Organic Abstraction

The Painstaking Resin-Layered Paintings that’ll Take Your Breath Away

“I start a painting with a flash or a bang, not knowing where it’s going,” Chicago-based artist Bruce Riley tells us, the excitement almost palpable. His sprawling paintings resemble some sort psychedelic alien tribal culture with impossibly saturated colours and deliciously organic shapes that seem to undulate despite their fixed state.

The technique is painstaking, involving layering up paint and clear resin several times. Some pieces will sit in Bruce’s studio for years at a time, just waiting to be finished. The process was something Bruce discovered as a happy accident: “In 2007 I tried using resin to correct a material malfunction that I thought was my fault. Spilled paint on the resin surface led me to using it as a transparent ground”.

Bruce’s work stalks the line between complete abstraction and subtle representation, reminding us of how the brain will try to make sense of amorphous shapes by finding faces or familiar patterns.

“This meditative activity has led me to develop an evolving art-making system that for me is a metaphor for an evolving human organism. I’ve imbued the moments of my art making with a tireless sense of exploration. What else is one to do with the time at hand?”

We managed to drag Bruce away from his studio for a few minutes to answer some questions.

The Plus: How would you characterise your work? Is it completely abstract?
Bruce Riley:
I was calling my painting organic abstraction but it has become divided of late between recognizable imagery and abstraction. I actually try to keep it in unknown territory but my thinking function spills over from its logistical task of paint application to finding meaning in pools of paint on a flat surface. Hard to stop that movement but easy to see it for what it is if you stay open.

TP: What do you think your art says about you?
That question is in a category I think of as dead end introspection. I just don’t go there. I’m down with my side of the equation but the other I I’ve no idea about. What my art says about me is the viewer reflected.

TP: What other artists do you admire?
Right now I would say Richard Hull. It’s the last show I saw. Beautiful work. Very “Harry Who” a Chicago art movement. But the list is very long. I’ve liked and studied so many artists it is impossible to pick.

TP: Could you describe what your studio is like?
My studio is in a building across a dead end street on the South Side of Chicago. I have a garden lot that is outside my studio windows. It’s very quiet for the most part. The studio stays a little messy because I’m working. Right now I have four tables that stay filled with paintings. The walls are covered with work in progress that feed the tables as the tables feed the walls. All my materials are broken down. I mix everything.

TP: What are you working on at the minute?
There are around fifty paintings in progress at any given time. A gallery in The Netherlands asked if I could get them five to six paintings for a show in Amsterdam October – November. I’ve focused my attention on getting them what they want. I’m also working on a 24″ x 60″ commission that needs to be done by late fall and I would like to complete two 80″ x 48″ paintings by the same time as the others.