Andrew Beck’s Open Surface is a new body of work that continues his practice of making photograms. These works intentionally confound the viewer’s expectations about the role of photography as a medium that captures or reflects the real; although Beck’s images are photographs, in the sense that they use the properties of light-sensitive chemicals to create an image, they are not figurative representations of the phenomenal world.
The photogram differs from the photograph in that it is accomplished without the aid of a lens or negative. Without these mediating technologies that allow light to be focused, directed and captured, the photogram is an immediate, unique record of a moment when light met photosensitive chemical. It is also a kind of spatial situation, an intervention in the path of a source of light that verges on the sculptural. Indeed, Beck has produced site-specific installations in the past, using architectural forms as the impetus for work that questions the relationships between space and surface.
In her 2015 Art New Zealand article on Beck, Christina Barton frames his practice in terms of a Minimalist rejection of Modernism’s contention that artworks are disparate, self-contained and self-sufficient. In her view, Beck’s work adopts a position that draws on elements of both modernism and postmodernism, presenting a multivalent practice whose implications draw the viewer in a multitude of directions simultaneously.
Dissipative Structure II (2018) sees Beck’s usual hard-edged abstraction giving way to a field of cloudy, subtly graduated tonal shifts. The work is beguiling but also somewhat unsettling, refusing the eye a place to rest or a hard edge on which to find purchase. Its nebulous forms recall aerial photographs of clouds or microscopic imagery, rendering its scale obscure. The work’s seamless surface also recalls computer-generated imagery, suggesting an uneasy tension between the analogue and the digital.
Elsewhere, in untitled (2018), a shaft of pure white light seemingly erupts from a dark, indistinct mass anchored to the bottom of the picture plane. While Beck’s work implies that it depicts objects that exist in space, these forms are the traces left by light alone—more images of the process itself than of any product or outcome. They are also aesthetically pleasing compositions whose painterly qualities are seductive and, in the context of Beck’s Minimalist reference points, vaguely transgressive. Despite being utterly intangible, Beck’s “beam” of light erupting from the dark is strangely bodily, almost carnal.
Colour works such as Split Focus (Blue) (2018) cleave much more tightly to the model of Beck’s minimalist forebears such as Morris, Stella and Serra. Although his works are neither painting nor sculpture, they invoke both objects and surfaces without totally resolving to be either. The coloured acrylic that Beck places in front of his hard-edged abstract photograms transforms them into floating, luminous planes of light, sheets of colour more pure and inaccessible than any painted canvas or board. The irreality of these objects, like the rest of Beck’s work, speaks to the intangible components of the digital environment, an outsider’s perspective (Beck’s work is decidedly analogue in execution) that nevertheless captures the uneasy essence of the virtual.