The Evolving Face of Humankind
The Robert Beauchamp Retrospective
at the David Findlay Gallery
Robert Beauchamp is one of the painters who put Westbeth on the map. He was one of the world's first Figurative Expressionists and a true explorer of new and unknown territory. After the battle for Modern Art was won the Expressionists came along with the idea that it was enough just to express yourself, you didn't have to offer up a whole manifesto as well.
This led to the Expressionist era. Beauchamp's breakthrough was realizing the expression could be figurative, that there could be an actual, recognizable figure coming of the the process. But not the old formal concept of what a figure is (or should be). Rather, something altogether new, a figure that emerged not from a desire to draw or paint a form, but from merely expressing what was inside the artist's heart, without the clutter of thoughts and thinking. The statement comes pouring out, as good Expressionism should, but what comes pouring out includes a recognizable figure. Not the mind speaking at all, but the heart.
Beauchamp first blew them out of their chairs in 1970 with his breakthrough piece “Woman Riding A Wild Boar,” a naked woman riding on the back of a large strong male hog. The background is all red, rendered with a fine, knowing wash. The sexual Revolution up until this point had all been explicit (the boobs in Playboy blasting right at you, etc.), but here was this new guy reaching into the unconscious. A woman riding the back of a pig, what's going on here? Didn't it use to be a white horse?
In Beauchamp the first glimmerings of the post-sexual Revolution era had turned up, an era now remembered for, among other things, its sad, sad bumper crop of lonely women. It turned out not to be a white horse at all, but a pig. It's said that artists see where civilization is heading in advance of everyone else. Certainly that was true of Beauchamp in 1970.
But he went on. His gift for figurative expression led to a series of masterpieces. His 1980 “Man and Rooster” introduced an original rendering of the complexities of eyes, human and bird both. No one ever did eyes quite that way before. Today the style is widely imitated.
In the late 1980's the final ferment of his genius emerged, characterized by the wonderful, cool, serene green backgrounds of that period in his life. Whatever still place Beauchamp's mind had been seeking, he found it. In his last two great pieces, “Head” (1993) and “Yellow Ears” (1994), he captured the face of our age impeccably, abstract rather than formal, expressed rather than thought out, and yet such utter, perfect renderings of the face of 21stCentury man that one wonders if Beauchamp, who died in 1995, might have had a crystal ball.
His prices meanwhile are holding up gloriously. “Man and Rooster” is listed in the exhibition catalog at $30,000. “Heartbeats” (1982) is at $50,000. He beat the landfill. Bravo Beauchamp. May the rest of us do the same. At the David Findlay Gallery, 724 Fifth Avenue until April 30. Online thereafter at http://www.davidfindlayjr.com/