Bill Beckley

Bill Beckley, “Gardens of Pompeii”, 1986 (dettaglio). Artist collection. Courtesy Studio Trisorio, Naples. On loan to Madre · museo d’arte contemporanea Donnaregina, Naples. Photo © Amedeo Benestante.

Bill Beckley (Hamburg, Pennsylvania, 1946) is one of the founders of Narrative Art, a current born in the early 1970s in the wake of conceptual research. It seeks to bring out the ways the image (prevalently photographic) and language establish relationships apart from any mutual subordination. The movement comprises such different artists as David Askevold, John Baldessari, Christian Boltanski, Peter Hutchinson, Franco Vaccari and William Wegman. The relationship between the two registers, iconic and textual, presents independent narrative trajectories triggered by an exclusively mental dimension, obtained through the viewer’s emotional participation.

In its origins, Beckley’s work was organized through sequences of images arranged in circumstantial patterns, capable of capturing the viewer’s attention and countering mental automatisms. A bold experimenter, he has explored the expressive potential of performance and was among the first artists to attribute an aesthetic value to color photography. The overlap between text and image characterized his work from the early 70s, evolving from the physical presence of the text accompanying the photographs to its purely allusive participation, limited to the evocation of ideogrammatic symbols, often sought in natural forms. Over the years, the artist conducted a research that led him to Abstract Art, using large formats, saturated colors and titles that suggest, as the artist himself observed, “similarities with oriental ideograms”.

Beckley has a long association with the city of Naples, where he exhibited for the first time in 1977 at Lucio Amelio’s gallery, and then at Studio Trisorio, with which his association has now lasted for some thirty years. Gardens of Pompeii, exhibited at Madre in the context of Per_forming a collection project, is a work conceived and created by the artist in Naples, on the occasion of his first exhibition at the Studio Trisorio (1986). It brings together the echoes and stratifications of classical culture composed into a dimension of clear conceptual evocation. The works in this series, mainly large oval canvases, painted partly at Villa Orlandi on Anacapri, are palimpsests: a painted surface with a highly tactile layer contains the plans of some villas and gardens of Pompeii; on this layer the artist then superimposes collages, heterogeneous materials and the verbal hypertext: single words or names, set in an orderly arrangement.

“From the memory of Pompeii, hence archeology, Beckley moves on another front, on the Foucauldian side of archeology,” observed Angelo Trimarco, describing a work “centered on the interdependence of meanings and tensions between the surface, as the scene of language games, and what lies silently below: a space that ruffles the surface, unsettles meanings and says that names never fully define things.”

[Eugenio Viola]

Gardens of Pompeii, 1986

Currently not on view

Artist collection. Courtesy Studio Trisorio, Naples. On loan to Madre · museo d’arte contemporanea Donnaregina, Naples. Photo © Amedeo Benestante.