The themes and imagery of Rich Cali’s art may venture into ambiguity, but there’s nothing but certainty when it comes to the single-tone black ink and the sharpness of his lines. And that inherent contrast—both literally and figuratively—is what lends his work its striking potency and simply beauty.
In the almost typographic boldness of his designs, there is something iconic, perhaps atavistic—a resemblance to traditional Japanese block prints, or hewn American folk art, or possibly even vintage tattoos. This continuity with the past is heightened by Rich Cali’s use of antique paper recovered from old books. The resulting effect, of stark black on mellowed sepia, sends a compelling visual message. One of timelessness, but also one of the inevitability of change. The form persists while the medium fades.
But then there is the imagery itself, replete with birds, Bibles and snakes. The religious undertones Rich attributes to a childhood steeped in Catholicism, and a lingering fascination with its iconography. The juxtaposition of the sacred and the secular blurs the line between the two, creating a space where a chicken foot and a serpent may be equally holy, or dually profane—or, perhaps, some combination of the two. Interpretations can vary, but the visual impact does not.