Monday, May 29, 2017

Art I'm Looking At: Chris Beards—Sculpture at Paul Mahder Gallery in Healdsburg (through July 15, 2017)

Chris Beards And After opening reception, Paul Mahder Gallery
The Paul Mahder Gallery in Healdsburg opened an impressive show of new sculptural work by Santa Rosa artist Chris Beards last night (May 27). The artist was in attendance, along with many of the North Bay’s best artists, gallerists, and curators. I say sculptures—and they are sculptures—but all the pieces are wall-hung rather than freestanding, and they are dramatically lit, casting complex shadows on the white walls almost as interesting as the art itself.

Chris Beards, Siege (2017), detail
The show comprises about 12 pieces made from steel—mostly formed from sinewy, twisted strips or wrinkled sheets of steel—mummified in paper. Beards works by encasing steel armatures in multiple layers (sometimes as many as 20 layers) of paper bonded to the metal with thinned glue and other media. The paper and glue layers are then heavily worked. The layers are sanded, overlaid with more paper and glue, re-sanded, painted or shellacked or gessoed, sanded again and then further overlaid and finished in a laborious process that results in remarkably refined, sensuous, satiny surfaces, suggestive not of the raw steel underneath but of other metals—well-used bronze, smooth-worn iron, patina-green copper—or even softly eroded marble. The underlying steel is present in that it defines form here, but the surface finishes Beards achieves are as important as form. The sculptures have a skillfully crafted look in an age of art that often celebrates the opposite, and they are refreshingly appealing for that. There is something decidedly seductive about the work. You’ll want to touch it—caress it, even. Happily, the artist gives permission to touch the work a little.

Chris Beards in front of Within/Without (2016)
Beards has titled the show And After. A statement on the wall explains that the work is about how memory transforms experience—in particular, about the way time distils raw experience into something softer. The work, Beards says, is about the way our “narrative of the past becomes smoother,” the way the “sharp edges and thorns are softened and dulled.” He speaks of his sculptures not as depicting specific memories but rather as addressing the idea of memory itself. The finished pieces are presented as the softened remains of their underlying rough metal selves. He likens these sculptures to “time-tumbled driftwood or bones” and the metaphor is apt.

Chris Beards, After the Last (2013-2015)
Among my favorites pieces were Within/Without (2016, steel, paper, glue, spray paint, acrylic paint), After the Last (2013–2015, steel, paper, glue, spray paint, graphite, soft pastel, shellac), and Tiered (2017, steel, tracing paper, glue, gesso). The first of these suggests an unearthed artifact—a scrap of an obsolete, abandoned farm vehicle, perhaps—rusted but its surfaces polished as if long-caressed. After the Last is evocative of more organic forms. It kept suggesting to me part of the mummified remains of a frilled lizard, perhaps squashed flat on a roadway, or a fragment of a grasshopper—but the sculpture is again transformed into something sensuous by its satiny surfaces.

Chris Beards, Tiered (2017)
Tiered, my favorite piece in the show, reminded me of centuries-old stone steps worn smooth by the foot traffic of generations of pilgrims (the interior staircase of the leaning tower at Pisa, the steps inside Haghia Sophia, in Istanbul, came to mind) or the much-touched drapery of a recumbent figure on a white marble sarcophagus lid. These are only a few impressions, but Beards’s work is beautiful to look at and richly evocative.  And After will continue at Paul Mahder Gallery (222 Healdsburg Ave, Healdsburg, CA 95448, (707) 473-9150) through July 15, 2017 (although Paul Mahder now represents Beard and will therefore continue to handle his work after the show). Highly recommended.

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