Rick Prol

Rick Prol

Richard Manuel Prol entered the world shortly after midnight on July 27, 1956, at Beth Israel Hospital on First Avenue. His father Julio was a professional concert classical guitarist from Spain who performed at Carnegie Hall, among other prestigious venues, and was a member of the Guitar Society of New York under president Andrés Segovia. His mother Yvonne Jackson Sherwell studied Flamenco dancing and pursued an acting career. Like many creative types who explore other artistic expressions, his father also painted. 

Young Rick attended P.S. 41 in the West Village, followed by Mary Help of Christians and St. Josephs, though his parents were never practicing Catholics. He had a talent for drawing from a young age, and by high school at High School of Music & Art on 125th Street, he says, My abilities and confidence as an artist were growing. The teachers had a lot of praise for my skills and work ethic. I was thought of as one of the best in my art classes.” There were also classical ballet classes at the Joffrey School of Dance. Then it was onto Cooper Union on a scholarship, where he graduated with an BFA in 1980. Artist Jim Dine, one of his instructors, would often tell him he was a better artist than many of the schools teachers. 

By 1982, he was curating gallery shows and exhibiting his art at such galleries as East 7th Street Gallery, Piezo Electric Gallery, followed by Hal Bromm Gallery and the B-Side Gallery. Markos worked closely with Prol from 1983 to 1985 and recalls, In his curated group shows, he was able to distill the essence of what was then essentially East Village Art tending towards Neo-Expressionism. In this manner, Rick was very influential in this nascent scene. With his exceptional knowledge and vision, he created dramatic and thematic group exhibitions as well as his one-man installation City of Fire. Ricks installation was not only a milestone for New York art, but reflected the movement of a  time that still resonates to this day.”

But by the mid-80s, the East Village art scene died out, as all cool things do. AIDS, drugs and rising rents were to blame. Gallery owners moved elsewhere. There was a vitality and community, but as Prol says, You got kind of burnt out.”

As the 1980s wound to a close, young gallery owners left the area, enticed by big spaces and teaser rents in Soho.   The specter of AIDS had begun to claim lives,” recalls Bromm. “The energy and spirit of the area shifted as many of Prols close friends and peers died. By the early 90s, Luis Frangella, another key East Village figure, was dead.  Craig Coleman, Arch Connelly,  Keith Davis, Jimmy DeSana, Huck Snyder, David Wojnarowicz, Martin Wong and many others soon died of AIDS.  Those who survived, continuing to focus on their work, may have found new urgency in the face of such loss. Rick Prol kept painting.”  

Rick Prol survived the much-romanticized East Village art hotbed by continuing to make art, stopping for a bit — to figure some things out, or at least attempt to” —  and then making even more art. And — as it should be mentioned — by coming out of it alive, unlike many of his comrades. 

There were extremely well-received exhibits, including a major retrospective at the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art inn 2011; and also at Ohio State University in 2021. The prestigious Leeahn Gallery in South Korea hosted two successful solo exhibits in Soeal and Daegu in 2021. 

In 2021, Prol completed a series of paintings titled Empty City. These works show a shift into more contemplative scenes that are no less magnetic than his earlier works. The city” here is still barren and unwelcoming, but the threat of the pandemic makes them all the more harrowing and sad. Writing in Whitehot Magazine about Prols exhibit at the James Fuentes Gallery, artist-curator John Drury said,” In Empty City 2, light falls from overhead lamps like showerheads, heavy and impasto. We understand the weight of the moment – now illuminated and endangered by an approaching engine; future vague, and implied perilous. Each work is at a scale inviting selfieas we are absorbed in broad expanses of simple color combinations applied in broad stroke.” 

When you ask Rick Prol how hed like to be remembered, he immediately starts quoting Canadian American painter Philip Guston and then says, So what was the question again? I guess it comes down again to remembering something that was authentic, you know, not an act. Although, even an act can be very good.”

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Current and Previous Works by Rick Prol