Ken Beck

Art New England  1995 Dec/Jan 1996 Volume 17 Number 1
Gallery NAGA/Boston
Ken Beck:  Trompes and Tropes


There is a deliberate dumbness, an in­you-face literalness, to Ken Beck's paintings that masks deeper meta­phoric concerns. The bollards-those mush­room-shaped iron posts used to moor ships-that form the subject of many of these works are big, clunky, and decidedly anthro­pomorphic-thick-necked lugs all brawn and no brains. They are painted in thick, crusty dabs that enhance their dense materiality. But there is something ultimately pathetic about these knobby-eared, iron‑bound forms, as if each possessed a soul trapped inside inert matter These bulky forms that bulge adamantly from the surface like a flexed biceps-a quality reminiscent of some of Ce´zanne's card players or Picasso's pre‑Cubist nudes­reach effortlessly for metaphor as well, and it is this tension between palpable objecthood and suggestive poetry that forms the real subject of this show. As the title Trompes and Tropes implies, Beck is concerned with the conceptual quiver between the real and the imaginary present in all art whose subject is the world perceived by our senses. Ken Loves Mike is a trompe I'oeil close‑up of weathered boards clamped tightly by two rusting iron bands: between these bands, someone‑presumably "Ken"-has carved a graffito in which the title's phrase is set within a heart. Something delicate on a gritty sur­face, like a lace doily on a tarmac; obdurate matter gives rise to an expression of simple tenderness. One can even equate this ten­sion to age-old dualisms of body and soul, a reading suggested by the menacing bleed of rust that descends like a mortal veil on words that themselves have been hewn to give per­manence to fleeting emotions.


A series of blackboard paintings form the flip side to the bollard paintings. While even more illusionistic, these works are completely two-dimensional, their smudged phrases evanescent vapors of thought. In Econom­ics, the words "Selling Out; Selling Painting; Selling You" are smeared as if by the real eraser that sits on the painting's ]edge. The words are loaded but their ghostly presence is ambiguous. They record an artist's doubts, but these doubts are doubted in their turn, and the whole process is set down with a lit­eralness that gives lie to the inner torment they suggest. Perhaps skill and legerdemain overtake content here, but for the most part this show makes palpable the resonant para­doxes of art.


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