ERIK BEEHN: ARE WE THERE YET? Through August 31; Monday- Friday, 9 a.m.- 6 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Artist reception August 28, 6 p.m., free. CSN Fine Arts Gallery, 702-651-4146.
You’ve never seen flower paintings like these before. The blossoms in Erik Beehn’s latest exhibition, Are We There Yet?, materialize and disintegrate before your eyes. You can almost inhale the fragrance before they drip, bleed and seep into the mysterious ground from which they bloom. They become ghosts of themselves. And then they come back to life.
Technical know-how and artistic vision are key to the uncanny now-you-see-it/now-you-don’t floral presence in the show. The process begins with stock images of painted flowerpots—the kind hanging above the beds in cheap hotel rooms. Next, Beehn separates colors, often running them off one by one on an inkjet printer. Using solvents, he erases the images, then repaints them by hand, erases, reprints, draws, erases, rubs with graphite, erases, traces, paints and so on. Beehn’s overarching technique—subtracting visual information and adding it back in—creates a robust push-pull in the picture plane. Some flowers fade into a cloudy wash of obscurity, while others pop with color into the foreground.
In “#Getbettersoon_1,” for example, blood-red poppies overtake dissolving daisies, simultaneously pinging Warhol’s famous floral prints and the still lives of the Old Masters. Pop Art also resonates in the perky-but-secretive black blossoms of #Getbettersoon_II;” while “Getbettersoon_III,” with its “OUT OF ORDER” announcement, solves the issue of wayward blooms by blocking the flowerpot with helpful, but ridiculous, signage. #Getbettersoon_IV” takes a different tack—the entire bouquet, with its fresh pink/purple/yellow hues, seems to be melting into the composition like a weeping sympathy card or a comic commentary on clichéd images.
In Are We There Yet?, the back-and-forth of manifesting and dissolving imagery cues a conceptual framework in which the competing emotions of joy and melancholy, humor and nostalgia produce a complex emotional depth. With a nod to his biography, Beehn—a Las Vegas native who grew up living in a hotel—has installed a lobby shelf, complete with glassy faux decorative pots made from pigmented glue. An array of Stardust casino signage snapshots covers the shelf, along with a concrete picture frame cast from a real one once holding an image of Beehn’s brother, a victim of suicide. The imploded Stardust and deceased brother might turn the pots into wacky urns, the flowers into funeral bouquets and the show into a memorial, but they don’t. There’s too much life hanging on those walls, including the checkered pizza serving paper resurrected from dinner, blown up and transformed into a playful backdrop.
While floral imagery dominates Are We There Yet?, the real subjects of Beehn’s exhibition are Las Vegas and the artist’s poignant experiences living here. By building and deconstructing imagery, he echoes our history of constant reinvention. It’s a thoughtful, accomplished show that stays with you long after you’ve left the gallery and stepped back into the sunlight.