It was a while ago when we last met in London and Richard and I had been promising a get together pretty much ever since. He’d been exhibiting at the Roy’s People’s Art Fair, his first time at such an event. I remember being struck by his surreal style, a sort of other-worldly take on what were some familiar scenes.
Since that show he’s signed up to do another in April, “it was a good experience” he tells me. That of doing an art show and having your work and yourself exposed to the world. Essentially cutting his teeth on the art fair merry go round.
Richard actually lives in Hove, a fact that dawns on me when I realise that his place is a good two miles from the station. It matters not though, I suck it up and get walking, having chips on the way. It is Brighton after all and I am by the seaside, there’s a great walk along the front so it’s hard to complain.
His work is dystopic. Featuring surreal scenes which from a distance might not immediately be apparent. I liken it to the netflix series ‘Stranger Things’ where the ‘other world’ can be seen on top of our own. Not by everybody of course, only by a select few. But it’s there, it’s hidden but it’s there. Richard kind of agrees but also carefully points out that he was of course doing this sort of thing long before that show came along.
But that’s what you see in Richards work. From a distance it may be a landmark such as Tower Bridge or Brighton Pier, but get closer and there’s a writhing underworld of debauchery and revelry going on beneath. The shape of the monument is recognisable but instead of the brick and mortar, the substance of the buildings are filled in with a mass of sprawling grotesques.
He describes his work as surreal architecture and you can see why. “It just comes to me” he says as I ask him just how he comes up with the concepts. “I take the shape and draw the outline and then I just fill it in”. Not knowing exactly what it is that he is going to do until it happens, “I can just stare at something and let my imagination run.”
Richard’s journey towards being an artist however was nearly curtailed. Initially going to art school in Wimbledon he found that it didn’t really support the brand of more illustrative art he wanted to do “I found myself being pushed in a direction I didn’t want to go in” he tells me. After that he worked in bars for a number of years before some of his works got picked up by the Brighton based Art Republic and started to sell. He did a few more and found out that actually people were really liking what they saw.
Fast forward to now and we are looking at a couple of his latest pieces. Ready for the art fair he’s created a version of the Oxo Tower being gripped by a giant octopus as well as an alternative more dystopic view of Tower Bridge. Elsewhere he is working on other ideas. Iconic red telephone boxes which all have something randomly different going on inside them and a watercolour which from a distance looks like two lions but of course when you get closer they are made up of something else entirely.
But that’s not really the extent of Richards work. Next to the carefully laid out originals and prints sit a series of watercolour portraits. I see one of Elizabeth Taylor and another of Kate Moss, they really couldn’t be any more different. “Sometimes I just need a break” Richard tells me, the portrait work being a lot more relaxed and less intensive than the intricate detail of his illustrative pieces.
It certainly shows his versatility as an artist but it’s the surreal work that we remain most intrigued by. Richard’s external demeanour is after all very quiet and generally calming. Who would have thought what is going on beneath and it’s only when he allows his imagination to run away with him that these ‘stranger things’ really start to happen.
Richard Berner was interviewed in Brighton on 13 March 2018. His work is available through Art Republic in Brighton and he will shortly be exhibiting at the Roy’s People’s Art Fair in London at the Bargehouse at the Oxo Tower between 12-15 April 2018. Later in the year he will also be showcasing some new work at the Laura Lea Gallery in Leytonstone.
Richard Berner Gallery