Richard Linder came face-to-face with a cement wall, which he didn’t cotton to, so he transformed it into a fantastical alchemy of glass, marble, copper and clay. You can see the results with your own eyes on the first block of Miguel Street, where you’ll find his ceramic relief sculpture, a mosaic he’s been fashioning since 2007.
“I’d walk past the wall and continue seeing only gray cement,” Linder said, on a recent afternoon as several dog walkers gave his work appreciative appraisals. “I saw it as an empty canvas and now it’s taken on a life of its own.”
Linder has lived on Miguel Street for 20 years and has worked with clay for 15 years. On the wall across from 33 Miguel Street he’s created nothing less than a remarkable piece of public art. “I think of it as the “Miguel Street Garden,” he said, pointing to a bench that rests on beds of red wooden chips. “My neighbors Lisa and Mo Ghotbi donated it.”
Linder’s work has shown at numerous street art festivals, and he creates many of his pieces at Ruby’s Clay Studio on Noe Street between 18th and 19th Streets, a collaborative of 120 artists. “Ruby’s is available 24/7,” he said about the studio co-op, which boasts two massive kilns and two smaller test kilns. “We all have keys.”
Much of Linder’s art comes from discarded pieces of kilned clay from his Noe Valley workspace. “I also roam thrift stores,” he said, gesturing at a Martini glass bonded to part of a pastiche he calls ‘Mudpuppy.’” “I’ll come across a piece with a history, take it and try to make something of it.”
Linder’s ceramic potpourri isn’t three-dimensional. If one attempts to walk around it, a steep hill blocks the way. An Everson Street neighbor owns the hillside property, and he greenlighted Linder to unleash his muse.
“If an object still had a little beauty left, I’ll use it,” continued Linder, who makes no bones that he’s governed by a tug-of-war between following conventional artistic rules and trusting his instincts.
Whatever Linder’s route, the destination is worth a look. It’s like the scene from “The Natural,” the one where Robert Redford sits across a table from Robert Farnsworth in a Manhattan Italian restaurant. Farnsworth forklifts mouthfuls of noodles whose name ends in a vowel and says, “I can’t pronounce it, but it sure tastes good!”
Coming upon Linder’s impressionistic riffs for the first time, admirers might not be able to explain them, but they sure look good. Leslie Rodd, a Richmond District resident and a retired public librarian, wandered by one morning, heading for the Harry Street stairs and Billy Goat Hill with Kay Roberts, another retired City librarian, who lives on Laidley Street.
Roberts and Rodd, long time friends, made a stab at making sense of it all. “It’s such a generous sharing of art in a public space,” said Roberts, who sat in front of the wall and studied its images. “It’s nicely executed and cleverly integrated with plants, ceramics and ordinary glass.”
“A space such as this builds community and is true to the word public as it was once understood when public was an esteemed concept,” Rodd added, ratcheting it up a notch, as if she were paraphrasing one of her library reference books. “Viewing, discussing and experiencing public art brings us together in an act of community.”
“There are always mothers pushing strollers past, and once I watched German tourists walk by,” said Linder. “It’s become a respite, where people come and sit. They read, they enjoy a cup of coffee, and some even take to meditating.”
As if proof, several extinguished devotional candles edged along the bench, testimony to the groups who have come together there in conversation while others had practiced solitude.
Glen Park isn’t tithed to maintain Linder’s oasis, but his gallery may very well tax his neighbor’s artistic sensibilities. The bustling village is nowhere to be seen or heard as one looks directly at his creations. To one’s immediate left is “Icarus,” whose naked torso is kneaded from clay and whose wings are gerrymandered from rummaged copper plating, not the feathers and melting wax that came so close to the sun that a disobedient son drowned in a mythic fit of hubris.
“I was originally motivated by a news event that mentioned the reference and I did some reading and research,” said Linder, about “Icarus,” mounted beneath a halo of leafy branches. “It’s my abstract of the mythology.”
Next to “Icarus,” is “Valkyries,” testimony to the aesthetic crossroads of serendipity and creativity. “I’d seen previews of the movie “Max Payne” and was intrigued by how it portrayed the Valkyrie figures and Norse mythology,” said Linder. “I had a torso piece of art with some rouge edges – up on the wall it went!”
Then there’s propinquity, the third leg of Linder’s imagination, which can further explain the evolution of the Miguel Street Garden. “I was exploring the practice of Shamanism and hanging with people who had just returned from Mexico and Central America,” said Linder, who pointed to his totemic “Shaman,” composed of a truncated torso supported by a glazed pot rife with flowering succulents. Above an armless trunk, an unsmiling and somber head stares at onlookers.
Moving along, one comes to ‘Blue Sunflowers.’ “I always liked the plant, especially its sensitivity and how it tracks the sun,” said Linder. “I found some old sunflower plates at a garage sale and added the blue accent to give it some twist.”
But it’s “Mudpuppy” that really bends one’s mind and engages the art lover. The piece of art is a whirlpool, combining shells, clay, glass and marble in a maelstrom so busy it makes one’s head spin and may takes hours to properly appreciate.
“I’d been watching a Nova program about volcanic activity and plankton bloom,” said Linder. “About the same time two people in my life kept mentioning ‘how no one gets off this planet alive without doing something good or helping other people out.’”
“Mudpuppy” is a metaphoric work-in-progress and may be Linder’s piece de resistance. He spends two-to-four hours a week on its evolution. “It says to me,” Linder ruminated, “we’re all swimming in the same ocean together, and we have to put our humanity into it.”
As important as his art is for its own sake, Linder believes the connectivity symbolized by “Mudpuppy” may trump it, and agrees with Leslie Rodd, who’d waxed philosophic about the salutary nature of public art.
Art must be shared, Linder is convinced, and he is fond of quoting Amanda Palmer, someone who’s thought long and hard on the subject.
“Once you’ve shared your art and it’s resonated with a single person, it no longer about you – once you share it, it’s about everybody,” Linder attributed to Palmer.
“And if your art is found by a single soul, shared with a friend who links it to a friend,” Palmer continued, “you start to see how art becomes about everybody – just through the act of being shared.”
You’ll get no argument from Kay Roberts and Leslie Rodd on this score. As for Richard Linder, interested as much in comity as he is in collages, he reduces matters down to a simple formula.
“There are a lot of blank walls remaining in the City!”
Anyone interested in learning more about Richard Linder’s art can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org