted faux marble border designs. He invented a process and built a machine to mount the prints on Plexiglas in a manner different and superior to the method generally used in the graphics industry. Using photographic prints as he was doing for his artworks was difficult and frustrating to Bruce for several reasons. Bruce even learned to use an enlarger in producing his own Cibachromes, but photographic prints have always been a little suspect as art prints of value (unless, of course, we are talking about photography), and the custom craftsmanship that went into one of his plexigraphs was highly labor intensive. Ricker has always found good constructive criticism rather hard to come by. At The Visionary Artists Group criticism of any kind was seen as hostile. Carmel gallery owner Chris Winfield took the time to give Bruce an intelligent critique and Bruce felt it was quite valuable. He showed in several galleries in Carmel, including the Portnoy Gallery, where he adapted with a style a bit more subtle and naturalistic, and, for a short time, Gallery 21, where Eyvind Earle was showing. But Eyvind wasn't too happy with this arrangement and told Mike McCurdy of Gallery 21 "it's either him or me." In Carmel Valley Village, Bruce would bicycle over to the local library and check out talking books to listen to while painting. And when a new librarian took over, it was pretty close to love at first sight. It wasn't long before he was quite certain about Chris, but she was not so easy to convince, and Bruce courted her for several intense years before she agreed to marry him. His love inspired him to want more success and he sent out portfolios to several art publishers—something he had meant to do for a long time.

In 1999, Bruce Ricker was picked from a field of about 2000 artists to join Chalk & Vermilion—perhaps the leading commercial publisher of art prints in the U.S., who had a huge success years back with the art of Thomas McKnight. So Bruce entered into a new pattern of life, painting paintings, packing them up and sending them to Connecticut, being "handled" like a political candidate, and getting a nice check every month.

Bruce popped the question at Nepenthe, south of Big Sur, and married Chris in 2002. Again, he downsized his workspace and he and Chris rented a house way out in the country. Ricker had had to agree to produce three paintings each month but he was behind right from the start. He had two choices: abandon his very detailed style and paint quicker, simpler paintings, or fall behind. He worked hard to adapt to the corporate culture and resolve the contradictions. Bruce Ricker, 2010C&V bought him a Mac G-4 (so he could be in touch via e-mail), and Bruce is very lucky that they did—prior to this time he was a bit computer phobic and illiterate. But with a little help from his friends, he began to learn Photoshop. One reason he took to Photoshop so quickly was that he had already imagined many of the Photoshop functions when he was visualizing and brainstorming what he would do if he could—along these lines he wants to someday use the computer to produce a "painting" in three dimensions—a still picture in stereo vision. It is a bit ironic that C&V got Ricker his first computer, since they themselves exclusively produce serigraphs (where a craftsman copies the artist's work by hand, one color at a time onto a stencil), whereas Photoshop is integral to obtaining good quality giclée (pronounced "zhee-clay") printing. Essentially wide format ink jet prints, giclées on canvas have become the dominant standard for fine art printing in the world today. Some complain that the giclée is not a "real" print but the same complaint has been made in the past about serigraphs or other techniques before that. Bruce states that the paradox of this highly sophisticated technology is that for the first time in eons, many artists are becoming more directly involved, hands on, in the production of prints—certainly less removed from the process than back in the 20th century.

In 2004 Bruce and Chris bought a house even farther out in the country with 3.5 acres, a year round creek, and a big, big garage Bruce calls the Bat Cave. He has seen bats, fox, bobcat, turtle, mountain lion, coyote, whip tail lizards, great blue heron, king gopher, rattle snakes, scorpions, and tarantulas as well as the more usual suspects. Between the house and the creek there are cliffs and rock outcroppings that reveal views strangely characteristic of the paintings he has created for many years. In 2006 Ricker and Chalk & Vermilion went their separate ways although C&V continues to market serigraphs of Bruce's work and some originals as well. He looks forward to developing ideas which had to be put on hold during the Chalk & Vermilion years.