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Charlotte Jackson Fine Art opens exhibition of works by John Beech
John Beech, Hanger #4, 2016. Enamel, plaster, plywood, steel joist hanger, wire, Plasterweld, 8.75 x 4 x 10.75 inches.

by Michaela Kahn, Ph.D

SANTA FE, NM.- Strange shapes. thick whorls of paint. photos of everyday objects like dumpsters or movers’ dollies set within a canvas and covered over by layers of paint. Outside the Drift, an exhibition of works by John Beech, resembles nothing so much as a walk through a museum of artifacts from some unknown and yet hauntingly familiar culture.

Along with works from his Kenchis, Photo-Paintings, and Small Paintings series, Beech will also be creating an impromptu sculpture on-site at the gallery. Made with the space in mind, Beech will set himself a particular time-constraint to create the work which will be made with materials he finds in santa Fe (most likely building materials, with the whole piece set on casters). the space, the time constraint, objects and materials near-to-hand, will influence the process of how the sculpture develops, as well as when Beech determines it is finished.

This sense of chance and intuitive exploration pervades all of Beech’s work. For example, Beech explains that with his small paintings he handles and turns them as he works – adding layers and dimensions, looking for a “development or orientation that might take the painting to being finished.” the history of that process is apparent on the pieces themselves – where fingerprints and marks are visible on the edges.

The Kenchis series developed out of an exhibition in Japan in 2014. Created from plaster and wire over wood forms, the pieces are painted. the wall-sculptures included in Outside the Drift are alluring in their simplicity – with a kind of playful and solid presence. these odd shapes project from the walls and seem to prick at the mind of the viewer, inspiring a sense of familiarity and strangeness, simultaneously. Beech notes that these works are “loosely” created as meditative objects like a visual representation of a koan (a paradoxical riddle in Zen Buddhism that is meant to show the failure of mental logic and inspire enlightenment.)

With the Photo-Paintings, Beech uses his own black and white photos of everyday objects– things like dumpsters or industrial sites– and sets them onto a larger canvas. the addition of paint both highlights and obscures the photos, emphasizing the illusory nature of the photo’s perceived three-dimensionality. the layered quality of these pieces – where canvas becomes frame, photo becomes canvas, and paint becomes almost sculptural, defies a cursory reading of the pieces and demands a reevaluation of any preconceived mental categories the viewer might have about what is art and what is not.

John Beech is an artist not confined to one method or mode. paintings, photography, sculpture. plaster, wood, plexiglas, paint, metal, canvas, glue, hardware, and often the “found objects” of his own studio: paint stir sticks, plywood, acrylic sheet scraps, rags. While there is a distillation of 20th century ideas in art here – particularly Minimalism, with a dash of dadaism – the persistent element in Beech’s aesthetic seems to be a centering and foregrounding of art-making itself.

Whether it is the built up layers of paint Beech uses to underscore paint as material or the the studio found objects that hold a record of years of art-making like objects from some archeological dig – Beech brings a practical and utilitarian aesthetic into his pieces. here we have perhaps an inversion of the dadaist manifesto of elucidating and elevating the everyday as art (think of duchamp’s “Fountain” urinal, as a classic example). instead Beech demystifies the elevated status of artmaking by showing us its everyday roots, its nuts and bolts and scraps. in both cases, the end result is art which, ideally, leads the viewer one step closer to the ground, to the material insistence of reality.

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