By Gina Malone
Glass artist Rick Beck can expound about his arresting glass sculptures, but he can also give the short version: “I am interested in form.” His subject matter, he says, moves between figurative work, mechanical work and mathematical or geometric work, but the bottom line is form. “I will draw an object, then will deconstruct that drawing, attempting to break the object down to formal basics.”
Within the dimensions of structure is where he finds beauty. “Manipulating the size or color or arrangement of the initial form can force the viewer to consider something that they have seen so often that they take it for granted. Screws, nuts and bolts—these things are beautiful—but in order to get through our days, we have to minimize our inspection of every small object in order to function.”
Beck was born in Canada and grew up in Nebraska where his parents were teachers. “I was surrounded by art,” he says, “music, painting, sculpture. My father painted and sculpted. My mother would then move said art to the garage.”
By age 10, he was riding his bicycle to art classes at a local gallery where his own fascination with creation began with drawing and painting. “I bought paints and brushes when some of my friends were buying model cars.” He would paint photos from magazines or wildlife books. In junior high school, he discovered ceramics. Then, in his first year of college, his roommate needed an assistant and, Beck says, “dragged” him into the glass shop. “Eighteen years old, flames, music, a finished object overnight? I was hooked.”
He attended Hastings College in Nebraska for undergraduate studies. In 1983, between undergraduate work and graduate studies at Southern Illinois University, he met Valerie—also a glass artist—who became his wife. Together they worked as artists-in-residence at the Appalachian Center for Crafts and were accepted into the residency program at Penland School of Crafts where Beck has also been an intermittent instructor throughout the years.
Valerie’s focus is on work created in the blowing process. “The blown work is beautiful, colorful, fun glass,” she says. “I love playing with patterns. These are bold and simple pieces. Some pieces depict dreams, stories and memories.”
The two have worked in glass together since 1984, eventually becoming Beck Glass, Inc. “Valerie works with manipulated images,” he says, “mostly created by sandblasting through layers of colored glass to arrive at the intended result. This is one half of Beck Glass, Inc. The other half is my work, which is mostly cast and fabricated glass.”
His process involves making a clay positive and a plaster/silica negative, or mold. The mold is placed into a kiln and filled with chunks of glass. The glass is melted and then slowly annealed, or brought back to room temperature. This can take a week or as long as several months. This glass casting is Beck’s raw material. “This I will grind, dry grind and then glue to other casting to get to a rough shape,” he says. “Now I can grind for a finished shape and finish.”
Beck’s pieces are rooted in everyday objects: scissors, spoons, tools and hardware. “The subject matter may come from reading, travel or discussions with friends,” he says. “I will draw an object for a while—months, years—until that object becomes important, not only for itself but also for the different ways I have been informed during the intervening time.” In this way, he says, things as diverse as pieces from the Louvre, an animal in its native habitat, readings on ritual offering and the rhythm of a blues song might coalesce into one of his pieces.
Beck’s Artist Statement sums it up: “I am interested in playing the volumes of mass against the rhythm of the lines. I enjoy the interplay of the visual (visceral) versus the verbal (descriptive/technical). The work should challenge the eye and the mind.”
See Rick Beck’s work regionally at Blue Spiral 1, Asheville Art Museum and Penland School Gallery. He will have a solo exhibit at Hidell Brooks Gallery in Charlotte in May and June.