Gene Beery

Logoscapes/Visualpercussion — Organized by Gregor Quack

16 July – 27 August 2016

Jan Kaps, Cologne

Jan Kaps, Gene Beery, Logoscapes/Visualpercussion — Organized by Gregor Quack, Installation View, 2016

Installation View, 2016

Jan Kaps, Gene Beery, Logoscapes/Visualpercussion — Organized by Gregor Quack, Installation View, 2016

Installation View, 2016

Jan Kaps, Gene Beery, Logoscapes/Visualpercussion — Organized by Gregor Quack, Installation View, 2016

Installation View, 2016

Jan Kaps, Gene Beery, Logoscapes/Visualpercussion — Organized by Gregor Quack, Installation View, 2016

Installation View, 2016

Jan Kaps, Gene Beery, Logoscapes/Visualpercussion — Organized by Gregor Quack, Installation View, 2016

Installation View, 2016

Jan Kaps, Gene Beery, Logoscapes/Visualpercussion — Organized by Gregor Quack, Installation View, 2016

Installation View, 2016

Jan Kaps, Gene Beery, Logoscapes/Visualpercussion — Organized by Gregor Quack, Installation View, 2016

Installation View, 2016

Jan Kaps, Gene Beery, Logoscapes/Visualpercussion — Organized by Gregor Quack, Life stars, 2016, 38.10 × 76.20 cm

Life stars, 2016, 38.10 × 76.20 cm

Jan Kaps, Gene Beery, Logoscapes/Visualpercussion — Organized by Gregor Quack, Welcome wagon blues, 1973, 53 x 130 cm

Welcome wagon blues, 1973, 53 x 130 cm

Jan Kaps, Gene Beery, Logoscapes/Visualpercussion — Organized by Gregor Quack, Plant, 1966, 122 × 122 cm

Plant, 1966, 122 × 122 cm

Jan Kaps, Gene Beery, Logoscapes/Visualpercussion — Organized by Gregor Quack, Still life, 2016, 45.72 × 60.96 cm

Still life, 2016, 45.72 × 60.96 cm

Jan Kaps, Gene Beery, Logoscapes/Visualpercussion — Organized by Gregor Quack, Make a painting as a note, 2010, 91.44 × 63.50 cm

Make a painting as a note, 2010, 91.44 × 63.50 cm

Jan Kaps, Gene Beery, Logoscapes/Visualpercussion — Organized by Gregor Quack, Clouds, 1965, 104 × 130 cm

Clouds, 1965, 104 × 130 cm

Jan Kaps, Gene Beery, Logoscapes/Visualpercussion — Organized by Gregor Quack, Poem, 2009, 25.5 × 35.5 cm

Poem, 2009, 25.5 × 35.5 cm

Jan Kaps, Gene Beery, Logoscapes/Visualpercussion — Organized by Gregor Quack, A Weather Painting, 1965, 104 × 120 cm

A Weather Painting, 1965, 104 × 120 cm

Jan Kaps, Gene Beery, Logoscapes/Visualpercussion — Organized by Gregor Quack, Enough!, 2016,  27.94 × 35.56 cm

Enough!, 2016, 27.94 × 35.56 cm

Jan Kaps, Gene Beery, Logoscapes/Visualpercussion — Organized by Gregor Quack, Actual Size, 2016, 27.5 × 35.5 cm

Actual Size, 2016, 27.5 × 35.5 cm

Jan Kaps, Gene Beery, Logoscapes/Visualpercussion — Organized by Gregor Quack, Vibrastrope, 1993, 69.85 × 91.44 cm

Vibrastrope, 1993, 69.85 × 91.44 cm

Jan Kaps, Gene Beery, Logoscapes/Visualpercussion — Organized by Gregor Quack, Just a good painting, 1970, 127.00 × 135.89 cm

Just a good painting, 1970, 127.00 × 135.89 cm

Jan Kaps, Gene Beery, Logoscapes/Visualpercussion — Organized by Gregor Quack, Untitled, 1990s / 2000s, 37.5 × 44.5 cm

Untitled, 1990s / 2000s, 37.5 × 44.5 cm

Jan Kaps, Gene Beery, Logoscapes/Visualpercussion — Organized by Gregor Quack, Untitled, 1990s / 2000s, 37.5 × 44.5 cm

