A former stylist, Andrew Richardson started Richardson,
a magazine dedicated to cultural reflections on sex and sexuality, in 1998. Publishing halted for awhile but when the fourth issue came out last year, the mag experienced a striking comeback (as those of you who have picked up a copy at OC might already know). Andrew is a true gentleman who stands at the crossroads of sophisticated taste, shocking lust, and underground cool. We dropped by the publication's downtown NYC office to scope it out and talk shop.
Alexandre Stipanovich: I've read that you were strongly affected by Richard Prince's 1983 painting of Brooke Shields as a nude ten year old. Is it the reason you started a magazine dedicated to sexiness?
Andrew Richardson: No, it wasn’t. It was just something that I saw when I was 23 in the Guggenheim or the Whitney and that made a big impression on me. It was one of those things that was a "wow" moment for me. When I came to do the magazine, Richard Prince was kind enough to let us use it in the first issue.
AS: So how did the magazine come about?
AR: Fumihiro "Charlie Brown" Harashi, a guy from Tokyo who just died recently, had the idea to do the magazine. He published a magazine called Dune
, and he was very open to publishing the editorials I worked on with people like Terry Richardson or Mario Sorrenti that were too sexually provocative for a lot of American and European magazines. I was into sex in fashion and so were the photographers I was working with. Igon Schiller talked about the "erotic attack," and I was interested in processing sex through the editorial at the time. So Charlie saw some scrapbooks that I had made over the years and said, "I think it'd be interesting to see what kind of porn magazine you would make." And that's really how it started.
AS: Do you think sex practices are part of a quest for identity, or are they more of a fun release?
AR: Probably both of those things.
AS: And by documenting taboo sex practices, are you actually sublimating them or are you just curious about them?
AR: I’m interested in understanding something that I couldn't get into myself. I suppose my interests have more to do with provocation and shock than the normalcy of the human sexual condition that, processed through social taboos, becomes extraordinary. And I’m interested in looking at it in a more measured way, and trying to see what it is beyond the initial taboo reaction. I’m interested in beauty, lust, and elevated feelings of the high of sex and the high of love.
AS: Would you describe Richardson as the new Playboy?
AR: I wouldn’t. I think that Playboy
was a very interesting moment in history in that you had a repressed 50s America, with lots of racial and sexual segregation. Making a magazine that featured erotica and black culture––which at the time were taboo and very cool––was the logical thing to do for someone like Hugh Hefner, who was into sex, jazz, and black culture. The thing I really liked about Playboy
was the quality of its writers––the magazine was a powerful voice. But I wouldn’t say that we’re really like a Playboy
AS: Do you think the definition of sexiness has evolved much since the time of Playboy?
AR: Yeah, I think that the prevalence of pornography on the Internet is one of the things that really changed the idea of sexiness. The only real sex education a lot of people now are getting is through watching pornography. So there's this psychological thing that's happening where people are enjoying positions that really aren’t particularly more gratifying, but that are just used in pornography to get a better camera angle. And psychologically, they’re becoming preferred. So sex practice is affected by the phenomenon of pornography. And pornography in the last ten years is so much more prevalent than it ever was. Or access to it has become so much more prevalent.
AS: With Richardson, it seems that the experience of reading about sexuality puts you in a mental state of desire, contemplation, and stimulation that I think is more interesting than experiencing sexuality. It’s more of a fantasy.
AR: Yeah it’s very funny. When you make something, it’s hard to be subjective about it. I make the magazine that I make, but I don’t really analyze it. I just do it. I definitely think I’m more interested in metaphorically stopping in the middle of some sex action or thought, and analyzing where it’s coming from, rather than being fully lost in the moment. I’m more interested in looking into the room rather than entering the room. But the magazine has to do with my curiosity about what being turned on is all about.
AS: I think that comes across––the magazine is more voyeuristic than based on experiences, sexually speaking.
AR: I try to make a magazine that is interesting around a theme. The issue A4, for example, was all about pro-sex feminism. After that, we did the following issue on misogyny––what feminists call the “male gaze,” or the way that men look at women or men. The male condition. But nothing is ever complete. I don’t pretend to propose a complete thesis on anything. It’s just a vague, random, connected thing that we try to put out.
AS: But this is also why it seems that anyone can connect to your magazine. It’s not a magazine by connoisseurs for connoisseurs. There’s a strong artistic component. And your issue launch parties resemble art openings too.
AR: They do. This time, we actually took the art from the magazine and put it on the wall and did an art show.
AS: How do you choose the artists you feature?
AR: Most of what is in the magazine starts with an idea––maybe four or five key pieces of work that I’m interested in. And then I have a really great network of friends, so I have conversations with say, Michelle Maccarone or Terry Richardson or Jenny Saville, a British painter who always has a rigorous take on things. So you see who’s willing to be involved and how, because we don’t have a great deal of money so we can’t commission. It would be a very different magazine if we had a lot of money.
AS: If you had a lot of money, what would you do? Open a Richardson mansion or something?
AR: I’ve made jokes about owning a Learjet but I think the magazine would be very different and probably not that good if we had a lot of money. What’s good about it is the struggle that you go through. It’s a real emotional rollercoaster putting out a magazine. Especially if it’s about sex. Normally when I close the issue I have this moment of “Oh, man! Is it good enough?” Also if you’ve been sitting with work for a long time, it doesn’t mean the same thing to you as it did when you first saw it. It’s like listening to a compilation of all your favorite songs to death. And when you have to present that to the world, and you’re already sick of it.
All photos by JEREMY LIEBMAN