Painting with insects? From the sixteenth century onwards, many European artists, including Vermeer, Rembrandt, Rubens and Turner, began to use a red paint made from crushed cochineal insects.. The Mexican Aztecs used these insects to dye bright red cloth and cochineal was then introduced by the Spanish to Europe, where it was welcomed as the most powerful red dyestuff the world had ever seen.
Richard Killeen’s Black Insects, Red Primitives makes further interesting connections between insects and the colour red. The red shapes are a bit like insect parts under a microscope – feelers, perhaps, or grinding mandibles? Some look like giant cutters, so beetles beware!
The beetles and other shapes that make up this work by Richard Killeen can be hung in any way, so the viewer, too, can ‘read’ the work in an individual way. Killeen has often used the Auckland Museum Library for ideas and when these pieces are nailed to the wall, they resemble a collection of insects, just as butterflies are preserved in a display case with an entomologist’s pin.
This is an early example of Killeen’s ‘cut out’ works. This is a technique made famous by the French artist Henri Matisse (1869–1954). By creating silhouettes, Killeen drains the pieces of their individuality and detail, so they exist somewhere between abstraction and realism.
Born in Auckland, Killeen studied at the University of Auckland. He worked as a sign writer for his father, before he began working as a full-time artist in 1981. Killeen has exhibited regularly within New Zealand and internationally since 1967, including at the Biennale of Sydney in 1996. (2003 label)