My devotion to Richard Lack and his art was my motivation to complete the catalogue of his life’s work. It also fulfills a promise I made to him just before he passed away.
Researching his files and uncovering details of his accomplishments has been very rewarding. His biography, published in countless exhibition catalogs, would always mention he had won “numerous awards”. Until I went through his records even his wife, Katherine, didn’t realize what the actual number of awards was: 29 Gold Medals, Best of Show and People’s Choice awards. He received eight scholarships and grants: 1 to study abroad and 7 for his Atelier. The majority of these awards were achieved early in his career. Later, the “award” he cherished most was seeing the success attained by many of his students.
Working on his catalogue has allowed me the unique opportunity to get to know Richard intimately through his work, especially the 463 works uncovered that no one had seen before, not even Katherine Lack. Over time I began to find relationships between these works, they began to fit together either due to a theme or other factors. It was like a light bulb turned on – they became “aha!” moments.
To describe working on the catalogue I use the analogy of putting together a complicated jigsaw puzzle that has over 1,000 pieces. The documented works form the center of the puzzle – they’re already identified and fit together. At first glance the undocumented works all appear like hundreds of pieces of “foliage” and “blue sky” – making sense of them in relation to the whole picture seemes daunting. Over time and after much scrutiny pieces of the “puzzle” made their associations apparent. Sometimes this would occur after leaving them alone to work on something else.
While some works in this puzzle still remain a mystery every attempt has been made to provide grounded insight into works that offered enlightenment to Lack’s complete body of work.
Over the span of 63 years Lack completed 1,037† paintings, drawings, sketches, studies, etchings, woodcuts and watercolors. During the 24 years he ran Atelier Lack he taught 99 students, many of them now with successful careers. He wrote over 30 articles about painting and several book reviews; he was the editor of Realism in Revolution: The Art of the Boston School and the author of On The Training of Painters with Notes on the Atelier System, which was reprinted in eight editions. He participated in over 87 exhibitions and appeared in 184 articles in newspapers, magazines, and fine art publications throughout the United States.
Richard Lack left an indelible legacy of work and accomplishments that have largely gone unnoticed. This book documents his achievements in the best way possible, by showcasing his art, his views about art and the work of select students he trained.
I would be remiss if I didn’t note the significant contribution Katherine Lack made to her husband’s career. I daresay he most likely wouldn’t have achieved all that he did without her. She not only supported his career – she had her own career as a graphic designer, actively participated in the administration of his atelier, posed for numerous studies and paintings, helped organize exhibitions, documented the sale of his paintings, designed and sewed costumes for his imaginative work, entertained portrait sitters and collectors – all while maintaining a home and raising a family.
Taking on this catalogue was not a commitment I took lightly. I spent hundreds of hours documenting each painting, drawing, watercolor, pastel and etching.
Thankfully, Katherine Lack kept meticulous records of the sales of much of her husband’s work, many accompanied by photographs, slides or transparencies. I was permitted access to Lack’s portfolios containing drawings from his youth, student work – before and during his years with R. H. Ives Gammell, experiments with watercolor, several hundred drawings, sketches and studies, many never seen or published before, and numerous color sketches – a total of 397. The vast majority of these were never seen by anyone else before me.
So how did I come to this project?
I was one of Richard Lack’s students, but I never attended his Atelier. Actually, that’s not entirely true. In 1984 I attended evening classes that his Atelier offered. It was the first encounter with him and his art.
I remember seeing Richard. Lack for the first time when I was registering for my class – Katherine Lack was signing people up. Lack was a tall and somewhat imposing figure. I could tell by the way he carried himself (and the painter’s smock he wore) that he was the master of the studio.
It was four years later, December 15, 1988, to be exact, that I went to the Lack’s home for a meeting with Richard and Katherine. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss a proposal regarding the formation of an organization designed to help promote and preserve his craft of picture-making. I required their approval before I could proceed.
This first meeting led to countless others, resulting in a relationship that spanned over 25 years. The result was the creation of The American Society of Classical Realism and its Guild of Artists. It was at this time I became his “student”, but not as a painter. More importantly, we became friends.
Richard Lack taught me how to see painting through his eyes. In an extraordinary way, he let me into his world. As a result of this, he taught me much more. For hundreds of hours (we met regularly – almost weekly – up until the time of his death) we discussed painting and its history, art students and the difficulties in teaching them, and the manner in which painting has been taught. We also discussed politics and business, philosophy and religion, Carl Jung and archetypal influences, growing up and growing old, the importance of family, the passages of time, and this art form’s contemporary practitioners and their place in history. I have learned much from Mr. Lack and he became a dear friend whom I sorely miss.
I learned that “schools” of painting, organizations and institutions, may come and go but the craft of picture-making will survive, as it always has – through aspiring students who seek out successful painters to teach them. It’s really that simple and, for the aspiring young student it is also that difficult.
How does one find competent painters who have mastered this most difficult of crafts? And, how does one find a painter who is interested in passing this craft along to future generations?
Organizations can assist in this by promoting the craft and the artists who practice it. They also can promote the studio schools that offer competent instruction. The American Society of Classical Realism (ASCR) and its publication, Classical Realism Journal (1989–2007) were good examples of this. The ASCR reached thousands of people worldwide and was held in high esteem by fine arts organizations, art schools and university art departments throughout the United States and abroad (the Oxford Library as well as studio schools in Florence subscribed to the Classical Realism Journal). Countless numbers of aspiring painters found the instruction they were looking for as a result of our publication and the exhibitions held by the ASCR. The Classical Realism Journal had an international readership on five continents and reached thousands of people.
That being said, for all the good an organization can do, it can’t teach anyone how to paint. It takes a practicing professional to successfully accomplish this, whether in Lack’s tradition of “The Boston School” or other tradition living today.
It is my hope this catalogue documents accurately the large volume of paintings, studies, drawings, watercolors, etchings and sketches by a truly remarkable man; how he influenced the revival of traditional art, and the legacy of the professional painters he taught, who now or in the future may teach their craft of painting as Lack did, with a depth of knowledge and passion about the craft of fine picture-making.
Gary B. Christensen
† This number is based on the work that could be found or was documented by the Lack’s. According to Katherine Lack a “large number of paintings – 150 or more, were sold right off the easel before any record of it could be made.”