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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Jack Beal

The painting is called Trout. It's a still-life. The setting appears to be the hood of a car. A newly caught trout lies out across an intricately decorated, elongated, octagon-shaped plate that is just a little too small for the fish. A half-open penknife lies nearby while a round plate next to it bears delectable white grapes and the long evening shadows that permeate the entire painting.  Jutting diagonally across the picture plane are two portions of an old-fashioned rod and reel. The metal of the hood is dull, oxidized gray allowing the pinks and greens of the fish to dominate coloristically as they compliment the yellowish green of the grapes. The painting is by Jack Beal, and if you've never heard of him you should take steps to rectify this lapse.  He's been legitimately termed "The Father of American Realism."

Born in 1931 near Richmond, Virginia, Beal studied at William and Mary as well as the Art Institute of Chicago. Artistically, he came of age during the Abstract Expressionist era, but found himself just one of many hundreds of budding young artists struggling to make an impression (or should we say expression)  in a style in which he was neither comfortable nor exceptional.  Realizing there were all too many painters like himself overpopulating and imitating the New York School, he saw the "handwriting on the wall," so to speak and decided there was nothing new to be done in the aging Abstractionist movement, so in the early 1960s he jumped ship.  He briefly joined Richard Diebenkorn, and Philip Pearlstein in Figurative painting, then along with Pearlstein, moved toward Realism.  His work is often compared to Pearlstein's photo-realism, and in terms of his still-lifes, such at Trout, it's a valid comparison.

But there is an element of Thomas Hart Benton arising as well.  Like Benton, in the 1970s, he began painting murals. His four murals on The History of American Labor were completed in 1977 after three years of nonstop work.  They can be seen in the Department of Labor Building in Washington, DC.  His work can also be seen in prestigious museums like the Whitney, the Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art as well as major corporate collections such as that of the Brunswick Corporation and Philip Morris. There is a shade more realism in Beal's work than that of Benton but one will also notice the same very low or very high points of view, strong, dynamic diagonals, and an affinity with many of Benton's color choices. A self-portrait depicts a brooding man, younger perhaps, but with an uncanny resemblance to Thomas Hart Benton.

The work of Jack Beal is copyrighted but can be seen at:

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