Michael Rolando Richards, 1963-2001



"Science is embarrassed by what it can’t explain…it falls off a cliff. Faced with Michael Richards’s prophetic depiction of his own death, it can do little more than mumble, 'It was a random thing, the clicking-past of numbers…the shrapnel of blind fate.' This work and the death of Michael Richards are a manifestation of a realm we are now for the most part closed off from, a realm not taken seriously (if it is even acknowledged by a modern to exist.) It is occult, a mystery we cannot penetrate. We cannot make our way into it with stethoscopes and rubble-sniffing dogs."
-Glenn Gordon

I didn't know anything about the late artist Michael Richards until last month, when someone posted the above photo online. I was so startled by this piece, a bronze likeness of the artist being pierced by airplanes (a reference to the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian), that I couldn't write about it for a while. You see, Michael Richards' sculpture studio was on the 92nd floor of the World Trade Center Tower. He often worked all night in his studio, rather than make the commute to his home in Queens. The night of September 10, 2001 was no different. As we all know, however, the following day was anything but normal.

Richards and most of his work, which used materials as diverse as bronze, tar, feathers, and human hair, were lost in the attacks on September 11, 2001. As a sculptor, Richards was fascinated by flight and by the Tuskegee Airmen, the famed all-Black WWII fighter pilot unit that demonstrated tremendous bravery while facing racism at home and within the army. That fascination with flight, and the freedom associated with that, is what led him to apply to the "World Views" program run by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. The council ran the program to provide artists studio space in the many empty spaces within the Twin Towers.

That his last finished piece essentially predicted the manner in which he died is eerie and yet, not all that inexplicable. I really believe that artists are more attuned to things that we'd otherwise ignore; that they possess a sort of second sight.

"When everything is finished in a world, the people go to look for what the artists leave. It’s the only thing that we have really in this world — is an ability to express ourselves and say, ‘I was here.’"
-Abbey Lincoln

And that's what it really comes down to, isn't it?