Tribute to Richard F. Lack by Stephen Gjertson

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Tribute to Richard F. Lack

by Stephen Gjertson

Richard F. Lack is one of the most significant artists of the second half of the 20th century. While the non-traditional artistic endeavors of his contemporaries drew attention from the artistic and public press, Lack passionately pursued his career within the great tradition of Western art. His work exhibits to a high degree those qualities that characterize notable works of the past: sensitive rendering of the phenomena of the visible world, balanced and harmonious composition and skillful craftsmanship. Lack spent his lifetime endeavoring to achieve these qualities in his work. In the process he created an art of immense richness and beauty.

Richard Lack was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota on March 26, 1928, where he grew up among Scandinavian immigrant families. His father Fred A. Lack was a dentist whose family emigrated from Germany; the parents of his mother, Mildred Peterson, came from Norway. After graduating from Roosevelt High School in 1946, Lack considered earning an Engineering degree from the University of Minnesota, but decided to focus instead on his passion for art. His artistic training began at the Minneapolis School of Art, but his interest in the classical traditions soon led him to New York City and then to the atelier of R. H. Ives Gammell in Boston, with whom he studied for five years, from 1950 to 1956. Lack's training was interrupted by two years of service in the U.S. Army where he was deployed in the Korean War as an intelligence specialist. Gammell's teaching combined the rigorous drawing of the 19th-century French ateliers with the color truth and painterly qualities of the Boston Impressionists. It gave Lack a solid foundation upon which to build his art and provided an historical context within which it could be assessed and understood. It is impossible to fully understand and appreciate Lack's art apart from the tradition out of which it grew and by which it was consistently nourished. The influence of many fine painters of the past, from Vermeer and Rubens to Raeburn and the Boston impressionists, is evident throughout his work.

In 1953 Lack met Katherine Vietorisz while studying at Gammell's summer studio in Provincetown, Cape Cod. Born in Budapest, Hungary, Katherine's parents and siblings immigrated to the United States shortly after the end of WWII. She was an accomplished artist in her own right and crafted unique, handmade jewelry. In 1955 Lack traveled to Europe to study the Old Masters, particularly Peter Paul Rubens , whose work has greatly influenced him both in style and method. Shortly after returning he married Katherine. In 1957 he returned to Minneapolis with his wife, bought a home in Glen Lake, and built a studio designed to simulate the lighting conditions recommended in the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci . There he began to paint a considerable body of work. Lack's art is extraordinarily diverse. He mastered (and I do not use this word lightly) a wide variety of artistic genres: still life, portraiture, landscape, indoor and outdoor genre and paintings based on myth, history and the psychology of C. G. Jung. His art depicts the important subjects of life: a mother and her child, a vase of spring flowers, a sunlit field, and the deeper issues of human psychology. He was an accomplished etcher, a fine pastellist and a good watercolorist. The artistry of Lack's work is sophisticated; his technical expertise superb. His paintings exhibit those tantalizing qualities that only painters and connoisseurs can fully appreciate.

In an iconoclastic age often marked by a lack of artistic discipline and misunderstanding of tradition, Lack fiercely preserved and energetically perpetuated the tradition he inherited as a member of the "Boston School," one of the longest continuing schools of painting in the history of American art. He was an insightful and provocative advocate of the Western artistic tradition and his influence as an artist and educator in preserving the European cultural impact on American art foreshadowed today's revived interest in the classical arts. In 1969 he established Atelier Lack, a small but vitally important non-profit studio-school in Minneapolis. For 22 years it provided a crucial link to the artistic traditions of Europe that rapidly disintegrated after the First World War. Lack had over 100 students from around the country in his full-time program, training some of the most accomplished and sought-after classical painters and his atelier acquired an international reputation. The disciplined beauty and striking imagery of Lack’s work and the importance of his teaching earned him three scholarships from the Elizabeth T. Greenshields Memorial Foundation in Montreal, Canada as well as a grant from the John F. and Anna Lee Stacy Scholarship Fund. Atelier Lack has become a model for many small studio-schools throughout the United States and abroad. Lack retired from teaching in 1992.

Amid the uncertainties of the artist's profession, Lack managed to live a quiet and stable life. He and Katherine worked together to surmount the difficulties posed by a generally unsympathetic art world. They overcame the challenges encountered in managing a successful school. The couple raised three children and participated in many of Minnesota's cultural activities. Lack loved music and was an accomplished violinist. He played for ten years in the Minnetonka Symphony Orchestra. During his long career Lack exhibited widely throughout the United States, in both solo and group exhibitions, winning many awards and honors. In 1988, the Maryhill Museum of Art in Goldendale, Washington held a comprehensive and defining retrospective exhibition of his work. Throughout his career Lack was a highly sought after portrait artist and he painted many notable figures, among them six portraits for the Kennedy family in Hyannisport, MA, a portrait for England's future Earl of Wilmot and Minnesota Governors Wendell Anderson and Albert Quie. The Aristos Foundation honored him with awards in 1969 and 1985 for his writing, teaching and significant contribution to the visual arts. He received the "Award of Excellence" from the California Art Club in 1995 for his outstanding work in the field of educating and encouraging the continuation of Traditional Painting. In 1999 the American Society of Portrait Artists honored him with their first Founder's Award. For many years Lack was a member of the Minnesota Jung Association and during recent years he devoted most of his time and energy to painting a series of large works based on Jungian psychology, which depict man's inner journey toward individuation and psychological wholeness.

Lack coined the term "Classical Realism" in 1982 and it has since been used throughout the art world in reference to living painters working within the Western artistic tradition. He was one of the founding members of The American Society of Classical Realism and wrote numerous scholarly articles for the Classical Realism Quarterly and the Classical Realism Journal, as well as articles in other publications. He edited the book Realism in Revolution: The Art of the Boston School. His biography, Richard F. Lack: An American Master, was published in 2001. Lack is listed in Who's Who in American Art, Who's Who in International Art and Antiques and International Biographies. His work is in private and public collections throughout the United States and abroad and he has influenced thousands through his art, teaching and writing.

The lasting legacy of Richard Lack will ultimately be seen in his own art, the art of his pupils and the art of future generations of artists trained in this tradition. The culture of the last half of the 20th century has been greatly enriched by the imagination, beauty and skill of works created by Lack and his pupils. In this regard, his contribution has already been considerable. In the visual arts, as elsewhere, many thinking people are recognizing the disastrous effects of the nihilism and politicization of our age and its effect on our art and culture. They are searching for more fundamental and sensible standards. Should this continue, there is no doubt that Lack's importance will become increasingly apparent, and that his contribution within the tradition of representational painting will be greatly appreciated and highly esteemed. When the art of the 20th century is finally assessed with insight and equity, Richard F. Lack’s art, influence and contribution will be seen as vital in preserving the great tradition of American painting.

Richard F. Lack, passed away on Tuesday, September 22, 2009. He is survived by his wife, Katherine; daughter, Susanna (Michael); sons, Peter (Paulette) and Michael, granddaughter Maren; extended family and countless friends.

Deliverd By

Stephen Gjertson. (Author of Richard F. Lack: An American Master)
In a Public Tribute, Memorial Service and Exhibition:
Sunday, November 1, 2009
The Landscape Arboretum
3675 Arboretum Drive
Chaska, Minnesota 55318

Further Reading