Untitled, 1990s / 2000s, 37.5 × 44.5 cm

Jan Kaps, Gene Beery, Logoscapes/Visualpercussion — Organized by Gregor Quack, Untitled, 1990s / 2000s, 37.5 × 44.5 cm

Untitled, 1990s / 2000s, 37.5 × 44.5 cm

Jan Kaps, Gene Beery, Logoscapes/Visualpercussion — Organized by Gregor Quack, Untitled, 1990s / 2000s, 37.5 × 44.5 cm

Untitled, 1990s / 2000s, 37.5 × 44.5 cm

Jan Kaps, Gene Beery, Logoscapes/Visualpercussion — Organized by Gregor Quack, Untitled, 1990s / 2000s, 37.5 × 44.5 cm

Untitled, 1990s / 2000s, 37.5 × 44.5 cm

Jan Kaps, Gene Beery, Logoscapes/Visualpercussion — Organized by Gregor Quack, Untitled, 1990s / 2000s, 37.5 × 44.5 cm

Untitled, 1990s / 2000s, 37.5 × 44.5 cm

Jan Kaps, Gene Beery, Logoscapes/Visualpercussion — Organized by Gregor Quack, Untitled, 1990s / 2000s, 37.5 × 44.5 cm

Untitled, 1990s / 2000s, 37.5 × 44.5 cm

Jan Kaps, Gene Beery, Logoscapes/Visualpercussion — Organized by Gregor Quack, Untitled, 1990s / 2000s, 37.5 × 44.5 cm

Untitled, 1990s / 2000s, 37.5 × 44.5 cm

Press release

Interview with Gene Beery
Recorded by Gregor Quack, July 2016

Gregor:
I would like to start by learning a little bit about how you started out. You grew up in the Midwest, right?

Gene:
Yes, I think my family is Irish, bohemian and perhaps Italian. A good minestrone mix there. A little bit of everything. My dad’s family was kind of aesthetically inclined. They were into art and good taste and the best of this and that, you know. My mother's family was German and Polish. This little town I was raised in – Racine, Wisconsin – it was just the perfect place to get the hell out of. There was a pretty well- known art school in Milwaukee, so I went there. At one point I switched to industrial design, too, but eventually I went back to painting. It was easier. Industrial design was too much like regular school. In the art department, you could put your feet up and have a cigar while you were doing your schoolwork.
But then got corrupted by the art magazines. See, all the good stuff was happening in New York. This is in the 50s. So I went to New York. I found out that that's where the action was.
In my hometown, they would be talking about money and cars and beer and stuff like that,
but in New York you could go in bars or taverns and in some of them people actually talked about art so passionately that they were yelling and banging their fsts on the table.

Gregor:
Do you remember the names of those places?

Gene:
Yeah, the Cedar Bar was one of them.

Gregor:
So that was still around when you got there?

Gene:
Yeah, that was still there. I just missed Pollock. When I got there he had just died. But you could talk with guys like de Kooning pretty easily. AbEx was still going pretty strong then. Concept art was just a baby and we thought as part of that as well. One time I was having a drink with Franz Kline, and I turned away to talk to somebody else, and looked back and he was gone. Disappeared. I just thought that he had gone off to talk to more important people, but when I looked down I saw him just lying on the foor and he had just passed out. From too much drinking or too much art talk I don’t know.
I liked his work. He may have even infuenced me a little bit. Those blacks and whites. He was a pretty good guy. I only got mad at him because he forgot to feed his German Shepherd in his loft, and the dog died.

Gregor:
How did you even get to New York?

Gene:
A friend of mine, another artist, we pooled our money and drove there in my VW beetle. It was close enough that if you tried hard enough, you could actually do a 1-day drive. In the few years I lived in New York, I managed to make the trip in one day twice. Though to be fair, I probably fell asleep during the trip. I’m probably lucky to be here, considering. I ended up renting a saxophone and we would take turns playing it. Like Ornette Coleman. That honking and squeaking kept you awake when you didn’t have a radio.

Gregor:
What did you do when you weren’t drinking with the old timers?

