A cosmic reality

Whitney’s Christopher Lew selects “gnarly” New York sculptor Kevin Beasley
By Tempe Nakiska | Art | 9 October 2014
This article is part of Young Art Week – Defining a generation

Welcome to HERO Young Art Week – our essential, multifaceted guide to the new wave of creatives working at the vanguard of contemporary art today. Across a dynamic week of digital content, we’re exploring what’s happening at the epicentre of this global community: from the ground up, the artists themselves and the key figures witnessing the evolution of the ideas, trends and movements defining this art generation.

When Christopher Lew dropped Kevin Beasley’s name and the word ‘gnarly’ in the same sentence we knew we had to sort an interview out. In our Young Art Week conversation, the Whitney Museum of American Art curator selected Beasley as an emerging artist to watch, touting the New York based sculptor’s DIY processes and “assemblage techniques” as used to craft “gnarly, evocative sculptures and sound works.”

One look at the types of pieces Beasley makes and you get the word association. T-shirts and tar, footwear and foam; a cotton-gin motor lugged from Alabama: they’re all useable – and valuable – materials to the artist, who both features them in their own right and as well as working them into combustive creations that are somehow slick, as gnarly in make-up as they may be.

Beasley’s performance at the Whitney Biennial earlier in the year saw him conflate his two practices, burying a microphone within his concrete and fabric sculptures in an endeavour aimed at capturing the essence of each object’s ‘internal architecture’. It was visceral, raw and electric – words that can be tagged to both Beasley’s work and his own vision. Of art, and the world.

Tempe Nakiska: You are asked to visualise the future of art in America – one led by your own generation of artists within the context of global culture now. What do you see?
Kevin Beasley: A Mike Brown reincarnated and becomes an artist or maybe a John Crawford III takes up film and video, a year 2030 McQueen. A Renisha Mcbride explores electro-acoustics and becomes maybe not the first, but definitely the most memorable visual artist to sculpt with sound – on Mars. Ezell Ford, who suffered from mental complications, paints – still – from his window. However undiscovered he may be, his work is therapeutic for not only himself, but for those who can see the complications through his mark-making.

I think our generation is poised to shape a new global understanding of what it means to be ‘from’ somewhere and to generate a fresh cultural perspective but will not take hold until we realise that we are part of a constellation. A cosmic reality. I see art in America no differently than the possibilities in several other parts of the globe and until the prevailing sentiment of separation subsides – there will be no future, only just a desire for what it could be.

Kevin Beasley ‘…ain’t it?’, 2014. Hooded sweatshirt, resin. Courtesy of the artist and Casey Kaplan, NY

Kevin Beasley ‘Untitled (Jumped Man)’, 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Casey Kaplan, NY

TN: What do you set out to do every day in your approach to your work as an artist?
KB: Everyday I commit to it – not just mentally, but physically.

TN: What are the biggest challenges facing young and emerging artists today?
KB: The toughest challenge is one that always exists contemporaneously and that is not being discouraged.

TN: Is the art world a more globalised one today – and what impact if any does it have on you as an artist?
KB: It totally is more globalised; just look at Africa and South America. The attention is slowly building. These continents are registering in both the museum and gallery circuit, but also in the art market. That wasn’t always the case. I try not to think about the global impact on my studio. I try to think about how me having a studio and doing the work in respects to my immediate community can have resonance. If the medium flows fervently then it will reach those that it needs to reach.

Kevin Beasle. ‘Katies’, 2014. Resin, altered carpet, muumuu dresses. Courtesy the artist and Casey Kaplan

TN: What is the future of tactile, traditional artist mediums as opposed to digital?
KB: Our bodies are still the conduit and energy is mass. E=mc^2 Digital means nothing without a body to take it in.

TN: What is the biggest lesson you have learnt in your experience rising up within the art community so far?
KB: That regardless of the systems in place, humans are always on the other side. This has been a relief because it means it is malleable.

Stay tuned for more HERO Young Art Week content in the coming days and plug into our social media platforms for updates as they come.

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