Friday, March 11, 2011

Being the Biosphere

text by Susan Detwiler and Peter Beckett

Peter Beckett stands beneath the shifting
forms of forest and sky, light filtering
through the canopy and across the varied
surface of forest floor, his feet rooted to the
earth. Beckett inhabits the landscape in the
deepest sense, observing and aware of the
innumerable processes that are the pulse of
the Niagara Escarpment biosphere where he
lives and works. His paintings evoke the
totality of a living, breathing landscape that
shifts and evolves around him.

Beckett keeps a journal in a variety of forms.
Although he paints with oils and uses a
fountain pen, his journaling has expanded
to include a blog. The blog allows him to
post photographs of his surroundings and
paintings interwoven with words.

The words often reflect something that has been discovered
through the painting…
“the painting being both the vehicle of exploration
as well as the record of discovery.”

The combination of these elements seen
within the blog creates a free flowing narrative
that reveals something of his process. Beckett
often paints outdoors, not in the traditional sense
of making a sketch to later complete in the studio
but as a way to work with the thing that he paints,
or the thing that paints through him. The paintings
palette, gesture and surface embody aspects of his
relationship to the surrounding landscape. When
he paints he’s not working directly from observation
or memory but bringing forth an emotive
physical gesture that corresponds to his experience.

The Dance Begins Again

From the heaviness of objects long since gone
The dance begins again as centuries of dust
drift and scatter a mirage into being
A thin skin of forest barely anchored
‘til a black wing fans the
smell of wild things
back into place

What one sees is dependent on ones perspective.
For information to become knowledge, we need
to go beyond the practice of learning through
naming alone. Formal education tends to name
and differentiate things into categories, rather than
looking for continuity and connection in a holistic
sense. If the “naming” were the beginning of looking,
rather than the end, the ongoing observations would
reveal richer complexities and a better understanding
of the interconnectedness of all things.

Painting on the shore of Georgian Bay with Kenny Baldwin
playing saxophone.

He begins by painting an intuitive
mark or gesture, the paint drips or
splashes, the brush drags, it skips
across the surface, indirectly
making something of nothing.
He works simultaneously on multiple
paintings, exploring both the various
facets of his curiosity and the
expressive potential of the paint
itself. The painting may go through
multiple variations as it erases, restores,
explores and questions a world of
possibility, open ended, infinite. It
becomes, as it must, seeking form from
an intuited visionary place.

Posing breathlessly
they lean against each other
amidst studio debris

In looking at these paintings there
can be a moment of recognition,
as if something familiar yet
impossible is occurring. It’s not a
literal discovery but more a felt
relation to what lies beneath the
surface. The paintings provide a
place where our physical bodies
can’t go, yet as in sleep and dreaming
we are able to negotiate the terrain,
to transcend our perceived limits and
to explore on our own terms. While
dreaming allows only a momentary
glimpse, the paintings provide an
opportunity to hold the image, to
consider and reflect.

Beckett says he often paints images
that seem unnatural, only to find later
that they do exist, as if the paintings are
pointing to things unnoticed or what’s
yet to come. He hangs his laundry
outdoors mid winter, the frozen fabric
taking a week to dry through sublimation.
He photographed the laundry in a rare
moment of late afternoon sunlight to put
on the blog. When he looked at the
photo, he noticed that the forest shadows
on the snow and stiff clothing had the
same complementary colour scheme as
an earlier painting, a painting that he
had been thinking was odd or unlikely
in colour.

Beckett cuts and burns firewood to heat his home.
This requires working in the woods in the early spring.
He is witness to a spectacular transition as flora and
fauna unfold.

He notes and expresses aspects
of the living beauty around him in
a variety of forms that may surface
immediately as bits of text, a series
of photographs or even years later
as paintings. Beckett harvests the
dying butternut trees becoming an
active participant in the architecture
of the forest, encouraging its health
for future generations and making
stretchers from the milled lumber.
There’s a level of visual attention that
causes him to pause while looking at
a wall of hand split firewood drying in
the woodshed or while bringing in wood,
to reflect on a particular tree. At times
he finds pieces of firewood too
beautiful to burn.

Some things barely tangible
exist only in relation to another.
When their fragile grasp fails
allowing them to slide into
death’s grip, they sing
with all their frail beauty
as they expire.

Although Beckett may be seen as an
abstract painter I’d argue he functions
more as a contemporary shaman in his
capacity to act as a conduit between the
natural world and the culture his painting
speaks to. Beckett’s paintings assist us in
breaking down our constructed identities
by luring us into an alternate reality, where
we wander attentive, intuitively sensing.

So we come full circle. Faced with the
question of how we see and relate to the
natural world we’re reminded through
Beckett's paintings that what’s missing
is not the other but our knowing of it.
It’s here that the paintings right the
balance as they return us to a sense of
wonder, beauty and profundity, reminding
us of a place rich in varied textures,
smells, forms and sounds, a place that
communicates to the totality of our sense
perceptions, a sensuous world that feeds
our blood and bone bodies. The forest and
its creatures speak, they run wild before
our slumbering senses, urging us to wake
up before it’s too late, imploring us to
return home.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

you me gallery

the paintings and photographs of

P e t e r B e c k e t t

330 James St. N. Hamilton. Ontario, Canada
opening reception; friday march 11, 2011
art crawl 7-11 pm appetizers by W i l d O r c h i d

B e i n g t h e B i o s p h e r e
What one sees is dependent on one's perspective

the outdoor studio with new paintings
and interwoven slideshow
Gallery Hours: Wed-Sun 12/5
exhibition continues to sunday april 3,