Review Me: Martin Beck: Provocative passion
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Monday, September 27, 2021

Martin Beck: Provocative passion

Martin, we are so grateful that you take the time to talk with us about your art career and the stunning artworks you created or are creating. Tell us about your artistic background story and if there was a pivotal moment when you decided to follow your path as a visual artist?

I was lucky to grow up in Western New York when the government still supported the arts. Nearby Art Park in Lewiston, NY, was a publicly funded venue presenting cutting-edge artworks through residencies. In addition, the Albright Knox Art Museum and Hallwalls Gallery in Buffalo, NY, were essential for my early exposure to art and performance. As a result, I understood how much an activist and engaged government providing money and resources for the arts enriches local communities. I have also connected art with the community, art with humanity, and art with the diversity of heritage and history. As a first-generation American, these connections seem absolutely vital to the health of our society.

So great. Growing up in an artistic environment and getting acquainted with culture and art from childhood and adolescence creates interest and a sense of respect for art as a path to maintain ideals in society. Was there ever a moment of doubt to question your art career entirely?

I have Ankylosing Spondylitis (A.S.), chronic inflammatory arthritis that waxes and wanes. My doubts come when the condition flares. It isn't easy to work at such times, and a flare usually leaves debilitating artifacts as it wanes – I'm left further damaged.
I've also developed a sense of how fleeting our experiences are. Working from life is like trying to capture time. A.S. informs this attitude which forced me to deal with physical limitations. Yet, I recall that the opportunity to make art is a privilege and, as such, a responsibility. In my practice, the concern is not with the finished piece but the experience of art-making, one that I feel a responsibility to share that with my audience.

You’re right. What the artists present via their artworks, grows out of the responsibilities they feel towards their viewers’ feelings and circumstances. What is your daily routine when working in your studio?

I am an artist without routine. As a result, the only consistent part of my practice is Sunday figure drawing sessions with local artists. Then, of course, there are days when I work at a furious pace – but that only happens when my body can handle it. I do spend a lot of time researching. I read each morning for several hours. I take stock of all the many pieces in various states of completion and try to feel what direction I should take them. The only possible benefit of A.S. is that the physical limitations have made me take more time to notice the work I've made. I've developed my own Slow Art Movement that celebrates the human figure and traditional materials to counteract the fast art with the aesthetic equivalent of a "low satiety value."

Now we’d love to know how do you work on an artwork? So, take us through your process of making your artworks. How do you move from an idea to an artwork? Where does an artwork begin for you?

I prepare a paper by applying various media: acrylic paint, dry pigment, etc., and then use printmaking techniques to create random patterns. Finally, I use mixed media, including pastel, watercolor media, ink, and spray paint with the prepared paper and its random patterns as the ground for drawings from life. Mark-making is an essential element as I build up the surface over time through various life drawing sessions with several models. As a result, the work becomes quite thick with layers of color and texture, and the final piece is more like a painting than a drawing. Because of all the layers, these works on paper often contain palimpsests – ghost figures from previous images - that evoke half-forgotten dreams or alternate realities. Or, as the 4th-century philosopher Augustine of Hippo wrote: "A present of things past, a present of things present and a present of things future."

Great job. With the artistic career and the artworks you created, you made it clear to us that no limitation can stop the passion for art and creativity. Is there a central concept connecting all your works together or each series or artwork is unique?

Despite my art's realist appearance, it is not linked to any specific style or movement; instead, it addresses the timeless, unfolding theater of human life in the 21st Century.
What began for me as social and political observations through my art have become a search for what it means to be human in the 21st Century through studying the nude form.
Despite my art's realist appearance, it is not linked to any specific style or movement; instead, it addresses the timeless, unfolding theater of everyday life. I've explored contemporary scenes and rituals as they are played out in a society in flux through the figure. Throughout my career, I have tried to explore the human condition by working with the figure. I want my work to help "express and overcome our humanity," and the nude now seems to be the best vehicle for this expression.

After completing your artwork and reaching the “Aha” moment, do you give a detailed explanation about the work in order to convey the message to the viewers? I mean, would you like to give a particular interpretation of your work to your viewers or you prefer to leave the whole interpretation to your audience?

