The Road Back To Richmond
His painting of Arthur Ashe is in the Smithsonian’s collection. Elton John owns his portrait of Princess Diana. He’s a Richmond native that ran away to California.
Local artist and writer Louis Briel sat down with GayRVA earlier this year to discuss the road back to Richmond.
“I think there’s something peculiar in moving back to a place where you have a history,” Briel says. “That’s probably common to most people. Everything that happens in my life, I see as an appropriate chapter in the history of Louis.”
Sitting several stories above the city in his home studio, he reflects on his travels. He discusses fantasizing about living on the West Coast growing up in the 50s and 60s.
“Looking through magazines, it seemed that everything cool and desirable was happening in California,” he says.
One of his heroes, British artist David Hockney, wrote about experiencing life as an out gay man moving from England to Los Angeles. Atop an easel in Briel’s flat, sits an homage he painted of his icon.
Inspired by Hockney’s writings, Briel first visited LA to see a retrospective show. After stepping off the plane, he was in love.
“The weather was beautiful. It looked like how I always knew it would look. I made my decision to move there 10 years before I actually moved.”
In 1998, he was going back and forth between Richmond and LA until finally making the move.
“The way I made the decision was when I got off the plane in LA, I felt great. Every time I got off the plane in Richmond, I felt heavy and slow. If there was that much of an intuition to be there, I should move there.”
When he made the decision to move to LA, he didn’t think he was going to come back. California was a photographer’s market with no tradition of portrait painting according to Briel. Portraits were just not part of the bling factor in LA.
“There are many things that people would rather have than a portrait. I was constantly fighting to show why portraits were worthwhile,” he says. “The culture itself doesn’t really value it. After a while, it starts to wear on you.”
After nine years in LA, it felt like the right time to move back.
“I think because of my age, moving back to Richmond was more difficult than it would have been if I were younger,” Briel says.
To him, LA represents a bit of youthfulness and made him feel energized and invigorated.
“I’m happy with my age but it reminds me that I’m a reluctant traveler to that age. I think living in LA and not being reminded of it was a little more pleasant.”
Here in Richmond, a collection of some of Briel’s favorite work fills his studio. Behind every piece is a story. Interpretations filled with the slightest innuendo and curiosity. And Keaunu Reeves.
“Getting back here where I have memories from the 50s and 60s, I feel constantly reminded of how old I am,” Briel says. “I see people in Ukrops I was in the 3rd grade with. Sometimes they look great and sometimes they look like hell.”
He’s enjoyed connecting with longtime friends and the community. Coming back to Richmond has given Briel new perspectives. Visitors from other cities help him redefine hometown life.
“They marvel at things I take for granted. I’m sometimes able to see it anew.”
With his first one-person show since being back in Richmond opening tonight, portrait artist Louis Briel looks back at his career spanning 50 years.February 4, 2011
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