I first saw Robin Luciano Beaty‘s work at Three Graces gallery in downtown Portsmouth during an Art Round Town event last summer, so when I heard about her solo show in Boston, I cleared my day to make the trip down to see it. I expected to see (and still would have been excited to see) pretty much the same pieces I’d seen in her previous show, perhaps with slightly different hues and new reclaimed items hidden in the wax, but was pleasantly surprised at the new direction of her work. There were still many pieces in her signature style, but there were also some pieces that, although her point of view was still evident, were a whole new ball of … well, wax.
|Home Sweet Home|
“Home Sweet Home” was one of my favorites. I couldn’t tear myself away for awhile after catching sight of it. One of the most superficial reasons it drew my attention as “different” from her other work that I’d seen was the color—vibrant oranges, dark charcoal, bold pattern. Also, there was just so much to look at. To experience the piece as a whole was such a joyful experience; so much interest and beauty that it immediately lifted the soul. Then, studying each separate canvas was like savoring an incredibly decadent morsel. I couldn’t go in order when looking at each one, because every time I absorbed one piece, another somewhere else pulled my eye, and I was powerless to control it. This led to an exciting discovery upon return visits after cycling around the room, noticing a block that I hadn’t seen yet, or an element left previously unseen that was like finding money in a pair of old jeans.
What I love about Robin’s work is its effect on the viewer. I often stare at the same piece for an extended period of time and keep finding new things in it, eliciting new feelings. However, at first glance, many pieces look incredibly simple—pleasant and peaceful and aching beautiful—but in a very clean way. It’s upon closer inspection that you start to see the faces, the flecks of china, the bits of crocheted lace—the once forgotten and then reclaimed treasures that Robin sources from all over England. Once you start to notice these personal effects, you can’t stop looking for more. It amazes me that these elements can be so hidden when the backdrop is so clean. If it were a busy, chaotic piece of art, it would be more understandable that it takes so long to find the “treasures”.
Don’t misunderstand—the works are by no means a mere treasure hunt. Once you find the photos, bits of old letters and documents, your artistic experience is by no means done. This is where the emotion really comes to the surface, and starts to alter your perception of the piece. For me, it becomes an intensely emotional experience. I see the faces, the abandoned boat, the loan note, the lace, and I try to interpret the story that Robin had in mind when she made the color, movement and positioning choices.
It’s around this time in my observational journey that I notice the name of the piece, and the definition seems like a key to unlock the subtle mystery of the art. “Quiescence”—the quality or state of being. “Accession”—The act of coming into the possession of a right, title, office, etc; an increase by something added. Once I looked up one title, I was hooked on discovering the titles of each piece—but only after savoring the art for awhile on my own, it felt like cheating to look at the title first. These definitions reminded me of my love of vocabulary (and my respect for the penners of dictionarys).
|Abeyance* #13, Robin Luciano Beaty|
I had so many questions for Robin after about an hour or so of viewing her new work. She was gracious enough to answer a few of them by email after the show:
|“Accession” (Photo courtesy robinlucianobeaty.com)|
Q: For the “Accession” series, I wondered—do you have all those pieces somehow lined up in that order? There’s such a cohesion of movement, I wondered if there was an apparatus holding them all spaced exactly like that while you work on them.
A: I created the “Accession” series purposely to be cohesive in both a square grid format and panoramically as 16 individual pieces exhibited horizontally—spanning the entire circumference of a gallery. I intended for the singular pieces to be displayed spaced largely apart creating a momentum of texture, a step by step ambiguous journey, where your eye could fill-in-the-blanks of composition and memory. It is an evolution that transforms flawlessly into a square grid, creating one large singular composition. This was/IS extremely challenging but I love how it forces me to think in multiple perspectives whilst freeing the viewer of a specific time/space. I am creating more and more pieces like this now.
Q: For the larger standalone pieces, do you always know which way is up? Some could be viewed upside-down and seem entirely new. Some of the pieces I stare at for lengths of time and first see sky, then water, then something entirely abstract… Do you have an idea of what they are or do you leave it totally open to interpretation?
A: Each larger piece is begun with no intended “right side up.” My process is entirely intuitive, using no photo reference. They are painted flat on a rotating basis and drawn from memory. As the painting evolves, I quickly decide its destined display. Most of my work is intentionally kept ambiguous so the viewer can be kept open to interpretation—creating their own landscape/seascape/topographical/aerial perspective… (images instilled in their subconscious scrapbook: perhaps their view of the ocean from the airplane window of the first flight they took at 7 years old… the foggy lakeside of an uncle’s cottage visited at 9… their honeymoon 30 years ago on the Amalfi Coast of Italy… etc.) It is intended that the viewer create their own journey, conjuring a personal lost memory or association to a moment once experienced. A visual déjà vu if you will.
