Joan Mitchell Center AIR Program

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Rollin Beamish

Bozeman, MT
2004 MFA Grant Recipient

Artist's Statement

I have had a visceral interest in the pictorial throughout my life - with its allusive possibilities as well as its vulnerability. This is due most likely to my upbringing in suburban Ohio, an environment that I found simulacral in the extreme. Painting and drawing have always had an allure in that these were images that were overtly constructed by hand and thought, a refreshing counterpoint to the “reality effect” of the consumer media landscape. Paintings also have possibilities as odd, hybrid “image-objects” that add a layer of resonance in contradistinction to the variety of images rooted in an interface (from screens to pages to billboards); interfaces that we as viewers are invited to ignore, and from which media images seem to float. The “anchored” quality of paintings as images “other-than”, along with their peculiar relationship to time or duration, are aspects of the discipline that I remain keenly interested in, despite any changes my work has undergone.

Conceptually, my work has remained consistently reflective of the problematic space of Western mass (consumer) culture and our relative lack of agency as subjects within that context, as simultaneous prisoners of and (un)willing participants in our dominant ideological structure. Throughout most of my career, I have owed a large conceptual and formal debt to surrealism and mannerism, particularly in the implication of the fictitious or subversive within the conventions of representational verisimilitude.

The Jewish folk-tale of the Golem provides a relevant metaphoric thrust to my recent work. In the most famous story, a Rabbi, Judah Loew ben Bezalel of Prague, constructs a man out of clay to defend the faithful from anti-semitic pogroms. To animate this creature, Rabbi Loew inscribes the Hebrew word for “truth” or “reality” (אמת) into its forehead. As the story goes, the Golem eventually runs amok, killing all but the most faithful and spreading fear, until the Rabbi is able to stop it by removing a single letter from the inscription, changing the inscribed word from “truth” to “dead” (מת). As a metaphor, I find this narrative especially compelling given our present state of cultural and ideological tension. Perhaps we have ourselves constructed a “monster” of truth; a structure that we have ideologically sublimated into a Fukuyamian “End of History” - a last best system - a “Golem” that, if not rendered inert, will all but destroy us with its implacable purpose.

  • post-human (unidentified, Abbottabad, 2011), 2011, graphite on paper, 56 x 76 cm.

  • portrait (leviathan), 2012, graphite and gesso on canvas, 62 x 102 x 5 cm.

  • Installation view of a selection of works from the "gorgon" series. These works were part of an installation in 2010-11 at Greusslich Contemporary, Berlin, Germany. All works are graphite and gesso on canvas or graphite applied directly to the wall.

  • portrait (Robert Hillary King), 2012, graphite and gesso on canvas, 62 x 102 x 5 cm.

  • Studio installation view of recent works from the "gorgon" series, photographed while on a residency at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts (VCCA). All works are graphite and gesso on canvas.

All works are copyright of the artist or artist’s estate.