Aftermath & Echoes
With Subtle Themes & Bold Strokes, Artist Paul Richmond Responds to HIV
by Hank Trout

Above and Beyond, 2016, oil on canvas, 48 by 36 inches

A recent Frontdesk column by A&U’s Editor in Chief and Publisher David Waggoner posed the question, “Can we talk about the eighties without talking about AIDS?” He asked the question in the context of having viewed several documentaries about artists who came to prominence in the 1980s, such as Julian Schnabel: A Private Portrait, which seemed to discuss every social and cultural force that influenced artists in the eighties…except AIDS. This seemed to him, as it seems to me, to be an egregious evasion.

David’s question came to mind as I contemplated the Gallery articles I’ve written for A&U and how most of the artists whom I have written about have confronted the epidemic head-on as a subject in their work. Photographers Tom McGovern, Dan Nicoletta, and Saul Bromberg & Sandra Hoover; artists David Wojnarowicz, Martin Wong, and David Spiher have all sometimes made AIDS a prominent subject of their art and made bold, direct statements about the epidemic.

But what about the artists who don’t make AIDS the central, obvious subject of their work, but whose lives and art have been obviously touched by and influenced by the epidemic?

To paraphrase David, Can we talk about any gay art since the early eighties without talking about AIDS?

All of this came to mind when I first encountered and began to look more deeply into the

Aftermath, 2014, oil on canvas, 24 by 30 inches

complex paintings of Paul Richmond. They struck me with their representational, figurative excellence combined with bold, wildly abstract brushstrokes, shapes, and colors. I wanted to know the stories that I knew had to linger behind them.

Paul Richmond is, I learned, a young (thirty-nine-year-old), accomplished artist whose parents, he told A&U, “say I made over 200 drawings every morning before they even woke up.” His parents recognized the talent in their very young son and encouraged it. “They sought the mentorship of a local painter named Linda Regula who took me under her wing and had me oil painting before my fourth birthday….That’s when I knew it was going to be my life’s work.” Later came the Columbus College of Art and Design. He began showing his work in galleries twelve years ago, first locally around his native Columbus, Ohio, and later in juried group shows around the country, before landing solo exhibits. A lifelong painter who has always created for his own pleasure, “Initially I was surprised that other people responded so positively and related to what I was painting.” Now, more than a decade later, “I realize that is the magic of being an artist—taking something very personal and sharing it so that others can interpret and respond to in their own way.”

For those of us who lived through the epidemic or were otherwise affected by it, sometimes when we look at a painting nowadays, even if the subject of the painting ostensibly has nothing to do with AIDS, we respond to something that tells us that behind the painting there is the story of an artist or a subject touched in some way by AIDS. It’s not overt, it’s not blatant, but it’s there. For example, in Paul’s paintings, his use of brutally, almost violently bold colors and brushstrokes combined with a genuine, loving tenderness toward his subjects, challenges us to “read” them, to read the stories behind them. And indeed, their stories are shaped by the epidemic.

Fusion, 2014, oil on canvas, 36 by 48 inches

Three of Paul’s paintings in particular are among the first that struck me as being full of story behind the painting. They are from Paul’s series called “War Paint,” a series “depicting models who have coated their faces and bodies with paint, the colors and marks indicating something about their emotional/psychological state.” In Aftermath, we see an attractive young man with his body and face covered with bold, wildly colored paint; he is gazing upward, outward, perhaps to the battles to come. Sure enough, Paul told A&U, “the bold colors and intense gaze in this painting represent that the fight [against AIDS, stigma] isn’t over.” Similarly, Fusion depicts two young men, fused into one. The figure in front seems to be smearing blue war paint onto the face and body of the taller man. The two do not look at each other; they appear to be preoccupied with something just beyond their gaze, weary but prepared for yet another coming fight.