Gene:
What was probably most important for me was that In New York there's a lot of art history too. Masterpieces everywhere. It was a real eye opener. I got a job at the Museum of Modern Art. I was there for about 2 and a half years, as a guard, which was actually pretty neat. I was in the Matisse room, and I really like Matisse. Then I was in the Cézanne room. Some of the Cézanne pictures, if you watched them long enough, they'd move. Although maybe it was me standing there with a hangover for too long. Now that I think of it, the Matisse room pictures were moving too. Either way, there the paintings somehow turned into motion pictures and became almost 3-dimensional. I had a piece in a show there in 1961. During that show, Max Ernst walked up to me and gave me a $100 check that said: “Continue your work!” That was quite a bit of money then, and of course the check is gone. You know, poor art student. But I do have a copy of it.

Gregor:
Yeah, you told me about that. It’s a great story. So you had a good job. Did you get a studio right away as well?

Gene:
Soon after. One of the other guards had a studio in - what the hell was it - 117 Hester Street.
He told me they had one for rent, and I went down, it was 45 bucks a month.Not heated, no shower. It was just a loft, and the fire department didn't want anybody staying in it for the fire danger. I fixed it so that I could withdraw the lock from the inside. So if the authorities came banging on the door, which they did on occasion ... I made it impossible for them to get in and fed to the second foor. I looked on the internet the other day, it's all modernized now. When I lived there,
it was a Jewish grocery store. Mother and egg. They sold eggs to all the neighborhood there.

Gregor:
Your neighbor was Sol LeWitt, right?

Gene:
Yeah, he moved in, later. I told him about it, actually. We had met at MoMA where he was the night clerk. He moved in on the foor above me and we became pretty close. He even backed me up when the landlord wanted to beat me up one time. He was a mentor to me of sorts. He was very good- hearted guy and a good artist, too.

Gregor:
I remember you telling me he bought many of your early paintings. What did this mentorship look like? Was it mostly a financial thing?

Gene:
No, not at all. That was more of a side effect. Most important was that we were constantly exchanging ideas. I think we may have borrowed a few from each other, as friends do. But it’s always hard to remember so many years later. I’m not interested in re-writing the historical record.

Gregor:
What kind of ideas did you get from each other?

Gene:
I certainly got the idea of serial work from him. To make more than one version or physical manifestation of an idea. And I think our conversations may have helped him to inch closer toward making art only out of ideas, to move away from the sculptural things he was doing and toward ideas pure and simple. Again, maybe. We can't question him about it, but I always thought that when you get two artists together and you have an exchange of ideas, both sides come out changed in one way or another.

Gregor:
How do you think you fit into the New York scene at the time? Did you get along with everybody? I’ve been thinking that your work somehow manages to connect sensibilities that I was taught to consider as opposites of each other. Humor and seriousness. Pop and Conceptualism.

Gene:
Yeah, I certainly felt like an oddball. Of course I still am an oddball, and proud of it. And in terms of my art... I was already doing my own kind of weird stuff when I left Milwaukee. In that sense, I didn't always speak the same art talk as everyone in the scene.

Gregor:
This would have also been the time when you started making your text paintings, right?

Gene:
Yes, that happened when I entered that show I mentioned before. It was what they called an open show. They don't do too many of those anymore. You would send in a slide along with countless other artists and if you were very very lucky you got to be in the show. Mine was called “Figure Painting USA,” and it was at The Museum of Modern Art, of all places. So I got to guard my own painting, which I thought was fun. In a way, the inspiration from the text paintings also came from my work as a guard. While being posted in the French paintings section of the museum, I had seen that even people who otherwise had absolutely no interest in painting would be drawn to works with words in them... and I thought that was just an great hook. You add words and al of a sudden people stop and think ... even if it's in a foreign language. Really anyone from Magritte to Picasso to Stuart Davis did it at one point, but people had kind of forgotten all about it by the late 1950s.
I started out with fgures, female fgures. But I replaced limbs and body parts with the words in "arm" and "leg" and M-R-A for the arm on the other side. The problem with those early ones was that people were almost too taken aback by the strange mixture. They didn't now what the hell to make of it. To them, the paintings looked like some kind of torture machine. So instead, I decided eventually to focus only on the words.

