Village, tiny pad still have a draw on illustrator

Robert Richards, wearing a hand-painted jacket by Scooter LaForge, standing in the spot where he will later be sleeping. Apart from the bathroom and tiny kitchen, this is his entire living space.  Photo by Bob Krasner

Robert Richards, wearing a hand-painted jacket by Scooter LaForge, standing in the spot where he will later be sleeping. Apart from the bathroom and tiny kitchen, this is his entire living space. Photo by Bob Krasner

BY BOB KRASNER | Robert Richards is any number of clichés, all of them fabulous. The 79-year-old illustrator is a raconteur, night owl, writer, model, bon vivant, loner, music lover and most certainly the quintessential New Yorker.

So far beyond stylish that he has only his own rules to live up to, he has called the Village his home for much of his adult life.

As a young man, he moved to the city with not much in his pockets and settled in on the Upper East Side. He began his career as a commercial illustrator and has managed to live all this time with only that job on his résumé. Clients have included Esteé Lauder, Revlon, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Liza Minnelli, Peggy Lee, Lena Horne and so many others that it strains Richards’s memory to recall.

As the result of being robbed at gunpoint Uptown, he headed Downtown and has lived there ever since. After living in a few other Village locations, he settled on Mercer St. 27 years ago in an apartment that he describes, laughing, as “tiny.” But, he adds, “It’s got 12½-foot ceilings.” There’s a sleeping loft, but it’s only used for storage since Richards is “afraid of climbing those stairs.” The stairs have nonetheless found a practical use, as a combination bookcase and shoe rack.

Posters, movies, CD’s, records, photos, memorabilia, magazines and more books fill the space. Paper has begun to pile up and cover the Warhol Marilyns, but he doesn’t seem to mind.

“I bring something in every day, but I never throw anything out,” he explained. “The apartment belongs to the artwork — I just live here.”

One wonders if he sleeps there, as well, since there doesn’t seem to be a bed in sight. As it turns out, the couch is a pullout that, when in use, completely fills the only cleared spot in the apartment.

“I am forced to fold the bed back in every morning,” he said. “Although, if I am working on something big, I will just work on the bed.”

But not actually in the morning.

“My energy peaks at 11 at night,” he said. “And I realized 25 years ago that nothing that happens in the morning really interests me.”

Chances are that as he’s drawing at the small table tucked behind the couch, he’s listening to one of the great women jazz singers, many of whom were his friends. When he was a teenager in Maine, the sound of Sarah Vaughn singing “Black Coffee” “exploded in my head,” he said, when a friend played the record for him. He has loved music ever since and eventually Sarah Vaughn became his “best friend for 27 years.”
Close companions also included Peggy Lee, Anita O’Day and Dinah Washington, among others.

“My work is more influenced by music than visual art. They made music that was meant to be played forever,” Richard said of his favorite crooners.

While he is still quite busy doing commercial illustration, a different kind of visual art has provided some income lately. His elegant persona has led him to a new career as a model, doing print ads for, among others, Dior and Kate Spade.

He lives down the street from the former site of one of his favorite haunts, The Bottom Line.

“It should have been landmarked,” he said of the club, which is now a New York University space.

Although he feels like N.Y.U. has taken over the neighborhood, he still loves the area — especially Washington Square Park.

“It’s very important to me,” he mused. “I love to draw and write there. I love to sit and watch people — I’ll count the number of people wearing real shoes — not sneakers — the number of blue jeans, the number of devices.

“Sometimes,” he added, “I’ll pick out an imaginary boyfriend.”
And in the winter, if there has been an evening snowstorm, he will venture out in the middle of the night to the park to enjoy the untouched stillness of the scene.

Though he has plenty of friends and goes out frequently to socialize and enjoy the nightlife, “I’m a loner,” he admitted. “I’ve always lived alone, and my work requires solitude.”

Not that he minds company — but “Call before you come over!” — and his endlessly engaging stories make it difficult to leave. (To be fair, the obstacle course in the hallway does, as well.)

Although Richards admitted, “If I had another room, I’d be deliriously happy,” he’s not complaining.

“I love the neighborhood and I’m a slave to my rent-stabilized lease,” he said, adding, “And I live in my thoughts.”

Richards will be appearing at Pangaea, 178 Second Ave., on April 25, telling stories of his “Improbable Life.” His latest book, “Seduction — Erotic Drawings by Robert W. Richards” (Bruno Gmuender GMBH, February 2016) is now available.

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