"Shadows of the American Dream" at Vero Beach Center for the Arts
The Center for the Arts' OffCenter Gallery at Indian River Mall, State Road 60, will present the paintings of two Florida artists who find their subjects in the area's salvage yards and recycling bins. The exhibition Shadows of the American Dream, featuring artists Becky Beerensson and Susan Martin, opened on July 10, 1999 and continues through September 12, 1999. The exhibition is free of charge and open to the public Monday through Saturday from 10 am to 9 pm and Sundays from noon until 6 pm.
Becky Beerensson works in brush-applied ink on paper. Susan Martin paints in acrylic on canvas. Both artists work in a highly realistic style, but these Merritt Island artists and residents do not depict the ocean vistas, waving palm trees and bird life for which coastal Florida is noted. Beerensson uses the black and white tones of her technique to delineate gritty urban landscapes and still lifes of the remnants of consumerism, such as crushed automobiles and newspapers awaiting the recycling vat. Susan Martin's colorful, meticulously painted works depict close-up views of decrepit trucks and vans, automobile grilles, rusting drums of unidentified chemical waste, and the like. She has also been known to paint directly onto automobile parts. The exhibition contains two works in which the artist used hubcaps as her "canvas." (left above: Becky Beerensson, End of the Road, ink on paper, 48 1/2 x 36 inches)
But to hear these artists talk, subject matter is not the most important part of their work. Susan Martin recalled the aesthetic philosophy of her most influential teacher, photographer Russell Lee, with whom she studied at the University of Texas. "Everything boils down to composition" she said, "You can make an interesting composition out of anything --regardless of the subject." Beerensson agrees. Seeing compositions in unexpected places, she said, is what her work is about. Both women use the photographic image as the starting point for their artwork. Beerensson said that she tries to take her camera with her wherever she goes, because she never knows where the composition that will be the basis for one of her ink paintings may appear.
The use of the photograph is definitely not a short cut for these artists, each of whom spends about two hundred hours on a single work. The camera records the complex compositions that Beerensson and Martin find worthy of their --and our--prolonged interest. A heap of pop bottles or the grimy interior of a subway car becomes a glittering trove or a mysterious grotto during the artistic process of translating the visual information in a snapshot into a painting on paper or canvas. Part of the artists' magic is no more or less than the judicious exaggeration or suppression of details, the enhancement of the composition's tonal range, and subtle changes in the basic drawing. (left above: Susan Martin, Give Me Liberty, 1994, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 40 inches)
There is also technique. Beerensson's work is painted with a small, fine-haired brush that she inks by stroking a stamp pad. A painting is created by layering successively darker films of ink on white illustration board until the artist achieves the tonal range and depth of black that she wants.Martin builds up her acrylic paints in thin layers in a technique called "glazing." This produces a painting with clear, deep colors and a smooth surface finish. Both techniques require a strong, well-drawn composition, a clearly realized plan for the end result and lots of perseverance.
Twenty-one paintings created during the past dozen years will be on exhibit in Shadows of the American Dream. These include Becky Beerensson's 1989 "in Transit," the painting she says changed both the mood and the manner of her work. Prior to that painting, Beerensson favored nostalgia-steeped rural themes, such as weathered barns and rustic front porches, drawn in ball-point pen. The subject of "in Transit, " a woman lost in thought in a subway car, was photographed by the artist on a trip to New York City in 1989. The solitude and privacy of the woman, whose floppy hat brim obscures the expression on her down-turned face, sharply contrasts with the insistent graphic, noise of the graffiti that covers the walls and windows around her. Beerenssen's most recent work, "Grand Canyon" of 1998, is a continuation of the recyclable materials theme that she began in 1994. The subject of the painting is an awe-inspiring valley in a pile composed of thousands of cans. Its tongue-in-cheek title is typical of both Beerensson and Martin's proclivity for punning.
It comes as no surprise, then, that Susan Martin's "Pop Art" painting of 1994 is a glistening jumble of empty aluminum and steel cans, most of which contained soft drinks or beer. Or that her "Driving Nature," created around 1989, consists of delicately painted natural subjects --lizards, amphibians, flowers--on real automobile hubcaps.
What does the future hold for these painters of the flip side of America's abundance? Martin is currently working on a series that features the rowers who ply the Indian and Banana rivers near her home on everything from sculls (light, narrow racing boats) to sailboards. Beerensson is working on landscapes of rural Florida and countrified subjects, such as her recent "Cracker Tack," in which a row of cowboys' saddles line a fence. The recyclables theme that pervades her and Susan Martin's work in the current OffCenter Gallery exhibition is one that the artists might mine again in the future. "This is part of the American landscape," Beerensson mused. "This is what's left over."
The exhibition is made possible through the generosity of Harris Sanitation and Treasure Coast Refuse Corporation. The exhibition's Gallery Guide is made possible through the generosity of Bill and Jean Johnson. The OffCenter Gallery is sponsored by the First National Bank and Trust Company.
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