The narratives in Jonathan Beer’s art make many unpredictable turns. And like the paintings of Neo Rauch, who is an influence here, there is an unmistakable weirdness in the work. It’s never clear what you are looking at, or why the sky is sometimes bright yellow, or the earth fractured and filleted, yet there is enough of a reference to the known world to trigger a disjointed series of quick, unresolved thoughts in the viewer’s mind.
The general gist of Beer’s art is a suspension of reality – a moment where everything comes to a grinding halt allowing parallel dimensions to cross. I remember being told as a child, that when you shiver, someone is stepping across your future gravesite. This implies that separate events that occur within various timelines can be connected, making time very fluid – or enough so that a part of our being can move from one point in space and time to another without our control or consciousness. This possibility, or the thought of it, is what makes Beer’s art so compelling. It seems as though the artist has relinquished almost all control over what he paints, how he paints it, or what colors he uses – sort of the way the Action Painters wrote or painted automatically. Only with Beer, there is an obvious aspect of Surrealism whereby unconnected objects or images continuously collide then coalesce.
On the other hand, I find his color theory, or lack thereof, to be the most memorable aspect of his work as it challenges our sense of normal, even more so than the strange juxtaposition of divergent objects he employs. There is also the use of geometry here and there, flat fields of color that simplify space and composition, which reminds me quite a bit of the paintings of R. B. Kitaj who was a great master at that game.
Beer also has links in his paintings to the cinema, especially Alfred Hitchcock’s films, with titles like North By Northwest or Rear Window. Hitchcock’s greatness was rooted in the fact that he never showed us more than he had to. He left it up to the viewer to complete the scene, to fill in the gory details, giving us a way to enter the story alone and exposed. There is a bit of that here with Beer’s paintings, as the rawness of his vision creates a peculiar, disorienting feeling that we all, despite social networking and communication, are alone and exposed.
(Image on top: Jonathan Beer, Foreign Windows, 2012, oil on canvas, 150 x 170 cm; Courtesy of the artist and Kathleen Cullen Fine Arts)