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Lisa Beck Text


.seems you’ve made big jumps recently, in both vocabulary and technique.
I suppose so, although almost everything in these paintings has appeared in my work before, just not all together. In this batch of work, I tried to think and plan as little as possible—no rules, everything on the table.

.do you prepare for your paintings with sketches or studies?
I do drawings that lead up to the paintings, but only very rarely do the paintings turn out exactly as the work leading up to them. Even when I try to transfer an idea exactly from a drawing to a painting, it never stays the way it starts. There are always adjustments, accidents, and new ideas that pop up while I am working.

.why b/w? Why no color?
It felt right. These pieces are very much involved with bipolarity/symmetry, and the opposition of black and white seems appropriate. A black-and-white image is not going to be confused with reality, so it can be depictive and abstract at the same time. The lack of color permits a different kind of scrutiny of structure and content. Something else occurred to me recently: white light is really all colors of the spectrum seen at once, black (or shadow) is the absence of light (and therefore the absence of color). In paint, white is the absence of all hues, and black is the combination of all of them. So both black and white are every color and no color at the same time!
You know that I did primarily black and white work for about 10 years. Then color crept in and took over and now it’s drained out again. I’m not sure why it comes or goes, but I can equate it to black-and-white versus color photography. Though I like color photos a lot, I’ve always been drawn to black-and-white images—they are both analytical and moody. Some of these pieces do have a sort of homeopathic amount of color in them, but it is more felt than seen.

.would you comment on your use of examining, ordering, repeating, and reflecting?
The new two-panel works fall into two categories. Some of the paintings have “rhyming” symmetrical elements—the imagery on one panel is flipped and repeated on the opposite panel. In this way an arbitrary set of choices gets an ordered interpretation. The second category of works may incorporate some mirroring, but the panels are not mirror images of each other. Those have to do with the idea of creating a situation and then exposing or examining what is outside of it—the contributing factors, if you will. So it’s taking a considered set of choices and bombarding it with a random element.

.maybe I’m overreacting but there are many straight lines in this new work—the circle seems threatened . . . what’s going on?
There, there, don’t worry. Circles are pretty invulnerable. Anyway, they’re still there, although sometimes more in the background or as a reference in sets of radiating lines or shapes.

.I don’t remember you using soft edges or working in a way that leaves such visible brush marks—how did you get into that so quickly? Is your interest in this softness somehow connected to its conceptual relationship to roundness?
More visible brushwork probably came in after some ink drawings that I did on prepared Mylar. The ink sticks, but it can’t soak in and dries in weird, puddly ways. I’ve always been interested in the meeting places between things, whether soft or hard, and have used gradients or blended areas for a long time. As to why I’m interested in softness . . . I could analyze it and come to a conceptual reason in retrospect, but I’ll just have to say again—it felt right.

.outside of a few rather atypical instances of quoting in some works from a few years ago, this is the first time I’ve seen you include a figure.
Yes, but the last time I checked it wasn’t against the law.

.true, though in terms of what artists do and how they work, moving from a long-term commitment to abstraction to working figuratively is considered a pretty big thing. What is it about you or your work now that brought this about?
To me there isn’t such a hard line between figuration and abstraction—both are representations of ideas, and in a sense you could say a painting of a circle is more “realistic” than a painting of a figure or a landscape. But that aside, even in my more abstracted works a lot of the arrangements of elements were based on landscape or scientific images, and I saw them as referring to structures or skeletons under what is seen in nature. When I used elements like circles, gradients and mirroring, I had molecules, stars, horizons, clouds and lakes in the back of my mind. In this new work, they are just more visible. And I suppose once I went there, there was no reason that a figure couldn’t be one of the elements too. I don’t want to have to choose sides between figure/ground or abstraction/depiction—after all, we are made of the same stuff as the environment we are in. It’s all a bunch of somewhat organized matter, except that we seem to be able to be aware of it.

.in the past you’ve addressed emotional situations quietly and intellectually, but a number of these new works feel charged up.

.it does seem that your works come out of real experiences? What kinds of things inspire you?
When my son was in elementary school he had to do an exercise that was meant to introduce an awareness of context and broaden the sense of place and scale. The kids had to write their address like this:
Your name, your room, your house number, your street, your neighborhood, Brooklyn, New York, USA, North America, Northern Hemisphere, Earth, Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy, Virgo Supercluster, the Universe.