Dear Allen, 2018, oil on canvas, 40 by 30 inches

In other paintings—less confrontational, more elegiac—the connections to the story-behind-the-painting are more abstract. In Above and Beyond, painted in 2016 for the 2016 Art For Life exhibit and event in Columbus, Ohio, benefitting the AIDS Resource Center Ohio, symbols and references abound. The central figure is a handsome, scruffy-bearded bare-chested young man who looks up and outward, away from the viewer. The figure is rendered realistically, a solid portrait; around him, covering his chest and one side of his face, are sharp-angled, somewhat transparent gem-like triangles and diamond shapes; behind him, an ethereal, star-specked sky. “I was looking at and thinking about the AIDS Quilt with some of my color and shape choices,” Paul told A&U. “I wanted to portray the resilience and bravery of everyone touched by this disease.”

Another painting in Paul’s vast collection is a fairly straight-forward portrait from the “Promiseland” series. Dear Allen depicts a young gay couple on Castro Street. “Allen and Don were true soulmates who made the most of their beautiful life together in San Francisco….Like many who experienced the onset of AIDS, they’re gone way too soon….Allen’s sister shared with me a treasure trove of love letters and photos shared between these two men.” The text in the painting is from letters Don wrote Allen, painted in his handwriting.

Blackout, 2014, oil on canvas, 24 by 30 inches

Perhaps the most savagely beautiful of the paintings from the “War Paint” series is Blackout. Rendered in shades of brown, rust, and black, in brushstrokes that remind me of abstract expressionism, the painting depicts another man by himself, his fingers steaking black paint across his chest. The painting lobs off the sitter’s heard just under his nose, showing just lips, mustache, and beard. The brushstrokes are very aggressive, confrontational, as if daring the viewer to “go ahead, start something.” Paul explained the story behind the painting:

“I have heard many gay men refer to themselves as ‘clean,’ meaning HIV-negative [implying] that positive people are somehow ‘dirty.’ To me this is a terrible way to approach the subject. We are all clean. We are all dirty. We are all human. To me, the fascinating beauty of an individual lies in their imperfection…the figure is applying his war paint in celebration of his humanity.”

In other paintings—less confrontational, more elegiac—the connections to the story-behind-the-painting are more abstract. In Above and Beyond, painted in 2016 for the 2016 Art For Life exhibit and event in Columbus, Ohio, benefitting the AIDS Resource Center Ohio, symbols and references abound. The central figure is a handsome, scruffy-bearded bare-chested young man who looks up and outward, away from the viewer. The figure is rendered realistically, a solid portrait; around him, covering his chest and one side of his face, are sharp-angled, somewhat transparent gem-like triangles and diamond shapes; behind him, an ethereal, star-specked sky. “I was looking at and thinking about the AIDS Quilt with some of my color and shape choices,” Paul told A&U. “I wanted to portray the resilience and bravery of everyone touched by this disease.”

Another painting in Paul’s vast collection is a fairly straight-forward portrait from the “Promiseland” series. Dear Allen depicts a young gay couple on Castro Street. “Allen and Don were true soulmates who made the most of their beautiful life together in San Francisco….Like many who experienced the onset of AIDS, they’re gone way too soon….Allen’s sister shared with me a treasure trove of love letters and photos shared between these two men.” The text in the painting is from letters Don wrote Allen, painted in his handwriting.

Echoes, 2018, oil on canvas, 48 by 20 inches

When Paul isn’t painting for his own enjoyment, he also serves as the Associate Art Director for Dreamspinner Press and their young adult imprint, Harmony Ink Press, for whom he has created over 400 novel cover illustrations. He is also the founder of “You Will Rise,” an anti-bullying project he started eight years ago with his childhood art teacher, Linda Regula. As we go to press, Paul is preparing for his next exhibition, “The Masks We Wear,” opening October 2, 2019, for the month at Not Sheep Gallery in Columbus, Ohio. The show will feature portraits inspired by Oscar Wilde’s quip, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”


More of Paul’s exquisite art can be found at this website, www.paulrichmondstudio.com/ and more information about the Not Sheep Gallery in Columbus, Ohio can be found at www.notsheepgallery.com.


Hank Trout, Senior Editor, edited Drummer, Malebox, and Folsom magazines in the early 1980s. A long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS (diagnosed in 1989), he is a forty-year resident of San Francisco, where he lives with his fiancé Rick. Follow him on Twitter @HankTroutWriter.