Q: I experience such a sense of loss sometimes when I see small pictures in the pieces (notably in “Confluence #33,” the smiling couple in the lower right corner) that are from “reclaimed” sources like yard sales/estate sales/antiquing (I believe I remember you saying that’s where you get some of these artifacts). The thought that these photos at one point were deemed not worth saving by someone and imagining what the people in the photos lives’ were like… do you get depressed working on the pieces sometimes? Do you experience a loss as well? Or do you have more of a “circle of life” feeling, grateful that you found these things, as someone who is able to cherish them and give them a new preserved life?
A: You are so right on with your observations in this question, I don’t believe I really need to add to it at all. We’ve talked in length about this… but yes, I experience both great sadness and gratitude for the forgotten personal objects I collect. None are chosen haphazardly. They are all individually selected, crying out for their story to be re-told. This is why it is imperative for me to ALWAYS use them in their original form (never copied, Xeroxed, scanned, etc.). It is always a sad process to essentially destroy these items… but that is the whole idea of reclamation.
I do experience a bit of loss when giving them up again. There are many I hold onto until a painting truly calls out for it. Oftentimes I simply frame the original item and keep in my own collection, especially family heirloom pieces. Some I simply can’t bear the destruction of.
Most strongly, I have a deep sense of gratitude that I am fortunate enough to come across these treasures, and have the ability to bring them back to life with a new, contemporary set of eyes; a tribute to the spirit and unique soul that a old snapshot, handwritten letter, or handmade piece of crochet originally intended. I am speaking to the spiritual core inside all of us; the duality of beauty/decay; life/death/rebirth.
Q: I was Google-ing some of the titles at the show—many words I had a general sense of their meaning (and a few I’d never heard before at all), but looking up the exact definition was really telling and gave a new aspect of understanding to the piece. I wonder—do you pick the titles later? Do you find some words that have that deep definition and start a piece with the word already in mind? What comes first, the art or the title—or does it differ every time?
A: It is always different but since I often work in series, I usually know how the piece will be categorized soon after starting (or that it will spawn a new series). The titles are all very significant to me and I encourage you to share them, their definitions and your take on them. Most begin with the basic idea of “direction”; coming together, apart, away from, in-between, clashing, still, frozen, etc. Oftentimes the word is technically related to water but it spins into an emotional, sometimes psychological association upon experiencing the piece, especially up close.
For instance, my “Confluence” series, (which I started in 2008) literally means “a merging or flowing together of rivers/streams/ocean,” but it was never meant to specifically represent the direction of water – it is intended to communicate the emotional sense of “coming together,” whether it be via the flow of the medium or the objects which are embedded within it.
With that said, in my most recent work, I’m trying to avoid water-specific related titles. One of my new favorites is the “Aberrance” series (1. Deviating from the proper or expected course…deviating from what is normal; 2. untrue to type).
Accession [ak-sesh’-uhn]: 1. The act of coming into possession of a right, title, office, etc.; 2. An increase by something added
Aberrance [uh-ber’-uhnt, ab’-er-]: 1. departing from the right, normal, or usual course; 2. deviating from the ordinary, usual, or normal type; exceptional; abnormal
Abeyance [uh-bey’-uhns]: 1. temporary inactivity, cessation, or suspension; 2. Law. a state or condition of real property in which title is not as yet vested in a known titleholder
Confluence [kon’-floo-uhns]: a flowing together of two or more streams, rivers, or the like; 2. their place of junction; 3. a body of water formed by the flowing together of two or more streams, rivers, or the like; 4. a coming together of people or things; concourse; 5. a crowd or throng; assemblage.
Dissonance [dis-uh-nuhns]: 1. inharmonious or harsh sound; discord; cacophony.
2. Music a) a simultaneous combination of tones conventionally accepted as being in a state of unrest and needing completion. b) an unresolved, discordant chord or interval. Compare consonance
3. disagreement or incongruity.
Quiescent [kwee-es-uhnt, kwahy-]: 1 being at rest; quiet; still; inactive or motionless: a quiescent mind.
Thanks so much to Robin for taking the time to answer my questions, and for putting her amazing art out into the world for us all to experience. I HIGHLY encourage you to check out her website and see where you can catch an upcoming show of her work (and if you’re in Portsmouth, stop by Three Graces, where you’ll always find at least a few of her pieces).
|Lanoue Fine Art Gallery on Newbury St., Boston|