Stephanie Ryden Stephanie Ryden

Debra Beers

Mark Woolley Gallery
120 NW 9th Ste 210, 224-9972
Through Jan 27

For two decades artist Debra Beers has found subjects in the urban reality surrounding her. In 1987 she displayed portraits of street youth at Acanthus gallery, marking the beginning of an artist/model relationship with homeless individuals. She utilizes the classical approach to portrait painting (historically a situation accommodating a rich patron) and adds an ironic twist. Her drafting skills illuminate individuals who exist outside of society's spotlight.

In her recent body of work on view at Mark Woolley gallery, Beers singles out a special individual amongst her group of models. On surfaces ranging between linoleum, roofing material and scrap metal, Beers applies oil paint in careful articulations, exposing a man who has recently left his homeless existence behind. "Bill", is now calls a studio apartment home.

Beers' rendering skill is a pronounced aspect of the exhibit. Her classically trained hand easily deals with the human figure and pays careful attention to detail. Additionally, Beers has the amazing ability to work adeptly on any surface. Most of the paintings rest on hybrid surfaces, mixtures of metal scraps and other dumpster entrails- that Beers effectively makes seamless through measured brush strokes. In one piece simply titled "Bill", (above) she renders the grown man curled into a tight fetal position. His weathered body lies on a mass of scattered building fragments. His feet and toes are slightly flexed, exposing a subtle tension. His facial expression is neither anguished nor peaceful. As in most of the images in the exhibition, he is depicted as a pensive soul, a quality expressed even in sleep. Effectively, Beers has made this man vulnerable to the viewer. Through haunting realism "Bill" is asleep in the gallery as viewers watch over him.

Throughout the exhibit, Beers offers numerous, intimate glimpses of the figure. The poses and angles seem to suggest a close proximity to the subject. The viewers are led to an examination of Bill; a search of his weathered face for signs that might reveal clues to the story of his life. Criticism of the exhibit arises from the lack of findings.

Even with the large display of surfaces dedicated to unveiling facets of "Bill", components of his personality never fully surface. This is due in part to the fact that his gaze is only slightly activated.. He is portrayed only in profile. He is largely depicted staring off into an undisclosed distance or paying attention to a mundane task. While Beers has indeed constructed a mood of isolationism, Bill appears too detached. His role as model is very conscious, and such careful posing causes the paintings to appear disingenuous.

Another element that clouds the intent of the artist is the rather indulgent use of non-traditional surfaces. There are points in the exhibit where the discarded materials are more interesting than the imagery painted on top of them. Cabinet doors, window frames, linoleum fragments, weathered signs, etc. are all sort of interesting unto themselves. The combination of these urban relics with layers of oil paint ultimately ends up in overkill.

As the show is touted as a portrait of an individual, the success should at least in part lie in what the viewer learns about the subject. Given the information provided by Beers, the response to "Who is Bill?" could include rather germane descriptions: He is a tall, moderately muscular man with chiseled features, dark complexion and long, straight hair. He is adorned by Native American jewelry. He is marked by aged hands and a weathered face. His expression is unwavering: pensive and removed. Viewers observe him in nearly identical scenes, with few exceptions.

What is the intricacy of Bill? What/who does he love? What/who does he hate? Where has he been? Where is he going? While the viewer has access to a few written facts about Bill, visually the information is sparse. The exhibition is primarily a reflection of Debra Beers trained hand, and unfortunately little about the man who must have an amazing story to tell. KARRIN ELLERTSON