Richard Artschwager once wrote that art's most powerful conventions are stasis, separation and silence (R. Artschwager, texts and interviews, Dusseldorf, 2003, p. 14). All his best paintings, including Palace Hotel from 1974, are characterized by these concerns. They are studies in what happens when an artwork becomes itself its own subject, when it looks at its own components--in this case, imagery and support--in unexpected ways. 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 quote 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. Celotex comes from a world apart from the grand setting depicted in Palace Hotel--the Court of the original Palace Hotel in San Francisco, which, prior to its destruction in the notorious 1906 earthquake and subsequent fire, was one of the most elegant and prominent establishments on the West Coast.
By removing both things--the image and its Celotex support--from their usual contexts and combining them into something else--his painting--Artschwager neutralizes each, as if he had mixed acid with base. This alchemy produces the desired effect of stasis, silence and separation.