It was a coincidence that the idea to include words coincided with some other work in the art world at the time. But I was kind of shocked by it at first. I did not like doing the same thing that everyone was doing. This was a time – the early 1960s – were you could really see the effects of style and even fashion in art. This was in style one week, that was in style the next week. I couldn't believe how easy some people made it for themselves, and so I got a little satirical. I saw a sign in a store, "Closed. Watch for re-opening soon," so I made a painting like that. A painting with opening hours.

Gregor:
That's one of my favorite ones.

Gene:
Yeah, you might have seen that one somewhere. I did these early paintings on masonite. I lived down on Canal Street, and they had a lot of building supply places there where you could get really cheap Masonite. And eventually, some connections from the MoMA show started to call back. I did some work for William Lieberman, the print guy... and Mr. Barr from MoMA was somehow associated with the Alexander Iolas Gallery and I got offered a show there. They had just done this scandalous show with Edward Kienholz, who had taped up pornography on the walls and let his crew rip the joint apart. I think it was supposed to look like a whorehouse or something. And so, perhaps because the gallery staff
was eager to have paintings again, I got offered a show. I flled it with words paintings. I put one in the center that just said, "Some words are worth a thousand pictures." It went over pretty well. Andy Warhol came to the opening, but I think they wouldn't let him in, because they thought his entourage had been part of the Kienholz show. But I did meet Man Ray and talked to him. He seemed to really like it.

Gregor:
So it was well received?

Gene:
Yeah, it got pretty good reviews. But I think it soon turned out that people were a bit too interested in protecting their own turf to really engage. The Abstract expressionists and the fgurative people, the surrealists, were still in control and they were really digging in their heels. This thing I was trying – words, ideas – it was just starting to come in. It was not big enough yet. It was too early.

Gregor:
Did you know anything about people York like Mel Bochner? Or even on the west coast, there were people like Ed Ruscha or Baldessari. Did you know anything about people like that?

Gene:
Not really. Those guys only really appeared on my radar in the later 1960s I think. But I never became close to them like I was with Sol or with Jim Rosenquist. I frst learned about them when Lucy Lippard put my work in these two neat concept art shows alongside them. One was in Seattle and one was in Vancouver. And I think both were titled with the population number of each city. I contributed a sketch for a painting of mine, called “Note: Make a painting of a Note as a painting.” I still like to make studies of that today.

Gregor:
Was Pop something that really interested you as a movement or a new style?

Gene:
Well, I remember going to see Jim Dine's show of overcoats. And I also saw Andy’s soap boxes. But I just thought, "Gee, that's interesting, but I can't do that, they're doing it already.”

Gregor:
I thought it is a nice parallel with pop that so many of your paintings from the time have this store sign feeling.

Gene:
Right, I’m not going to say that it didn’t influence me at all. But I think I was always more satirical. I remember that the sign idea came from when I saw a show by Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint-Phalle after they had visited my studio. He had a show at the Met, I think. It had all these moving parts, but because it was the Met it could only operate at certain hours of the day. And when I went to visit, I suppose somebody at the museum had come up with the idea to clarify things with a neat little placard that said "This work is temporarily out of order." I jumped on that immediately, of course, and I made
a painting with that idea right away.

Gregor:
I think it’s fascinating to hear about New York, but I am almost more interested in what happened in the decade after. Because New York as you describe it seems like such an exciting place and at some point you just decided to leave.

Gene:
It just came to an end. I saw it as a kind of cathartic period I had to go through. I used to to tell people that my trip to New York drove me sane. Not insane, sane. I was still going to church when I frst moved there. I had to get all that out of my system, but at some point it was enough.

Gregor:
So you left in '63, right?

Gene:
Yeah, I think it was '63. I needed to let things settle down a little bit. Let the new knowledge and new experiences sink in. I saw somebody I knew move to California, so I said, "I'll go try that for a month."
I had had enough of New York. So I went to California. That was a completely different scene. Pot. The beach. I was in northern California where the water's so goddamn cold you can't even swim in it, but you got used to it after a while. I had a place on the beach and did some painting. Sold a few paintings here and there, but I don’t think people there ever really got me. And I didn’t fght it. I let people choose their own art. I don't push mine that much.

Gregor:
You moved with your wife, right?

