In early 2000, I spent some time in Miami’s South Beach, where coincidentally, my friend Michael Richards was living during an artist’s residency, a fellowship that would culminate in an exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Though I’d known Michael and his work for a few years, it was during this time that I got to see the artist at work and was impressed with his work ethic and process. I also saw his camaraderie with and Leonine generosity toward his fellow artists in the program. When the Corcoran show was mounted that June I traveled to my DC hometown for the opening. The work was extremely well received by guests and both Michael and I were particularly moved by the reception from museum security. The mostly African-American security detail stood sentry, chests puffed up with pride at inclusion in their museum of the work of a young black man. One gentleman in particular, an elder, smiled and asked if Mike would take a picture with him. “I know we’re not supposed to do this, but I am just so proud of you, I haven’t seen the likes of you in here.” Michael warmly embraced him and smiled.
The following year Michael excitedly shared the news of his residency in the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s “World Views” program, which provided him with studio space in one of the iconic towers of the World Trade Center. I remember a foreboding feeling upon hearing it, but beat back the chill and offered enthusiastic congratulations to my clearly delighted friend. We then spoke of trying to catch up on some of the “Summerthings” he’d been missing because of his busyness and he invited me to visit the WTC studio to “sit and enjoy the lovely view.” I was, in fact, at the Trade Center when I saw Michael for the last time. I was sitting in the plaza with a friend who was about to depart for a year-long stint in India when I noticed him, dressed in black striding purposefully in our general direction, his gaze fixed forward. I wanted to get his attention and hug him hello but I didn’t want to divert attention from a poignant goodbye to my subcontinent-bound friend. Besides, Michael wasn’t planning to go anywhere any time soon, so I made a mental note to schedule that visit and applaud him for the new work he was sculpting in the studio and tease him about the new body he was sculpting at the gym. The visit never happened. Michael, gifted artist, music lover, thoughtful, loyal friend and simply one of the loveliest people I have had the good fortune to know was one of the 2,749 people who perished when terrorist planes pierced the Twin Towers the morning of September 11th.
Michael R. Richards (August 2, 1963 – September 11, 2001) with his seminal and seemingly prophetic work, Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian
Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian, 1999
Resin and steel, 81 x 30 x 19 (205.7 x 76.2 x 48.2)
Check the following links to read more about Michael’s life and work:
An obituary from The Independent.
An excerpt of a statement from curators Christine H. Kim and Franklin Sirmans.
A press release from the North Carolina Museum of Art.
A moving essay from someone inspired by his work.
An article from Carib Voice.
A Juilliard Journal article.