And then the other way:
The Universe, Virgo Supercluster, Milky Way Galaxy, Solar System, Earth, Northern Hemisphere, North America, USA, New York, Brooklyn, your neighborhood, your street, your house number, your room, your name.

Interesting difference, right?

Walking around, being alive, and thinking about the amazing set of coincidences and confluences that made that possible is very inspiring.

7.25.06 Questions I ask myself

Me: What is it about circles?
Me: I’ve been fascinated by round objects for a long, long time. I used to pick up any sort of garbage on the street—records, old tape cores, bottle caps, stones—if it was circular or spherical (OK, I still do, but I’ve limited myself).
So I guess it’s some sort of obsession. But beyond that, the round form has so many associations: cell, planet, hole, location—and so many meanings: endlessness, perfection, emptiness, wholeness.

M: Why don’t you use tape and stencils? It’s so much harder to make the forms look right. And why not use an airbrush for the blended areas?
M: Partly because I’m just too impatient to go through all that preparation. I do make use of stencils in the preparatory drawing phase of making a piece, but once it comes to painting I like to do it by hand, without masking. The image has a different quality when it isn’t perfect—no circle in these works is really round if you measure it, but the eye and brain make perceptual assumptions when enough clues are there—“It seems basically round, so I’ll say it is a circle”. As for the blended areas, the same principle applies. The only exception is that I do mask off areas in executing the wall paintings—mostly because I’m always under a deadline to get them done and it would take too long to keep redoing my mistakes. Although that is actually the part I like best. In the case of the wall paintings, even with masking there are touch-ups needed, so there is always a chance there for imperfection.
I like the primal quality of painting—pushing colored paste around with a stick that has hair on the end of it. This has been going on since caveman days. I want that aspect to be evident to a degree. I also like to give the sense that a piece was worked on to get it to its ultimate state, that someone tried to get it right and that it wasn’t necessarily easy.
I want to avoid slickness, even though I tend to use very reduced forms. There is an interesting push-pull between the purity of the ideal form and the imperfect reality of its execution.

M: You’ve done abstract work for so long—why the use of imagery now?
M: Well, along the way I’ve made imagistic paintings, but not many were shown. And the fact that I’m working with images now doesn’t mean I’m going to turn away from the other work. I’ve always done more than one kind of thing at a time—paintings, sculpture, paintings combined withsculpture, installations, and murals. I am an artistic omnivore. This is just another instance of wanting to go two (or more) different directions at the same time. With an artwork you can do this.The representation of a thing is as much an abstraction as a pure form. In fact, maybe it’s the other way around—the image of a circle is more representational than the image of a tree. In any case, I’m interested in combining the two (image and abstract) at present.

M: Why multiple-part paintings?
M: It started as another way to do a mirroring of images, then took on a life of its own. This way of working lets me get away from a more patterned, programmatic type of thing and acts like a stream of consciousness. I don’t know when I start how many panels there will be, or if the one I start with will end up at the beginning, middle, or end. It breaks up the static quality of a single painting—there’s a sense of movement when viewing it, and a sense of more than one thing happening at the same time. I think about frames of film, Japanese screen paintings, comic books, altarpieces with predella panels showing scenes of the saint’s life, and the way we blink every few seconds while retaining a sense of continuity of vision. What’s happening in that gap between glimpses?

04.12.01 From an April 2001 group exhibition where all the artists were asked the same questions

Working in a series, are there moments when certain works seem conceptually or stylistically too close together, or too far apart? What do you do about that? How do you know when to stop a series? Do you sometimes feel or think that the many becomes one work?
Yes/no, nothing, never, always.
All the serial work that I do arises out of the inherent options in determining its form - you could call it indecision or the Roshomon effect. They become serial because each variation has worth. This is not to say that I don’t edit, sometimes severely. I document all the variations, although I might not show them all. All artists alter their work as they make it, but don’t always let the changes be seen.
My works are seldom fixed, in that even when I’ve arrived at an arrangement, they almost always change in relation to the exhibition environment.
A series doesn’t stop with finality - I’d say rather that it lapses or goes dormant. The piece in this show has existed in many different forms since 1989.
I definitely feel that the many become one - in a sense I feel that everything I do is one work.
For me art-making is a way of reconciling the particular and the overall. For me it would seem too limited, even presumptuous to declare any single solution as the only one. Out of all the possibilities that exist - including not existing - how strange it is to be anything at all.

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