Learn about the life and work of artist, designer, educator, and author, Richard Poulin! The artist made the move from New York City to Southern California to retire from a successful career in design consulting and pursue his art-making practice. In this interview, Poulin tells us about how he uses his own personal archive--materials he has been collecting almost all his life--to create his dynamic collages.
Throughout Richard Poulin's career, he has focused on a generalist approach to all aspects of design, dividing his time between professional practice and academia. He is a recipient of a research grant in design history from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts; a recipient of a Fellow from the Society of Experiential Graphic Design (SEGD), the profession’s highest honor; and his work is in the permanent design collections of the Denver Museum of Art, Letterform Archive, Library of Congress, and Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).
Richard is also the author of several books on graphic design, typography, and design, history which have been translated into eight languages and used by students and practitioners worldwide. His new book, a monograph on the life and work of mid-century modernist designer Rudolph de Harak—Rational Simplicity: Rudolph de Harak: Graphic Designer, was released in the Fall of 2022 by Thames & Hudson (London).
As an artist, his work has been exhibited throughout the United States and is in the collections of several private collectors. You can follow his work or contact him on Instagram @richardpoulin or richardpoulin.net.
Let's begin with what brought you to collage. When did you begin creating your unique mixed-media works?
I have been a practicing designer for over forty years and ran a successful design consultant firm with my husband, Doug Morris, for 30 years in New York City. In 2018, we decided to close our business and start a new chapter of our lives in Southern California. It was at that time I began pursuing my mixed-media collage work. Managing a business and teaching part-time (two days a week) gave me very little time to pursue other interests such as fine art, but it was always in the forefront of my mind knowing that it would be a priority once I stopped working.
The element of design is incredibly prominent in your work, which speaks to your skill in graphic design. How has your work as a designer changed how you approach your art making?
My work as a designer and visual storyteller has enhanced my approach and thinking about art making. I have always seen it as a natural, organic, and holistic part of all of my work experiences—designer, teacher, writer, and artist.
I love that you describe your work as a form of visual storytelling. What story is your work telling?
Each piece tells an individual and unique story. The one common denominator to all of these stories is that they visually communicate personal narratives based on my life, relationships, failings, successes, and my experiences as a gay man. This work is a personal exploration of my growth and evolution as a creative individual and one who has always used the visual world as his primary means of communication and self-expression.
Are the materials you use in your art from your own personal archive?
Yes, I have been collecting visual material since I was in college knowing that I would use it at some point later in my life for this type of work.
What is your personal interest in family albums, collecting, and archives?
My family photographs have always been a major source of visual material, especially for my early work. However, I do believe a non-figurative sheet of colored paper has as much visual impact and meaning as a figurative photograph or illustration. For me, it is all about the context in which you use that visual element.
What draws you to the types of material that you use in your collages?
It varies a great deal and is usually of the moment. I never have preconceptions of what image(s) I am going to use until I am actually in the midst of my process and creation of an actual piece.
I understand that, along with being an artist, you are also an educator and author. Can you talk about these other practices and how they intersect with your art-making?
My professional and personal pursuits all have a connection to visual storytelling and art- making. Whether for a client or for my own personal self-expression, the pursuit of a visual narrative has always been a common denominator in my work. I firmly believe that we were drawn to visual forms (symbols, pictographs, and the like) way before we were drawn to storytelling with letterforms or typography.
What has been a surprising challenge in your art career?
Finding time—it has always been a constant challenge.
What artists (historical and contemporary) influence your work?
Since college in the mid-1970s, I have been inspired by the work of modernists and avant-garde fine artists such as Kurt Schwitters (German, 1887-1948), Hannah Höch (German, 1889-1979), and Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972). I also love the work of modernists such as Louise Nevelson (American, 1899-1988), Alice Neel (American, 1900-1984), and David Hockney (British, 1937-).
© All work by Richard Poulin