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artist: BEVERLY RESS
more work by Beverly Ress
In September 2005, Washingtonart interviewed Beverly Ress in conjunction with her solo show at the Mclean Project for the Arts, and several other group shows all occurring this fall. (full details on our exhibits page)
washingtonart: Bev, it looks like you are gearing up for a very busy September: a solo show of drawings at the Mclean Project for the Arts in
Beverly Ress: Actually - this is very last minute - I will also have a couple of pieces in a group show at Catholic U, which opens September 14, the day before the McLean opening.)
washingtonart: Wow, that IS busy! All this activity must be the culmination of a lot hard work in the studio.
Beverly Ress: Yeah! A few decades worth! But it's also due to a lot of hard work outside the studio: I've spent the last 5 years or so really searching for curators whose interests align with my work. And then once I found them, I really tried to keep them updated on my work on a regular basis. It's a part-time job all by itself.
washingtonart: So let's start with the exhibition in Little Rock - what will you be showing there?
Beverly Ress: The show in Little Rock will have 5 pieces, all sculptural in some way, and all fairly new: a mobius strip of a drawing, called Skin, a new cut-out drawing, Jay/Torus, and a layered drawing, Rooted. Two pieces will have animal remains - BirdBook, with a drawing of a bird on the page and the actual skeletal remains of that bird attached to the steel-grid front cover; and Cara, which is 3 drawings (flower, bird, and stick) put together on the wall and overdrawn a little, to make a very large portrait face - about 6' tall. It also includes the preserved bird and the stick from which those drawings were made.
washingtonart: You have been creating works for several years now that show actual found objects in nature, such as a part of a dead bird, alongside your delicate color pencil rendering of the same object. How did you get started on this?
Beverly Ress: The first time I showed the objects and drawings together was in an exhibit of installation work produced by the Washington Sculptors' Group and curated by Milena Kalinovska in about 1998. I had had a few experiences of people coming into my studio, looking at a drawing as it lay on my drawing table, and thinking they were looking at an object lying on a piece of paper. I loved that they made that mistake, because I was pretty new to rendering, and it confirmed that I was doing pretty well - it was exciting.
washingtonart: How did people react to the show?
Beverly Ress: I noticed one reaction that interested me very much: some people could look at the drawings quite easily, but were repulsed by the actual objects. Which I understand - I sometimes find it hard to look at the things I draw, too! So, all of that interests me - the slippage of time made apparent; the way that drawing mediates reality; and the power of rendering.
washingtonart: Some of your more recent work, like "Cara" also plays with illusion and multiple realities.
Beverly Ress: I think we all, in many aspects of life, agree to 'see' things a certain way. And sometimes the way we 'see' is clearly an illusion, but we all agree to it, and it becomes a kind of reality to us. Representational drawing is one of the biggest, most wonderful illusions: marks of color on a flat piece of paper look so much like the real thing that we 'see' it as an object in a very particular place, forgetting all about it's flatness, and the fact that its actual 'place' is dependent on where the piece of paper is taken. It's the original virtual reality! And, of course, when you start thinking about those things, it quickly becomes analogous to our own lives. So, I like to play with the possibility of seeing 2 things at once, of living with divergent realities.
washingtonart: When you show drawings alone, as you will be at the McLean Project for the Arts, is the result less "conceptual"?
Beverly Ress: That's an interesting question. Conceptual art is such a bedrock of Western-style art these days...The style of art instruction that I received I was an undergrad (Earlham College) and grad student (MICA in Baltimore), was very much about developing your own voice, your creativity and ideas. So, I never had traditional instruction. I never even drew very much at all until I was about 40. So, when I discovered that I could look at something and draw it, that felt like a radical thing to do.
washingtonart: But you in some ways these drawings aren't really "traditional"?
Beverly Ress: No, and in fact I wanted to push the 'radical' nature of what I was doing by sticking with some rules: Only draw things that have died, but draw every type of thing that's died - animal, vegetable, insect, etc. Don't draw things that people often see, for example chicken bones. Draw only one object on each sheet of paper. Draw it as realistically as possible, but never use shading on the paper below the object to create a trompe l'oeil effect. Take myself out of the drawings as much as possible, by making them completely straightforward and clear.
washingtonart: So you are really trying to make people examine their perception of reality?
Beverly Ress: I don't know if I'd put it that way, exactly. It's more that I'M trying to learn how to see - in both the physical and the perceptual senses. (Perceptual, in the sense of understanding, 'getting it'.) I'm trying to put that down on paper. And my hope - and sometimes this happens - is that when other people see the work, it reminds them of something they know, that they've forgotten about.