Rene Ricard (1946–2014) was an American poet and painter. Ricard’s work has appeared in influential literary, art, and popular publications and he has contributed profoundly to the cultural discourse of his era. He was one of America’s most controversial arbiters of taste.
As a teenager, Ricard left his hometown of Acushnet, Massachusetts and became part of Boston’s 1960s literary scene. By eighteen he had moved to New York City where, as a protege of Andy Warhol, became part of the scene surrounding The Factory. He appeared in such classic Warhol films as Kitchen and Chelsea Girls as well as films by many other independent young directors. As a performer, Ricard was also a founding participant in the Theater of the Ridiculous collaborating with John Vaccaro and Charles Ludlam.
“To support myself as a kid, I was a model at art schools around Boston. When I stopped working at 2 P.M., I’d walk up Newbury Steet, which is where the art galleries were. One day, I was at a gallery run by a friend and she said, ‘Rene, there’s something you’ve got to see over at the Institute of Contemporary Art.’ I walked in, and there was a painting by Andy Warhol, the flower painting. It was orange, yellow, fuchsia, red, and green, and it looked enormous. Paintings weren’t that big at that time-this was ‘64-and, while looking at it, I evolved a theory about it. Andy had made a painting that was essentially flawless, but it was an actual painting. So he had this green background, and orange, yellow, fuchsia spots which were kind of pushing forward-they looked like they popped. I had never seen anything like it. I was in a trance. The guard tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Excuse me, but the gallery’s been closed half an hour.’ I completely planned out my life looking at that painting.”
Rene Ricard, interviewed by Vito Schnabel for Interview Magazine 2008.
By the early 80s, having achieved stature in the art world through his influential essays, Ricard was acknowledged to have launched the careers of painters Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring (most notably). His breakthrough 1981 essay “The Radiant Child” in Artforum magazine is considered to be at the forefront of 20th-century art writing: a slim shelf with very few other occupants.
In 1979, DIA Foundation inaugurated its publishing arm with Rene Ricard 1979- 1980. The fact that this turquoise-covered book of poems appears in photographs taken on the beach in Nan Goldin’s “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency” illustrates its ubiquity as summer reading in the 80s.
In the late 1980s Ricard began to develop his poems into paintings. Occasionally Ricard would paint directly on antique prints or found paintings, a method used when creating the 2004 CD cover for Shadows Collide With People, an album of songs written and performed by John Frusciante. Paintings and Drawings (Percival Press), a full color monograph of works created over a twenty-year period, was published in 2003.