Review: Artist Kevin Beasley Deftly Handles Resin Like Amber

Polyurethane resin became a regular medium for art over half a century ago, largely due to its extensive use by light and space artists working in Los Angeles. Technologically conscious, they were sensitive to the abstract capabilities of plastic material for luminous translucency and perceptual insight.

That’s not exactly what Kevin Beasley is doing with polyurethane resin these days. The Virginia-born, New York-based artist has something more down to earth in mind, while the toxicity of the material, which requires careful handling, adds a subtle twist. Beasley uses resin as an embalming material – an industrial strength amber to trap life’s transient flies.

Mortality buzzes in the everyday atmosphere of his quietly engaging debut exhibition at Regen Projects. Some are emitted as real sound, the crackling and crackling coming from speakers attached to a ceiling-high utility pole installed in the second room.

This work – dubbed “The Source” – is adapted from a community-heavy piece Beasley recently made for Lead 5, an artistic invitation from New Orleans. He bought vacant land in the Lower Ninth Ward, still devastated nearly 17 years after Hurricane Katrina destroyed countless lives, and erected a power pole that provides free Wi-Fi. Weed-free land is globally connected in the absence of any commercial appeal, like that of your neighborhood coffee shop.

Something along these lines occurs with Beasley’s sculptural relief paintings, which vaguely suggest abstract landscapes. (Many are titled “Site.”) Plain t-shirts and housecoats, often cut out or shredded, are embedded in large sheets of transparent polyurethane resin six or seven feet across. Like an unearthed Pleistocene woolly mammoth trapped in an ice floe or ancient arthropods caught in tree resin, laminated garments are caught between an industrial past and its failing present.

Also essential to the blend: raw cotton from Virginia.

Bundles of it are incorporated as the binding that holds it all together. The racially coded material refers to the source of the pedestrian clothing fabric. Beasley, as a black man and artist raised in the American South, is certainly sensitive to the simultaneous beauty and horror contained in plant material.

The most exquisite and haunting piece in the series, titled “the last bath” – in lowercase – is visually the simplest. Raw Virginia cotton encased in transparent resin is formed into a modern tub as elegant as a Brancusi sculpture. A place of warmth and respite that would envelop a reclining body, it also resonates like the container of a sarcophagus. Like Jean-Paul Marat’s famously poignant Jacques-Louis David painting, the French revolutionary leader ignominiously killed in his bath, Beasley’s sculpture commemorates a monumental tragedy – albeit without a hero’s body in evidence.

“Kevin Beasley: on the spot”

Or: Regen Projects, 6750 Santa Monica Blvd.
When: Closed on sunday and monday. Until June 25
Information: (310) 276-5424, www.regenprojects.com


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