Richard McDonough’s Mysterious Abandonment

Richard McDonough's "House Full of Time." Image courtesy of the artist and Europa.
Exhibition view of Richard McDonough’s “House Full of Time.” Photography by Evan McKnight. Image courtesy of the artist and Europa.

The paintings of Richard McDonough echo the architecture of the abandoned and decrepit structures that the 28-year-old artist has long noticed in the peripheries of the built landscape between his childhood in Upstate New York and young adulthood in Baltimore and Brooklyn. “I think I’ve always had a fascination with abandoned spaces,” he says. “In a way, they are kind of like a corpse… They hold a lot of information, in history. But they are sort of dead. I guess they could be reanimated.”

McDonough’s latest series does something to that effect. Consisting of 11 pieces, the new body of work debuted earlier this week at Dimes Square’s Europa in a solo New York show dubbed “House Full of Time.” The title borrows from a 2002 track by indie band Gui.tar of the same name that the artist felt adequately captured the odd, mysterious nostalgia that desolate buildings exude. While he characterizes the works as paintings, they are just as much sculptural objects, with 3-D elements reflecting timeless architectural features, from archways and columns to bricks and mosaic.

The aesthetic results from a drawn-out layering process that begins with mounting foam to a wooden panel and carving out recessed areas to create simple geometric shapes that lend to the impression of an architectural facade. Over the sculpted foam, the artist affixes a sheet of linen canvas, which he then fills with brightly colored, melting abstractions, before adding the final layer with small, rectangular patches of dried acrylic paint—completing each work with a brick- or tile-like pattern across its surface.

Further illusionistic nuances arise out of this method. Take Ludlowville Rd, 2023, for instance, shown above on the left, wherein differently shaded greens of the faux brick patchwork overlay amorphous verdant contours of the undercoat, all together forming the silhouette of a tree. But the top of the piece culminates in a row of neon-hued indentations in the shape of narrow, arched windows. It’s as if glimpsing the skeleton of a long-since overgrown early Renaissance church.

One of two titular works in the exhibition, House Full of Time (Green), 2023, above on the right, again takes up the motif of the arched window, this time presenting it 16 times over, in a four-by-four grid, across a monumental six-foot wide, seven-foot-tall canvas. A fifth row at the bottom is merely 2-D, as though shadows. The visual effect manifested is one akin to a cryptic-yet-captivating optical illusion: enigmatic both in the gradations of its present state and hidden narratives beyond its surface.

Richard McDonough’s “A House Full of Time” is on view at Europa Gallery at 125 Division St, New York, NY 10002 through November 12, 2023.

Rachel Summer Small is Family Style’s Culture Editor and a writer and critic based in New York.