Everything about Robert Beckmann: Elemental Landscape dovetails beautifully: luminous landscape paintings, the Big Springs gallery at the Springs Preserve, a breezy October morning.
It’s hard to imagine a more perfect context for this work. Water—in abundance and in absence—is the underlying theme of the assembled paintings, nicely complementing the Preserve’s mindfulness of water and its relationship to regional sustainability, history and preservation. Beckmann’s paintings fluctuate between depictions of his former home, the arid Nevada/Utah desert, and those of his recently adopted Oregon habitat, verdant and wet.
Having lived in both regions, I found myself ridiculously susceptible to the juxtaposition, almost emotionally so. It also doesn’t hurt that Beckmann is a damn good painter; the familiarity of these portrayals is intimately accurate.
- Robert Beckmann: Elemental Landscape
- Through January 17. Daily, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., $9.95-$18.95
- ORIGEN Experience Big Springs Gallery
- 333 S. Valley View Blvd., 822-7700
Standing before “American Falls #1,” you can almost feel the mist on your face. All of the Pacific Northwest paintings are predictably mossy and lush, but the wide range of techniques Beckmann employs provides a markedly full sensorial experience of the landscape. The “Falls,” “Rogue Gorge” and “Lithia Creek” are realistically picturesque. Occasional expressive looseness, such as drips of turpentine transformed into splashing water, energizes the surface by adding variety to paint handling.
He alternates these detailed pastorals by zooming in dramatically, suspending minute, murky moments into large-scale abstractions with confidence and skill. “Evening Pool” is a wash of blue-gray that, with prolonged study, slowly unveils shape and structure. In a similar vein, “Firefall” engages a fleeting juncture of fire (fireworks?) raining down on a pool of water. The study isn’t nearly as successful as the similar “Event,” a knockout of a painting and one of the show’s best. Glowing orange orbs levitate above the water on the verge of evanescence, astral and otherworldly.
This oscillation between dreamy, almost blurry reduction and super-tight photorealism is not unlike German painter Gerhard Richter’s strategies of technical play. With Richter, however, this program is—among other things—a conceptually provocative avenue for critiquing formal styles; it also creates a crisis of confidence in the accuracy of photography as a truth-telling medium. None of his artifice is present in Beckmann’s paintings. These are very honest and direct articulations of naturally occurring wonders.
Take the desert paintings. Big and beautiful, “Red Rock Sunset” and “Rainbow Bridge” dramatically convey the golden tones and piercing blue sky of the region. Things downshift to pieces like “Valley of Fire Late Afternoon,” zeroing in on the particularities of an encounter. Intimacy with the desert landscape is by no means modest or minute. You know that particular quality of getting close to a rock formation that only gets bigger as you get closer? That accompanying awareness of how small the body is? The majestic scale of the desert is exceptionally clear in these paintings, with rock swallowing up the vista and the viewer in massive dimension. And rare is such an accurate description of the sensation of heat coming off red rock. These paintings are remarkably in tune with the environment.
None perhaps more so than the five small pieces depicting the Las Vegas Wash floods of 1999. Achingly photorealistic, the series gorgeously commemorates the unique beauty of a disastrous time and place. “July 9, 1999” and “Lake Mead Entrance to the Wash” are most notably scrupulous in craft and description, never compromising the emotional resonance of the subject. On the contrary, the absolute attention to detail heightens the ardor.
Robert Beckmann: Elemental Landscape inaugurates what promises to be an ongoing series of fine-art exhibitions at the Springs Preserve’s ORIGEN Experience Big Springs Gallery under the guidance of Managing Director Elizabeth Herridge. It is a welcome development. The gallery is lovely, the setting never disappoints and, if this exhibition is any indication, there is much to look forward to.
The entire experience of the Elemental Landscape at the Preserve promises to leave the viewer more deeply connected to, or at least cognizant of, the vast environmental potential and pitfalls of this region. At its essence, though, this is a show about great painting. The gallery bursts with confidence, passion and exceptional skill, and there is never a doubt that the subject or the viewer is in less than prodigiously capable hands—a rare occurrence in Vegas these days, and more than worth the visit.