Rick Beck- It Figures

Ken Saunders Gallery
Mar 2, 2017 9:00PM

RICK BECK- Dusty Rose Sunrise, 2017, 17 x 11 x 4 inches, cast glass

In response to the challenge of presenting serious work in the gallery setting in 1992 Rick Beck began to create sophisticated and ambitious works that fused his figurative inclinations with a visual vocabulary informed by his intense wonder for all things mechanical and built. For the last twenty years Rick has moved back and forth between abstracted figuration and a lexicon of mechanical elements creating pieces that are more one than the other and pieces that are an eerie hybrid of both.

RICK BECK, Limb Saw, 2013, h. 87 inches, cast glass

The artist’s large abstractions of hand tools invite smiles and laughter even as they solemnly evoke a time and sensibility that has passed. Ward Doubet, at the time the director of the Appalachian Center for the Crafts in Smithville, TN noted in his statement on Beck’s work in the catalogue for the 1995 Southern Arts Federation Craft Fellowships that Beck’s post-industrial monuments celebrate “ a work-bench culture whose influence is quickly diminishing in the information age.” 15 years later Matthew Crawford in his book Shop Class as Slow Craft urged the like minded,” to speak up for an ideal that is timeless but finds little accommodation today: manual competence and the stance it entails toward the built, material world.”

Indeed Beck’s monumentality requires that we contemplate the objects he “portrays” and the utility their forms embody. For a contemporary audience comprehending the usefulness or utility of these objects is more intuitive than definitive. Whether a Reamer, an Ax Head or a Turnbuckle it is the archaic tool-ness of these objects that is conveyed. Our fuzzy comprehension of the forms leads us to relate to the works on a wide range of levels. For the artist and many viewers the transformation from tool to figure provides the most resonance. For writers like Doubet Beck’s message is socio/political, the “iconography grounds the work in the concrete world of the craft studio as one of the last strongholds of individual, rather than corporate, creativity.” For Charlotte Vestal Brown, Ph.D., Ho. AIA, Director, Gallery of Art and Design, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, writing in the Autumn of 2001 issue of Neues Glas, “his tools are metaphorical references to a body language of multiple meanings having to do with purpose, work, power and sexuality.” Brown’s reading of the work reveals, as the critiques of deep and thoughtful artworks always do, the willingness to bring one’s own agenda to bear on the subject. She goes on to assert that, “these tools are not only symbols of a passing time in the factory but of the passing of the male body as an engine, a machine, a literally potent force in running the world.”

RICK BECK, Lavender Figure, 2017, h. 23 inches, cast glass

RICK BECK, Yellow Standing Figure, 2017, h. 22 inches, cast glass

Rick Beck creates totemic glass sculptures that revel in the artist’s sense of humor, sense of place and sense of history. His sculptures ask us to reexamine how we appraise work and masculinity and reconsider the value of the accumulation of knowledge about the things we have built and that fill our world. Even as his reductive, minimalists sculptures are perceived to go places rarely explored by artists working in glass it is safe to say that Beck’s intentions remain firmly modern and firmly formal.

Ken Saunders Gallery