Gene:
Not right away, I had known her from before, but in the meantime, she was married with 3 kids. She stayed in the Midwest and eventually came out to LA. I drove went down and hooked up again with her down there. The instant family, I liked to call it. And then we also had more kids. I did end up having a painting in a show in Long Beach. It was the one called “7 clouds, 5 lightnings.” And you know who picked that out from all the paintings that got sent in? Clement Greenberg. He was the curator of that show. I never got to meet him, though. It was technically a show for Southern California artists and I was somehow afraid I would get exposed as the Northern California that I was. So I never went to the opening like a dope. That painting's held up, I think. The white has really lasted.

Gregor:
Yes, I think it looks super fresh. What’s the story behind it?

Gene:
It’s one of the older ones. I made it in the '60s in my place on the beach in San Fran. It had a working title, “Schematic for a Small Storm.” If you’ve been to San Francisco, the weather can get really weird in those microclimates, as they call them. It was kind of stormy where I was living, at Stinson Beach.
I suppose there is this little theme that runs through my art, it’s probably one of the main reasons I’ve kept at it. My art is a way for me to get things under control. You know that you can ultimately never control or completely understand things, but you have to keep trying anyway. Making my own world in which I call the shots. It probably started when I was a kid. I was a smart little kid and my Catholic mother knocked me down all the time. So when I was in my little house in San Francisco, feeling exposed to the unpredictable weather, I just resorted to this way of thinking and created a storm that I could understand and control. If you spell it out like that – 7 cloud, 5 lightning – the storm starts to feel completely harmless.

Gregor:
The weather seems to be a returning theme in your work.

Gene:
Yeah, I have an interest in weather. Out in rural California where I live now, we have a long summer here and short winter, so no storms, but we do get those damn forest fres. So after we moved out here, I did a few fre paintings as well. But 7 clouds and 5 lightings always remained one of our family favorites. The borderline's nice too. I did that with my fngers, sloshing around like my kids.

Gregor:
I think that’s why this is perhaps one of my favorite phases of your work. You took a language that you honed in the high-minded art debates of New York city but used and applied it for your own good and to your own reality. Like the painting with the little green plant that we have in the show.

Gene:
Yeah. That’s a rosebush. It’s part of a number of paintings I was doing at the time, all with these energy blobs around the border of them. I was very interested in energy at the time, how it fuels life. So I simply brought together these energy blobs with an image inspired by some kind of gardening book: "How to plant a rosebush.” The names foating around above the plant are names of actual rose varietals, I think. Elise, Tanya, Sabina, I think?

Gregor:
This interest in energy would have been quite in line with what was otherwise happening in San Francisco at the time, right? Hippies, Summer of Love, and whatnot. You’ve told me that the art scene there felt pretty closed, but did you have any contact with San Francisco as a larger place at the time?

Gene:
Yeah, it was interesting. Well, when I moved in from the beach, I rented a room in a house full of hippies. That was pretty good. Although you had to put your name on your food in the fridge, because they had very peculiar ideas about private property. You would put in a dozen eggs in the morning, in the afternoon there's 6 in there. I also made some movies about what was happening in Haight-Ashbury and generally tried to take it all in. Pot was the big thing, on all levels. But unlike most of them, I had a family. I ended up driving a cab there for 9 years to make a living.

Gregor:
So you lived in the same house with them, but you weren't deep in it yourself?

Gene:
Right, I hung around with them and smoked their pot if they offered it, but ultimately it felt it was just what all the rich, ultimately conservative kids did. You turned into a hippie for a few years and then went back. I also really didn't like the music they were listening to. I still liked bop the way I had in New York.

Gregor:
You liked jazz and they liked folk.

Gene:
Exactly. If you look closely, I think there is even a jazzy element in some of my work to this day. This feeling of improvisation. To paint with a somewhat lose painting style and still getting yourself to accept it as legit. For me, that’s a rule. Resist tightening it up! Don’t make it sharper than it already is! In the most recent works that I've been doing, the black and whites, this is one of the main things I’m after.

Gregor:
Right, in the most recent ones, you have pre-drawings in pencil, but you seem to just miss them.

Gene:
Yeah. That really sets me up for the painting part. Some of them I like to do just with the graphite. I’m rediscovering graphite. Because sometimes there is actually another bit of meaning in the pre- drawing. Whether you see it or not. I felt that since I stopped using color, I needed to introduce a surplus of meaning in another way.

