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  11 December 2017  |  Vol: 4 facebooktwitterrss  
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Rollin Beamish's Latest Series is Blood-drippingly Sharp

"About her shoulders she flung the tasselled aegis, fraught with terror...and therein is the head of the dread monster, the Gorgon, dread and awful, a portent of Zeus that beareth the aegis." -- Homer, The Illiad

At first look, Rollin Beamish’s newest series “Portraits,” the work is so complex you can’t believe the mind-bending brilliance of it—his fantastic freehand work and, in full candor, just his ability to perform such drawings. Upon further viewing—the floating heads or “gorgons” —you begin to see that these aren’t random faces. His body of work is honest, no-holds-barred social commentary.

Like a Shroud of Turin, Beamish throws the sheet of truth over these portraits and leaves us with something more than a reproduction of heroes and villains, victims and executioners. He unveils our world, leaving it bare, crimes and crusades alike, as a representation of our collective humanity. He likes the metaphor of the gorgon because it stands for face or a gaze, which, when tangled with, will leave you petrified and reduced to nothing—and in some ways that’s exactly how you feel when surrounded by these staring portraits.

“To me, the metaphor is more directed in how I feel when engaging with mass media, the anxiety I feel,” Beamish says.

These portraits, cut off at the collar, almost float in a sea of white, at once brutal and austere.

“I want to deal with the face, I don’t want to them to feel severed, but they are decontexturalized, like these faces are wearing the [white] canvas.”

Included are portraits of Bat Ye’or (below), a radical Jewish theologian and conspiracy theorist; Li Changchun, the fifth most important person in the People’s Republic of China’s political system, the chief Minister of Culture, and the de facto head of propaganda; and Slavoj Zizek, a social theorist and confrontational intellectual with Marxist influences.

“All my subjects are people who represent an important perspective that doesn’t exist within the cult of celebrities,” Beamish says.

Beamish doesn’t use projected photographs to draw an exact duplicate of an image. In fact, these, super-real portraits are interpretations of photographs, fleeting images taken from the internet or ripped from the newspaper. Beamish’s plan is to have fifty pieces in a final installation, which also includes some canvases containing embedded text.

“They start with an idea, literally, being able to decipher a particular phrase. To me, the word has a narrower scope than an image,” he says of the textual inclusions, where another artist might use image-only content. “I use the text like razors, directing the viewer in a particular way.”

And they are blood-drippingly sharp.

“I want the words to act, to define, but in a way that brings tension to the image. Images alone weren’t doing it for me.”

In a triadic piece shown at the top of this article and titled, Portrait: (Leviathan), Beamish depicts the inverted portrait of Remarley Graham, a young man killed by the NYPD during the “stop and frisk” policies put in place in New York City earlier this year. In the center of the canvas is a barn swallow with a sprig of hemlock in its beak, and above that are the Hebrew letters “emet” which means “truth or reality.” But when the single letter aleph is removed from the painting, only the ghost of its outline remains. The result, like Schrodinger’s cat, is both there and not there, erased and present, its meaning becomes “dead.”

The Hebrew letters are a reference to the Golem mythology. A creature made from clay that came to life when the letters for truth/reality were carved on its head and could only be killed when the aleph was removed.

“I wanted to talk about the truths we hold in our society, capitalism, and the gross inequities we are told are facts,” he says. “I also wanted contradictory metaphors, a glut of symbolism, to raise questions. They all bear weight on each other.”

Floating, with a trick of the light, is reflected lettering placed at the flat top of the canvas, which says when Beamish shines a flashlight to it, “Will he make many supplications unto thee? Will he speak soft words unto thee?” A line from Leviathan 41:3, intertwining Job with Remarley Graham.

By using the portraits of people un-celebrated, including several portraits of the unidentified dead—an exploded head from the Mexican drug wars in Laredo, Texas (shown above); the face of one of those killed and left behind by the Navy Seal Six Team in Abbottabad; an unidentified casualty of the war in Libya—Beamish is creating his own testament to truth. Like plunging his hand into the current of swirling media, of ever-crashing waves of news and images that flash and bombard our consciousness every second of the day, Beamish feverishly attempts to stem the loss of people and to find the truth by dispersing conflicting ideas.  In doing so, he holds up our humanness to Perseus’ mirror and somehow slays the snake-haired gorgons. -TBM

Rollin Beamish's recent solo and collaborative exhibits have been in Kansas City, Berlin, and Detroit.

Last month, Michele Corriel's article, "The Texture of Nathan Anderson's Paintings,"  caused quite a stir among art collectors, readers, and at least one regional gallery owner.

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