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Palimpsest 1, 2001

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The Star-Ledger
4/20/2001


At Chamot, a more intimate Martin Beck
By Greg Brickley, Special to the Jersey Journal

Artist Martin Beck, known for his complex, large multi-figure paintings, has produced a new and strikingly different body of work for his show, "Modern Romance," on display at Chamot Gallery. Beck's latest series of 20 new figurative pastel drawings shows the artist making a dramatic shift toward a simplified and more intimate style of work. A new sense of lyricism is apparent throughout the exhibition, and the often crowded and hyperactive compositions of Beck's earlier paintings have given way to contemplative and poetic openness.
While continuing his signature style of weaving oblique references to current events, history and mythology through some of the pieces, Beck is working at a significantly smaller scale and placing only a few human figures within each of the lushly pigmented color drawings. All of the drawings in Beck's exhibition, with the exception of three older pieces "put in the show for context," were made since the artist moved here three years ago. "They are all Jersey City pieces," he said.
Many of the new works on display focus on a few central figures, some floating or tumbling through an almost abstract space, with color seemingly pushed into the paper, and shadows and perspective often more suggestive than literal.
Working on a smaller scale led the artist to experiment with new approaches to composition. "The drawings are almost like the beginnings of the larger paintings, before they were collaged into a more complex image," Beck explained. "Although I still begin with a theme or idea in mind, I start with painting one figure, and that suggests the direction of the rest of the painting."
The results is work that is more improvised and atmospheric than his sometimes chaotic larger paintings. "I didn't make studies for this series," he said. "I just started working or drawing on the canvas. The more accidental line and shape has added visual interest to the new pieces."
The content of Beck's new work, though simplified, continues his sometimes jarring juxtaposition of lambs and other Christian symbolism with traditional figurative elements.
"These works are harder to talk about," the artist explained, "because they lack the historical narrative of my earlier paintings. Personal issues and formal painting issues are still a part of my subject matter, but the new work has more to do with color. In some drawings it's introduced as an abstract element, and in some cases, color itself becomes a real character in the drawing."
Many of the new pastel drawings bring to mind the works of Degas and Corbet, but in the past the artist's work has provoked controversy, most recently in a show last year in Jersey City. "Art appeals most to the mind, Beck pointed out, "and I guess some people think ideas are dangerous."
Along with the original artworks, prints of the new work are available through the gallery, the color quality and size comparable to the originals. Made with archival inks hand mixed by the printer, the reproductions are nearly indistinguishable from the originals and were made with budget-conscious collectors in mind.
Beck's show had a well-attended opening, with lots of folks hanging out afterwards to talk to the artist. "Its more important to have work seen than for it to be sold," he said.