New York

Rosemarie Beck

Peridot Gallery

Rosemarie Beck’s exhibition was almost overlooked. Right now New York is a Primary Structure festival and Miss Beck is a figurative painter. By itself, this is not the reason it was ignored, though it was most of the reason. Miss Beck is not original enough an illusionist to attack and not poor enough to forget. She is that difficult kind of painter––one who commands respect if she does not command love. And respect, if expressed for an unfashionable artist, is regarded by the beautiful people not so much as betrayal but––worse––terribly sentimental.

Miss Beck turned from abstractionist to illusionist art almost a decade ago, as I make it. Her new works, like her previous works, deal with figures in interiors. In terms of her development they are climactic pictures, as dense with a desire for classical poetry as they are with its antithesis. For the contradictions which have always beset her style have kept pace with her “progress.”

Miss Beck aims for a style that is classic in content if not in execution, but her feeling for content is essentially intimist. Formally this comes out as a feeling for structure that is not as monumental as her feeling for style. Thus her male and female nudes who, as “lovers,” reverberate with neo-classic aspirations remain simply studio nudes despite efforts to classicize the setting by consciously “arranging” it. Ordinary bedclothes are given the panache of Drapery, still lifes and other objects become symbols of Edenic abundance, and the models themselves seem to be embracing myth and history as much as each other. Nevertheless, the studio loft refuses to give way to Art.

But it is Miss Beck’s sense of touch that is most anachronistic of all. It does not model in the classic sense but lies flat in the Impressionist one, consisting as it does of short daubs which suggest a Vuillard out of Cézanne. Thus in place of a more linear kind of structure the paintings are unified by a somewhat rigorless texture which compounds the ambiguities in that the decorative contrasts oddly with the real rather than raising it up to its own timeless level.

The fact is that for Miss Beck the real subject is her sense of style rather than her actual representation of it. In Studio with Lovers, the artist in residence is painting as much from history as from nature; and besides there is considerable nostalgia in the tableau as a whole. This state of affairs is due I think to the fact that the attitude represented by her painting style is mainly a formal one, while her feeling for subject is a literary one. And both have fought each other to a draw. The irony is that what was initiated as obviously serious conception subsides as something as quaint as it is intellectual. Or rather it is the combination of the two that creates a final impression of the poignancy of an exceedingly admirable effort to resolve the problems of a new illusionist art in our time.

––Sidney Tillim