A Great Piece of Turf, a watercolor created in 1503 by renowned draughtsman Albrecht Dürer, is the inspiration behind the title of Pittsburgh-based artist Kim Beck’s current exhibition at Mixed Greens. Dürer continues to reign as one of history’s preeminent conjurers, celebrated for evoking entire worlds through a modest sequence of cross-hatched lines, and Beck applies a similarly meticulous focus to her graphic compositions. Her sculptures and works on paper explore with near-scientific intensity the bonafide minutia of quotidian existence, framing the microcosm of her own life—in this case, the idea of “turf,” both physical and abstract—as a lens through which to investigate universal human concerns.
As an introduction to the show, Beck presents a series of draped chain-link fences made from swaths of hand-cut, primed linen. Their modulations of surface, color, and texture—visual qualities that delineate contour and thereby designate space—are uneven and inconsistent, offering an ocular impression of boundaries that are fluid rather than fixed. Considered metaphorically, they suggest a meditation on contemporary global culture that is increasingly hybridized and homogenous, as intimations of privacy are dispelled by systemic surveillance, and distinctions among cultures are supplanted by an all-consuming capitalism. The very field of painting, itself, has not been spared: it, too, is increasingly subjected to infiltration by other mediums.
In other works on view, the artist mobilizes the motif of a chunk of land—a “piece of turf”—as a symbol for territory. A large-scale graphite drawing of a plot of grass Beck discovered in her own backyard, minutely observed, elevates to historic proportions a mundane natural element found in any domestic landscape; but this particular piece of turf is hers, and hers alone: it exists as an concrete aspect of and witness to her daily rhythms and rituals. By offering viewers, quite literally, a small sample of her personal territory, she evokes the shared space of artistic and cultural exchange, and insinuates the way art often takes seed from the simplest of observations.
“A Great Piece of Turf” is on view at Mixed Greens, New York, Apr. 24th–May 23rd, 2014.