Erik Beehn, Are We There Yet?
By D.K. Sole
Erik Beehn, Are We There Yet? through August 31, 2019 at the College of Southern Nevada Fine Arts Gallery.
Artist Talk & Reception: Wednesday, August 28, 6PM
Is this the first time Erik Beehn has connected his altered flower prints so clearly to his hometown? The link isn’t obvious at first. You walk in and see the flower pictures, you see shelves – and things on the shelves, two drooping vessels with wide bodies and narrow mouths, little photos lying flat, not facing you, so you don’t know what’s in them yet – a grid on the wall behind one shelf – a solid greyish photo frame – a genuine dead flower -- and a long field of dark, dried dribbles that begin along a straight horizontal line a short way up the wall to your left and end at the baseboard. Coloured ink has run out of something. What was it? The wall doesn’t answer. Above the line it is blank.
Are We There Yet? circles around resistance. Beehn identifies himself as a printmaker (most obviously with a row of printer’s colour blocks standing out in the top corner of a blotted image named #Getbettersoon_I) and at the same time pushes back against printmaking’s promise of the reproducible image, a promise that has been overwhelmingly fulfilled by the internet and by mechanical printers. Judging from his artist’s statement he is a little sickened by that overkill – “the loss of specificity fostered by our current jpeg-circulating culture,” he writes. The artworks could be read as a plea for a cleansing vomit. The alterations he embraces are artists’ acts, hand behaviour, the gestures that insist on irreproducibility. He individualises one cluster of inkjetted flowers by coating them with black paint. He fogs out another cluster in a sea of whitish grubbiness as if he wants to remind us of Rauschenberg making one de Kooning drawing different from the rest by obliterating it. (Thinking further about Rauschenberg you might remember his 1957 joke on uniqueness, Factum I and Factum II.) “Out of Order” reads a line of text drawn over the fog. The image is “out of order” in that it cannot perform its mechanical function of showing us the flowers, and it is also out of order if we understand “order” to mean “the proper order of things,” that is, it is actively refusing to behave. So: not uncontrollably broken, but letting us know that smooth abundant access is not the gift here: we should look for something else.
The photographs by the dead rose, are they clues? They show you the blank space on the wall filled by a printed Stardust logo that weeps as the artist wipes it out with solvent – the source of those dribbles, OK! – mystery solved? – no -- the moment of transition is still ineffable, there is a presence in those flat memorials and (you turn) an absence in the present 3D world, but what does that help you to really understand, as you crane over this shelf, staring at pictures of the logo photographed helplessly from different angles as if that would save it? Picking up a pair of headphones you hear a pop-pop-pop, a roar of sound, then a crowd celebrating. The list of materials identifies it only as “Found Sound Sourced from Internet Mixed with Artist Voice” but if you have heard recordings of casino implosions before you know what you are listening to. The moment when the Stardust falls has been veiled by Beehn under a crescendo of musical noise. The instant of ultimate identification is not there; we have the aftermath and the pre-math: the fireworks popping beforehand, and the crowd seething afterwards, all the information you needed to figure out what was “found”, and yet the moment when something switches, transforms, is altered, undergoes the active moment, the artist-moment, is not there, the glue of the event is invisible – whereupon you notice the drooping vessels on the shelf are made of glue, real glue built up in thin rings like clay in a coil pot. The material of holding, of binding, has become a solid creation, a holder. Because they are vases they can’t be finished as they are waiting to hold something.
Hold what? There is that withered rose next to them. Funeral urns, maybe. Death. Death? Well, now you are having ideas about things living and things dead, and you decide that part of this show involves the moment of ruin acting out an absolute resistance to identical reproduction, since one way to prevent a thing being reproduced is to destroy it – a method of complete individuality, which is also (thanks to Beehn) mingled with the creative act of painting. He suggests a state, a verb, whatever it is, that becomes unapproachable because it is looking both ways at once. Perhaps the recordings, the photographs, would like to reconjure the Stardust, but they gesture inadequately. We do not have the Stardust back, we only have these representations, which have become things in their own right, not simply movements towards the casino, the workplace of many people, now gone, as so much of the Strip has gone. It is not here, any more than real flowers are present in the flower prints. Here is our flower corpse, letting us know where there was a live flower once. But it is not dead, it is an artwork.
Erik Beehn is an artist and educator working out of Las Vegas. Beehn received his MFA from the School of The Art Institute of Chicago (’15) and is currently adjunct faculty at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. Beehn’s work employs painting, photography, printmaking and installation to investigate an arc of mark making techniques throughout the 20th century, and the evolution of observational painting into abstraction. Beehn is also the cofounder and director of Test Site Projects, a fine art publishing house located in Las Vegas.
Australian artist D.K. Sole lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, and works at the UNLV Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art where she is in charge of Research and Educational Engagement. She has exhibited in Las Vegas and Denver, Colorado.
Images courtesy Erik Beehn.
CSN Fine Arts Gallery, North Las Vegas Campus, 3200 E. Cheyenne Ave, North Las Vegas, NV 89030
Posted by Wendy Kveck