“It’s Personal: The Art of Robert Beck” Exhibition at the Michener Art Museum
Robert Beck (b. 1950), Sunday Morning, 1996. Oil on panel. 24 x 18 inches. James A. Michener Art Museum.
The Michener Art Museum presents “It’s Personal: The Art of Robert Beck,” opening July 30. The exhibition focuses on Robert Beck’s place in the storied world of the New Hope-Lambertville arts community. Beck has played an important role in advancing and expanding the region’s traditions of Impressionism and Urban Realism, with distinctive oil paintings of the people, places, and occupations of our time. He is well known for documentary paintings, as he refers to his paintings done on site in one go. Whether single works or multi-image “visual essays,” these distinct paintings record his world much like the Pennsylvania Impressionists recorded theirs in their time. Unlike those images, Beck describes a world that contemporary audiences recognize as their own. Viewers respond to his keen perspective on the storefronts, street corners, bars, restaurants, carnivals, basketball games, funeral homes, and parades, of their here and now. While New York, Bucks County, and the villages along the upper coast of Maine, present subjects and contrast for his examinations, the exhibit includes work from series he created in the American West, Europe, and Africa. It is a remarkable story of a contemporary artist establishing a voice, becoming part of a community, and creating a body of work that will resonate in Bucks County and well beyond for many years.
“For more than thirty years, Beck has been an integral part of the Bucks County art community as both a leader and an iconoclast,” says curator David Leopold, who has organized the exhibition. “A generation has come to expect Beck at his easel wherever they are in the community. For the first time we have gathered paintings for all parts of his career and will present them in an installation that will also include short videos of different aspects of his work, along with audio of Beck recounting remarkable stories.”
Separated from the bravura style of his plein air work, Beck’s studio images reveal the seriousness of his painting. His technique is solid, and his ability to manipulate even strong graphic elements, such as recasting the contrast in his nocturnes into something more explicitly designed, often edges his images away from Realism and toward the poetic suggestiveness of Symbolism.
“Beck’s approach to his subjects is personal, but his subjective vision is relatable and familiar to many of us,” said Laura Turner Igoe, Ph.D., Chief Curator of the Michener Art Museum. “Beck’s paintings convey a strong sense of community and belonging that we are sure will resonate with many visitors.”
Robert Beck attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia and he currently maintains studios in New Hope, Pennsylvania, and New York City. His work has been the subject of three in-depth museum exhibitions: the Michener Art Museum (1999), the City of Trenton Museum at Ellarslie (2007), and the Maine Maritime Museum (2016). Robert Beck’s work has been presented in 30 solo gallery exhibitions, including at the National Arts Club (New York), the Rosenfeld Gallery (Philadelphia), the Morpeth Gallery (Pennington and Hopewell, New Jersey), New Hope Arts Center, and the Gallery of Robert Beck (Lambertville, NJ). His paintings have been accepted to more than 70 juried exhibitions. Beck has received 29 significant painting awards, was a finalist for the Pew Fellowship in 2000, and in 2014 was awarded the Philadelphia Sketch Club Medal for Excellence and Contribution to the Arts by the oldest arts club in America. He was the Honored Artist at the 2017 Phillips Mill Exhibition and the New Hope Arts Center Legacy Artist in 2018. In 2020 he was elected a Signature Member of the American Society of Marine Painters. Robert Beck is a teacher, a curator, a lecturer and a writer, and he has hosted a radio interview program. His column on his art-related experiences, entitled “A Thousand Words,” has appeared monthly in ICON magazine since 2005. He is currently represented by Morpeth Contemporary in Hopewell, NJ.
“Beck may be the most articulate voice the Bucks County’s visual art community has ever produced,” says Leopold. A collection of 50 of his essays, each paired with one of his paintings will be published by the Museum in conjunction with the exhibition, along with a fully illustrated catalogue that tells the remarkable story of his career and includes more than 100 artworks.
“For many in this area, Robert Beck’s paintings are as much a part of their world as Redfield, Garber, and Lathrop’s were to their time and community,” says Leopold, who has spent five years organizing the exhibition. “This show will be a wonderful homecoming for the community at the Michener. Beck is so deeply rooted in the area, and this exhibition shows—like much of what the Michener does—that the legacy of the arts in this region is alive and well.”
Robert Beck is a member of the Salmagundi Club, the Philadelphia Sketch Club, and is a Signature Member of the American Society of Marine Artists. He lives with his wife, Doreen, in New Hope and New York.
“It’s Personal: The Art of Robert Beck” runs from July 30, 2021 through January 2, 2022, at the Michener Art Museum, 138 South Pine Street, Doylestown, Pennsylvania. To learn more about the artist, visit www.robertbeck.net.