On the Line
His paintings had damaged his health just when his business needed to grow. Could Willy Bo Richardson preserve his artistic vision and his career?
by Patti LaSalle-Hopkins
WILLY BO RICHARDSON remembers the day his daughter asked, with an eight-year-old’s irrepressible candor, if he could paint anything other than stripes. “It was breakfast, and we had a sketchbook on the table, so I immediately started to draw things. ‘There, see?’” he told her, pointing to his rendering of a bagel. “‘I can draw.’”
“We had a good laugh,” he says, “but it’s good once in a while to question motivations and methods.” He’s quick to point out, however, “They’re not stripes!”
Richardson’s vertical strokes of bold, vibrant colors are a study in the twin forces of gravity and his own creativity. His colors, in both watercolor and oil paints, vibrate against one another, pulling viewers into a rainbow of movement. Brushstrokes are large and loose, or narrow and tight. Colors edge playfully over one another. A dense, bright red breaks up a field of calming blues. Each painting can stimulate or soothe, and sometimes both. “Vertical strokes are not a random choice,” he says. “Gravity makes all objects fall to the center of the earth, and that shapes my work.”
In 2016, however, illness nearly ended that work. His star was on the rise among collectors and galleries. And he was hoping to develop a business partnership to expand his art beyond paintings into large-scale wall coverings and architectural features. But the art itself was threatening his health. On the brink of a new career arc, the artist took a U-turn to recover and find a path forward.