Frank Richmond returned from World War I with a satchel full of postcards from the places in France where his unit had fought – street scenes, town halls and, most importantly, bridges from war zones like Chamonix-Mont-Blanc.
After the war, Richmond, an architect and builder, redesigned buildings and bridges on canvas for his wife, Amy, who then painted them.
Done in gray and brown, the paintings were dark, elegant – a reminder of the beauty of the places he had been, if not the battles he must have had there.
“I’ve always been inspired by my grandparents and their creative process,” said Frank and Amy’s grandson, Todd B. Richmond, co-founder of the scrappy Topaz Arts gallery in Woodside.
An artist who has exhibited his work in New York and Los Angeles for more than a decade, Todd Richmond opened his latest show last month in Topaz with a series of works that take up what his grandparents started. They are on display until December 10 in the old garage on 39th Avenue, which was converted into a gallery and dance rehearsal space over 20 years ago by Richmond and his wife, Paz Tanjuaquio, a dancer.
Along two gallery walls are four paintings – facing each other – of the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge. Each shows a different section of the trusses in the span.
In some, the cityscape is visible behind the structure. Here and there, we can see the branded jewels of the bridge on the top.
To achieve the same feel as his grandparents’ work, Richmond painted on linen (instead of canvas) and used a limited range of dark colors.
“It took me a long time – five years – to figure out what to do,” he said. Two of the paintings in the exhibit are 10 feet by 10 feet (one of which appears to point toward the Sven Building in Long Island City).
Around the corner of the bridge paintings is a picture of the Utopia Parkway house where the avant-garde artist Jospeh Cornell lived and worked most of his life. John Lennon, Yoko Ono and Andy Warhol were among the celebrities who made pilgrimages to the modest Dutch colony of Flushing to visit Cornell in his later years.
The show is a love letter to Queens.
Richmond and his wife ended up finding their place here in 1999 by doing a very Queens thing, avoiding rush hour traffic on Northern Boulevard.
While crossing Woodside on 39th Avenue, he spotted a commercial building with a For Sale By Owner sign above the door and an idea sprouted.
“We lived in the East Village. And, around 2000 or so, we thought maybe it was time to not be so Manhattan-centric, ”he explained.
A large dance studio – with heated floors – was built at the back for Tanjuaquio’s work and as a rehearsal space for several Manhattan modern dance troupes. The front gallery – where old garage doors were replaced with frosted, shatter-proof glass to let in southern light – has become a venue for art nouveau exhibitions, including the one in Richmond.
Covid canceled the Richmond show last year, which was to mark Topaz Arts’ 20th anniversary. But the lockdown somehow had a silver lining.
It allowed the 59-year-old artist to change course, to adopt a new, more simplified graphic style (his previous work is more loaded and organic).
“Personally, I like being able to explore, feeling like I’m done,” said Richmond. “I wouldn’t touch them anymore.”