Edith Beaucage: Bidibidiba
October 13 -- November 11, 2012
CB1 Gallery, Los Angeles
by Shana Nys Dambrot
“What I enjoy in a narrative is not directly its content or even its structure, but rather the abrasions I impose upon the fine surface: I read on, I skip, I look up, I dip in again.” Roland Barthes wrote that in Le Plaisir Du Texte, in which he argues for a critical approach to text that explicitly includes taking pleasure as a facet of serious analysis. Language is important to Beaucage, but like Barthes, this can be more for its cadence than its content -- she’s more Jabberwocky than Ozymandias. And while she may be a painter rather than a writer, when it comes to how she constructs the “text” of her compositions, that bit about the pleasure of inflicting harm on a narrative by skipping around within it all willy-nilly, taking it gleefully out of order -- going about it all wrong so to speak -- is very much analogous to how she composes and treats her own he fine surfaces -- those of her canvases. She too does it all wrong, and she does it with zest -- and it’s an absolute pleasure.
Beaucage has a particular knack for multi-hued brushstrokes and she likes to alternately flat-press it into the canvas or pile it up in goopy impasto applications. Juxtaposing these approaches serves to blur the boundaries between abstraction and the figure, and between figures and their surroundings. Despite the occasional presence of strong passages of total abstraction, each image has its central character or group and functions as portraiture -- traditional in format, if not always crisply legible in depiction. Beaucage enumerates “girls and philosophers, art students, hipsters with mustaches, Egyptians, princesses, knights, dragons, musketeers, wigged women, bearded men, and dandies... doing their jobs of being portraits and holding the paint together.” The prevalent motif of solo female portraiture gives rise to speculation about self-portraiture in that mix as well.
“Blossom” (2012, oil on canvas, 60 x 46 inches) is a fine example of how all these aspects work together inside a single composition. A tall skinny girl with a purple pageboy haircut and a bluish cake-frosting bikini floats above/stands in front of/falls backwards into waters made from slats of choppy paint mosaic. In “Freetekno” (2012, acrylic on paper, 18 x 24 inches) the (same?) girl melts into the sky like a rainbow-sherbet sundae. This intermingling is at work in other ways elsewhere in the show -- sometimes appearing darker in color and emotion, sometimes subtler and smooth, sometimes discoherent. Occasionally the soft-focus is broken up by larger brushstrokes with variegated detail and chromatic variations that evoke specific settings like a lake, a garden, or a nightclub. The majestic “Sweetish Tale” -- a large and regal portrait not actually in the show but holding heart-stoppingly gorgeous court in the back room -- deploys an intense green color-field drama to set off a princess with a pretty, pretty face and prismatic tresses of hair like a hallucination.
These and other rogues and refinements are portraits of archetypal and otherwise mainly fictional persons and personae; but really they are just excuses and opportunities, for abstract painting. But they have gumption, too, and individuality, awkwardness, ugliness, warmth, and vivaciousness. As the viewer watches, they witness these subjects struggling to emerge from the pigment, to gather themselves from within it, to individuate -- and the dramatic pleasure of those moments of tension and becoming give the pictures a certain narrative dimension, and a blissful abrasion.
Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author based in Downtown LA. She is the Arts Editor for the LA Weekly, and a contributor to Flaunt, Art and Cake, Artillery, and Palm Springs Life.
She studied Art History at Vassar College, writes essays for books and catalogs, curates and juries a few exhibitions each year, is a dedicated Instagram photographer and author of experimental short fiction, and speaks at galleries, schools, and cultural institutions nationally. She is a member of ArtTable and the LA Press Club, and sits on the Boards of Art Share-LA and the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art, the Advisory Council of Building Bridges Art Exchange, and the Brain Trust of Some Serious Business.
Photo of Shana Nys Dambrot by Osceola Refetoff
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