Coast to Coast brings together the work of two artists connected by personal history beyond a shared minimalist aesthetic. Many years ago, David Simpson taught art at UC Berkeley, where John Beech received his degree. Simpson remembers Beech as an “ideal” student who already knew what he was doing. His role with the young Beech, Simpsons says, was merely that of “cheerleader.” On his side, Beech asserts that he benefited from Simpson’s “calm presence and openness as a teacher.” Beech now lives and works in Brooklyn, New York, while Simpson continues to live and work in the Berkeley hills. But despite the continent between them, they’ve continued to share their passion for art over the years.
Reception: 20. January 2023 / 1-4 PM
Event period: 20. January – 2023 – 21. Mai 2023
Artists: David Simon und John Beech
Gravity and color in the gallery
Extraordinary objects. From one wall of the gallery to the other, the viewer walks, pulled by the gravity of each piece. Color draws the eye. A shadowy blue recess within a bright orange construction. A shimmer of dripping gold, fringed with electric blue against a black matte background.
Despite this connection, and also having had work in some of the same galleries over the years, Coast to Coast marks the first time that the two have shown work together.
While at first glance the viewer may light upon the differences between them — the longer one settles into these pieces, moving back between them, the more the resonances between them come to the surface.
Shapes and colors in harmony
Beech brings two series of works to this exhibition, the Untitled series of wood construct pieces and the Slent series. Beech is well-known for his preference for using ordinary and unassuming materials. His Untitled pieces use pre-cut wood blocks of various shapes and sizes – assembled and pieced together. Seams between blocks show through. The forms of the wood blocks, rather than being obfuscated, become highlighted, allowed to shine. The paint and colors emphasize woodgrain and piece-edges, creating a whole from parts while not losing the integrity of each individual piece. Beech started work on the Slent series in 2020. These pieces use canvas stretched over wooden forms, often with a slanted side. That slight difference in the forms causes the eye to refocus and look deeper, while the paint Beech uses accentuates the forms: the cool green and blue of Slent #14, for example, or the way that the thickly applied pale gray of Slent #8 seems to pull the eye toward its edges.
Simpson – a life in art
Simpson (95 as of the beginning of this exhibition) continues to work and paint daily. The format of his work has shifted, with a focus on smaller, more manageable pieces. Unlike in previous exhibitions, the pieces included in Coast to Coast don’t belong to a particular series. Instead, he says, each piece is an expression of a thought, as he works through more and more ideas. Shape and color emerge from the thick blackness of his wooden surfaces. Some use one primary “color”: a glint of rubbed and tattered gold in Burnout, a dimpled and shimmering gradient of iridescent purple in Magik Mountain. Other pieces, such as God’s Eye or God’s Other Eye contain a swirl of shining, peeking, rippling colors: electric blue, straw gold, rose gold, even an oozing sea foam green. Painstakingly layered and distressed and re-layered, these paintings shift in the light — offering the viewer new perspectives and vistas with each movement.
It may be interesting to note that both Beech and Simpson actively engage in a sophisticated dance with chance in their work. As Simpson says, “You cannot dictate art into existence,” rather it is a “collaboration with intent and chance.” For his part Beech notes, “Chance is the medium to expose reality.” While each artist carefully controls the forms and parameters of their work, in the making there is always room for the art to breathe, there is a place for the world, chance, to enter in, to surprise, delight, confound, or intrigue. Perhaps that is why, as a viewer, there is space in these paintings for us to engage and enter, a way to wander into the world of each piece.
Beyond the clear mastery that each artist brings to their work, both Simpson and Beech challenge the viewer to reassess their perceptions. Their paintings call on us to do more than glance — but to look, reassess, to see. There is a waiting, a slow inbreath of attention needed for such an exercise. Take a breath. Look. See what you and the work of art create together.