This question presents me with a dilemma. While I like the audience to make an individual interpretation, yet I don't want my work to be prescriptive in any way. At the same time, I am not an ideologue and do not pretend to answer complex cultural issues; instead, I try to use my work to uncover ideas and pose questions that will compel a viewer to reflect and reckon with the challenges of a society going through a critical period of transition.
Since my work involves the nude, some people might have a visceral response to these depictions. As a result, the powerful "loaded" props, like guns and swords, often included might lead to unfortunate interpretations. Are these images erotically evocative? I think not – they are too straightforward for that and imbued with too much sadness. I'd like the audience to come away with regret that these symbols are as meager and fleeting as a drawing.

There are some imaginative links between the parts of artists' souls and the inspiration as a reflective impression of the soul that experiences it. How do you seek and use inspiration for your works?

Books and poetry can have a profound influence on my work. T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets presents ideas and imagery regarding our experience of time running through my mind when I draw from life. I often have a line from a poem running through my mind as I work. Music is also a constant in the studio.
Yet my inspiration comes primarily from the models themselves. There is a collaborative element to setting up a pose and deciding which props to use – something the model often chooses. I also frequently respond to current events and the changes in our attitudes about gender, race, and equality. The model and I often share our hopes or, more often, our anger with these changes. For example, one model and I spent a session fuming over Trump's then-recent comments about "the squad," and immigrants in general: We are both first-generation Americans.

Martin, how do you select your artworks subjects? Where they come from?

Models often come to me from figure drawing classes at the local university, and I work with whoever comes along Models come and go with some frequency, and they often bring their own props to work with, so there is some degree of randomness. Unfortunately, male models are uncommon here, and so there is a definite gender disparity.

Some artworks will be remembered due to amplifying various feelings. In fact, artists use their artworks influences to instill different concepts of life and emotions and that’s why they become memorable. Is there an artwork or series that you would like to be remembered for? And if yes, what is it?

The five works that comprise the Patriarchal Funk series (2018, 2019) are large-scale nudes that deal with gender and identity through symbols and metaphors. In these works, I feel that form and color create a brooding atmosphere of introspection. Furthermore, I believe they often induce the viewer to question their own conceptions regarding identity.
Another group of drawings presents the warrior portrait theme: Men and women with swords, guns, or boxing gloves. Again, there is sadness in these pieces. The models suggest introspection, anxiety, and awkwardness. The vulnerability of the nude or partial nude figure enhances the effect of almost overhearing the thoughts of the people portrayed.

And our readers are eager to discover the emotions and hear what your portraits say. So, waiting for your future works, Martin. Any upcoming works or future projects that you would like to share with our readers?

I'm usually involved in several group shows, although the pandemic has changed that. The next three projects I am included in are the Waterloo Arts Festival in Cleveland, OH, Brand 49 at the Brand Library and Art Center in Glendale, CA, and the Codex Project in Philadelphia, PA.

Martin, where do your influences come from? What are your art influences? Who are your favorite contemporary or historical artists and why?

I regularly look to three specific artists for influence and inspiration. First, Frida Kahlo's raw honesty in self-portraiture and her struggle with physical debility resonates with tremendous power for me. Second, Edwin Dickinson is a perennial favorite for his remarkable drawing skill and the mysterious attraction of his major figure paintings and odd self-portraits. Finally, R. B. Kitaj's vision of cold war society and the images that illustrate the personal demons he fought make for singularly dynamic and disturbing works. All three artists bring the spirit of the outsider to their work that resonates with me.
Yet, I am also fascinated by the Neue Sachlichkeit artists of pre-World War II Germany. The First World War experience informed their work, the turmoil of German society, and the dehumanizing aspects of new technology. We live in a similar time with our own seemingly endless wars and terrorism, climate change and income inequality, gun violence, racism, and bigotry.

Let's immerse ourselves in the imagination! If you could meet one of your ideal artists from the past, who would it be and what will you ask about?

R. B. Kitaj is a fascinating artist who is somewhat of a clich̩: A white male artist, an intellectual, a scoundrel in his personal life, and obviously someone in turmoil regarding his identity. But, unfortunately, it would be all too easy to condemn him out of hand, as some do. So instead, I would ask him about the compositional elements of his earlier work and his ideas about the figure's relationship with pop art (at the time) and abstract art in general. And I would ask about the central tragedy of his later life Рgetting raked over the coals by art critics for his mid-nineties solo exhibition only to have his wife die in the middle of the controversy: If he ever made peace with that experience.

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