Gregor:
When did you leave San Francisco to move out into the foothills? When would you say that was?

Gene:
There was a bit of back and forth. I moved to LA to be with my future wife and her kids. We moved back north of San Francisco, to Petaluma. Then my dad died and they were living here in the country by that time. My mother was by herself, and so I talked my wife-to-be into coming up here and watching out for my mother with me. So we did that. That worked out pretty good. We had 7 people in that little house, until we built this one I am sitting in now. This one was built as a studio. That was in '78, I put it on the cement stoop out there

Gregor:
How much of an adjustment would you say that was? You were in cities for a couple of years before that. Or was it a natural thing?

Gene:
I missed New York sometimes, but I really liked the woods too. We had access to the mountains. Two hours you're at Tahoe, 3 hours you're in Reno. Those are pretty far out towns. I liked it here. My wife got a job doing housekeeping at an inn, I got a job as a gardener. We both worked sort of our dream. I was able to paint, work part-time and she was able to be with the family. It worked out all right. I never missed San Francisco, looking back. I've only been there 2 or 3 times since we moved out of there.

Gregor:
I'm wondering how such a big move would change your work ... Did you try to keep up at all with what was happening in the big cities?

Gene:
Not actively, because I didn't think there was anything happening that I couldn’t get anywhere else. Everybody's thinks of themselves as an art expert, you know. Just ask people anywhere what they think about your art and they’ll tell you.
It was a little bit different when we frst moved up here, I guess but It's hard to be truly isolated anymore. Plus I've been able to keep up a bit through magazines and visits from friends and such. It's hard to get isolated anymore.

Gregor:
I have to say: I’m surprised that you don’t see so much of a change. Some of my favorite more recent paintings are the ones where you point to nature. Like the ones that says, "We still have wild birds here." I'm just trying to figure out if there's an influence that being in nature has on your work in that way.

Gene:
Well, now that you say it. I have always found animals very interesting. We've had just about everything go through here except grizzly bears, which are extinct in California, but we do have black bears. And I think that brings another thing with it. One of the things that I had to encounter anew up here to me was death. You have confront death a lot more up here. On all levels. Animals get run over on the highways, roadkill as they call it. And when people die it’s much closer to you because there is so much less distraction, like with the death of my wife.
People and animals are not swept under the rug up here, like they often are in the city. Death happens out in the open. People eat what they kill, by and large. People that you saw and knew well, they die. And recently, suicide has become a problem up here as well. With kids mostly, but with adults too. Death to me has come to the forefront and you have to deal with how inexplicable it really is. In the city, you don't have to fgure it out. It’s just: “Oh well, another soldier killed. 200 soldiers killed, or terrorism, or whatever. It just rolls off your back, you know. Here, there is nowhere to hide from it. You see the impermanence of things here. In nature and in life. It makes you want to express something about it.

Gregor:
Do you think that leads a little bit to your faster painting style?

Gene:
Yeah. The expedience, that's what I like about this black and white stuff, and their smaller size. The size deal was like, hauling those big suckers around everywhere, and stretching them, and getting all that paint together was so time consuming ... I prefer now to do these little black and whites. I had this idea, I better do these before I go. Get these ideas down. Get them out there. To me it's almost like brush painting or Chinese calligraphy. In a way there's that level there that you can look at them that way, and see that. It's not as classically beautiful, of course, but a lot of the lines are done with aesthetics in mind.

Gregor:
And like much of Chinese painting it's a form of meditation or passing the day, no?

Gene: Yes.

Gregor:
You probably make one of these black and white paintings a day, right?

Gene:
Yeah, at times. I haven't completely recovered from my wife's passing yet, and I’ve been making less. I've done a few and they don't seem to be as good as I wanted them to be. Because I was grieving, but also because I needed my wife for my work, even though she was not an artist at all. I explained things to her and she told me her opinion. It was perfect that way. We didn't compete and could be honest to each other.

Gregor:
Did she have opinions about your art, though?

Gene:
Yeah. She just let me do my thing. She asked me what things meant, "What does that one mean?" and then I'd be forced to explain it to her and to myself as well. At some point I also started to do portraits of the family. I can do them pretty well, you know. I got the kids. I got my folks. But somehow I never could get her portrait right.