Rachel Beach Hunts and Gathers

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From Gather-er: Molt (left) and Yellow Stack (right)

Rachel Beach is a storyteller…though not in words. Her medium is three-dimensional wood sculpture, where she plays with edge and surface, each piece telling a tale, existing as an extension of the artist’s imagination and thought process.

“I am obsessed with translating ideas into objects,” she says. “The only thing that makes sense to me is looking, thinking, digesting, translating, then making.”

Beach began as a painter. “It was always my intention to be an artist,” she says. “I don’t remember ever having another idea in my head. My mother says I’ve been proclaiming this since I learned to talk, since before I can remember. As a kid I imagined myself in that impossible year of 2000 in a loft studio in New York City. How I even knew this existed as a possibility, I have no idea, but thankfully, my vision was startlingly accurate.”

Template Installation, 2008

Before moving to New York City, Beach studied at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and afterward continued her work at Yale University. It was at Yale where she segued from painting to sculpture and wood.

“I learned wood working through building painting stretchers,” she says. “I became more curious about the disconnect between what’s on a painting’s surface and the physical object of the painting itself.”

Beach made a series of works entitled Pairs, where each piece included a painting and a companion sculpture positioned on the floor in front of it. “There was some sort of formal or conceptual crisscross between the two,” she describes. “They dealt with the relationship between object and image, but also the contingency of meanings. Each part was contingent on the other for its reading. Neither part could be thought about without being influenced by the other.”

History Repeating Installation, 2008

Objects and their relationships—to the viewer, to other works, to the piece itself—is a theme within Beach’s sculptures. Through them she writes a dialogue between surface and form, between size and shape, like playful puzzle pieces that sing and dance with one other.

Currently at the Blackston Gallery is Beach’s solo show, Gather-er. In her artist’s statement she explains, “Long before I was aware of the ways in which contemporary culture had been packaging experiences for me, I remember being genuinely moved by the dark discoveries unearthed by Indiana Jones; my heart raced at the far-off drumbeats heard from Gilligan’s Island; my skin prickled with wonder as the Goonies gang unfolded One-Eyed Willy’s mysterious map. I was equally moved by the stories of ritual and extinction found throughout history: the strength of the Aztec warrior, the specific yet unknown function of Stonehenge.

“When thinking about how an object is made, and how an object is experienced, this idea of archeological wonder and the residue of ancient or tribal meaning was never far from my mind. I’ve become struck by the term “hunter gatherer” as a jumping-off point for this new series of large-scale work. This term not only calls out our ancestry, but it also relates to the cultural-historical pecking and plundering that characterizes an artistic practice, as well as a viewer’s response—their movement through a work and their methods of assimilating meaning. There is a thought towards the perils of civilization—the physicality of existence and the search for meaning and belief, be it in the form of cave painting, art object or Hollywood movie.”

And so the story begins.

“Artist and professor Jerry Ferguson taught me to never let the truth get in the way of a good piece of art,” Beach says. “This type of irreverence and reliance upon ideas of truth and belief has become central to my art practice.”

Gather-er: New Sculpture by Rachel Beach, through March 27, 2011. Blackston Gallery, 29C Ludlow Street, New York, NY, www.blackstongallery.com

For more information: www.rachelbeach.com