While best known for his sculpture, Richard Rezac has had a long and productive career as a professional photographic retoucher and illustrator. Working with state-of-the-art imaging computers, he digitally manipulates images for such clients as Vogue International, Coca Cola, and Anheuser Busch.
His commercial work, though, did not fulfill all of his artistic ambitions. Nor did it satisfy his desire to illustrate the uncommon valor of the common soldier. A former Special Forces NCO, his military art was first inspired by the photographs of a long-time friend, Gianfranco Moroldo, a photojournalist for the magazine L’Europeo, who has documented war and conflict from Africa to Vietnam to Bosnia.
"I depict ordinary soldiers as extraordinary heroes," Richard explains from his studio in Lampe, Missouri, down the road a piece from the tourist town of Branson. "My goal is to touch veterans with a healing memory and to relate to their families a new understanding of the courage and fortitude they mustered to complete the job at hand."
To accomplish this, Richard deconstructs individual photographs. For a single painting, he might combine dozens of photographs, enlarging some aspects, manipulating others, redrawing missing elements to clarify the scene. Then, with computer programs that permit his stylus to function as a watercolor or an oil-paint brush, he creates a painting - or a series of paintings - adding his own color and textures as he imagines how the sky might have appeared, altering the angle at which a trooper is marching, changing perspective. Many times he has worked with survivors of a scene, by his shoulder, as his guides.
"If I don’t like a facial expression, I change it," Richard explains. "I draw in features, add details. I transform the still image into my artistic statement."
When his artwork is completed to his satisfaction, Richard sends the image to his ColorSpan Fine Art Giclee Printmaker, a large-format inkjet printer calibrated with color from eight inks. He can print large: a canvas may be two- by three-feet, or, on another ColorSpan machine, six- by 100-feet.
His first series, "Images of Vietnam," was inspired by the photographs of Moroldo. And at the premiere showing of Richard’s work on Gallery Row in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Moroldo and his wife were the guests of honor - after more than 30 years without contact. "It was, however, as though we’d been together the day before," Richard smiles.
Elements of the Story
"What I’m trying to do," Rezac says, "is to portray an actual event, not to illustrate a great battle. When I finish, the photograph has nothing to do with my painting, other than be the first sketch." For one canvas, "East of Chosin," he deconstructed 29 photographs from the Ivan Long collection showing the 7th Infantry Division on the eastern shore of the frozen reservoir on the 28th of November, 1950. This Giclee print now hangs in the Korean War Veterans National Museum and Library in Tuscola, Illinois.
Over the past few years, Richard and his bride of 35 years, Fanja, have exhibited his work in some two dozen venues, from the College of the Ozarks to Texas Tech University to the Big Red One Museum in Cantigny, Illinois. This year, Richard is producing covers on alternating months for the Vietnam Veterans of America magazine, VVA Veteran.
Real war, Richard reflects, "is ugly and solitary. What I’m trying to do is to imbue a realism to my paintings so that a veteran will look and say, ‘Yeah, that’s the way I remember it." At one showing, a veteran tapped him on the shoulder and proclaimed, "Hey, that’s me!"
To view the paintings of Richard Rezac, visit his Web site, RichardRezac.com.