Since the 1960s, Richard Artschwager has developed an idiosyncratic and influential body of work that confounds accepted categories such as painting and sculpture, abstraction and representation, high and low. Artschwager's painting on Celotex, Clothes Closet, Bed, Rug, Corner, embodies his diverse and innovative oeuvre, combining his early career as a cabinetmaker and furniture designer with his keen fine arts aesthetic. Straddling elements of Pop, Minimalism and Photo-Realism, Artschwager's work defies these labels, and succeeds in his avowed ambition "to make art that has no boundaries" (R. Artschwager quoted in Richard Artschwager, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1988, p. 13).
Renowned for his employment of unconventional materials, Artschwager began using Celotex in 1962. Sharing similar boundary-pushing sensibilities as Claes Oldenburg, Artschwager was inspired by his friend's handmade sculptural renderings of everyday objects. Artschwager's interest in untraditional art materials was furthered after a visit to Chicago where he saw a Franz Kline painting on the roughly textured surface of fiberboard that compounded the force of his painterly gesture. Upon returning to New York, Artschwager researched similar materials, and embraced Celotex, a material made of compressed dried sugarcane fibers. As Artschwager has described, "For me it has been sometimes a useful art material in that it liberates drawing from the hand-held and allows it to move into a space more commonly occupied by (canvas) paintings. It keeps the intimacy because of its paper-like characteristics, but allows it to operate at a greater physical, thereby mental, distance because of its magnified coarseness" (R. Artschwager, A Note on Celotex, Connections: Richard Artschwager, Boston, 1992, n.p.). In addition to providing this conceptual foundation, Artschwager's choice of medium intentionally draws on a non-art realm, as Celotex is commonly used in inexpensive house construction. Based on its traditional use and its evocation of wood grain, the material dryly and humorously echoes the interior subject of his painting, as well as challenges and expands the notion of what can comprise a painting.
Upon the rippled surface, Artschwager used thin washes of black paint to render the unassuming present bedroom scene. The few simple furniture objects in the spare white room reflect the universality and intimacy of one's personal space. Although the lack of human presence begs narration, the space is activated by the swirling pattern of the clothes closet, the softly undulating rug, and the painting's textured surface. Artschwager's choice of the pared-down composition with emphatic perspectival lines reflects the precision and rationality of form as well as the basic drawing tenements of space and perspective.