Karen Rich Beall


Artist's Statement
After Life






About Underpinnings












While much of my past work meticulously replicated specific plant and animal forms, After Life intentionally utilizes simplified and even abstracted forms derived from the natural world. Thus the title After Life is less a statement on the artistic practice of 'modeling from life' and more a wry comment--from the artist's point of view--on the notion of producing a new body of work under the critical lens. Equally important, however, is After Life's reference to death and spirituality, a common theme in all of my work.

Independently conceived but conceptually related, the five pieces in After Life share common themes of ornamentation, entrapment, and transformation. While some reference predatory and parasitic processes, others allude to birth and re-birth. Intended to be seen as both individual pieces and parts of an integral whole, the pieces simultaneously contrast and complement one another. Occasionally humorous, often quite serious, and sometimes both funny and poignant at once, the pieces in After Life utilize craft materials alongside traditional sculptural processes.

Since childhood, Atlanta artist Karen Rich Beall has maintained an acute interest in the forces of life and death which exist in nature, identifying and replicating the visual characteristics of plants and animals through a scientific approach to classification. Filling her studio with jars of found specimens, dried and stacked piles of leaves and bark, even preserving dead birds in her kitchen freezer, Beall draws inspiration from both the natural world and the science lab. Paradoxically, her work emerges from this cluttered environment clean and minimally stated, laboriously exacting detail given way to the cool aesthetics of contemporary art.

Much of Beall's past work has dealt with natural processes in relation to cultural practice. She embedded various antique furniture pieces, for instance, with carved plaster reliefs of diseased internal organs as a smart pun on the idea of living with illness. This wry sense of humor has at times been more apparent. A line of cast candy carrots, for example, hangs suspended from gold thread and glass rods, just out of reach from the viewer.

More recent work has focused on observation. Beall's series of carnivorous tropical plants made out of sculpted and painted papier-mache have been particularly viable, providing complex physical and psychological connotations derived and accentuated from the actual plants, which Beall grows in small terrariums.

Underpinnings is the title of Beall's latest body of work, a group of sculptures that, although visually different from each other, share a common structure: the surface and that which exists below it. A wall-hung vine made out of wire references a family tree while evoking a large root. Cast-silicone jellyfish float in mid-air, their poisonous tentacles dangling from a single gelatinous body. A group of papier-mache Robins stands gathered on a patch of lawn, caught in the midst of some unknown ritual. Small cast-plaster fungi protrude from the wall, recontextualized from the forest to the gallery. Beall's naturalistic treatment of these objects provides several layers of interpretation, nature versus artifice and the inherent beauty of the natural world being the most immediately recognizable. But as her show title suggests, there is more to Beall's work than meets the eye. As accurately as they are rendered, Beall's works almost always belie realism in favor of the symbolic and the surrogate.

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