Artist Bruce Beasley gives virtual reality physical form in new show at Pamela Walsh Gallery | News

If you’ve ever finger-drawn a doodle or design in the air and then wished it could have been captured in solid form, you would find a kindred spirit in Bruce Beasley. Harnessing the power of virtual reality allowed Oakland-based Beasley to do just that, and the resulting sculptures and collages are now on display at Palo Alto’s Pamela Walsh Gallery.

The exhibition entitled “Momentum” consists of two recent series; Aeolis, these are three-dimensional metal sculptures and Aurai, two-dimensional collages corresponding to the Aeolis series. The exhibition, which runs until November 23, is a small departure for the gallery, which normally focuses on paintings, prints and works on paper.

Walsh said that a visit to Beasley’s West Oakland studio lot “blew my mind” and was the impetus for a solo show at her gallery. “Bruce and I have forged a strong, professional relationship and have witnessed the development of his long, prolific career, the philosophy behind his creative practice, and the critical role of technology and innovation in his recent work, including the Aeolis sculptures and the Aurai collages. discussed.”

“After six decades, Bruce has remained strong and curious, and continues to find new ways to express his imagery,” she added.

The Venerable Beasley has the honor of being one of the youngest artists – he was about 23 at the time – to have a work included in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. He was recently honored with a 60-year retrospective at the Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey.

Beasley, now 83, has had a long and distinguished career, not least because he has always embraced change and innovation. Born in Los Angeles in 1939, he briefly attended Dartmouth College before transferring to the University of California at Berkeley. It came at a pivotal time when classmates like Peter Voulkos were experimenting with materials and techniques, leading to a revival of interest in the medium of sculpture. His early work made use of the industrial scrap he found around his Oakland warehouse, but he was soon experimenting with cast aluminum.

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With the mantra that “technology empowers creativity,” Beasley then explored cast acrylic sculptures created through computer-aided design (CAD), a tool that was also used to capture his movements in and from virtual reality software resulting shapes for him to bring to life Aeolis and Aurai series. He is probably best known for his large-scale public pieces made of burnished stainless steel in the 1970s and 1980s. (“Vanguard”, located in front of Stanford University Law School, is a local example).

However, the artist is quick to point out that technical innovation is not his primary motivation. Like most sculptors, he is in a constant struggle with gravity and in particular with how to create heavy objects that appear light and floating. At the heart of his work, he said in an email interview, is “the emotional design language,” which he addresses with material, color, and texture.

The sculptures in the Aeolis series are inspired by Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey, although they are not intended as a narrative expression of the story. In short, Aeolis gave Odysseus a leather bag containing all the winds except the West Wind during his long, 10-year journey home after the Trojan War. The gallery visitor does not need this backstory to understand or appreciate the sculptures, which convey an overwhelming sense of movement. The nine sculptures, varying in size and finish (stainless steel, cast bronze, and nickel-plated), are composed of sheets of metal that twist, turn, fuse, and fuse into a coherent whole. Some have a vertical orientation as the elements combine and rise to an inevitable apex. Others, like Aeolis 14 (the pieces are individually numbered) are on a horizontal plane. Beasley wants viewers to bring their own interpretations and ideas to the pieces, and to me this piece was reminiscent of a sprinter about to make headway.

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The light, sinuous, gestural forms found in Aeolis 12 seem at odds with the cast bronze sculpture, but that is exactly what the artist wanted to achieve. Beasley said, “I use VR (virtual reality) to explore shapes because it’s very spontaneous and allows me to use my own physical gestures to create shapes in a way no other process does. But it’s kind of a spirit world that they start in, but I insist the sculptures move in and out of the world we live in.”

This is a stunning installation where the white walls and gray stands provide a neutral background for the strong shapes and forms of the sculptures. Displayed in such a way that the viewer can walk around them, the smaller pieces form a path to the focal point, Aeolis 7. This is an awe-inspiring presence, standing nearly 8ft tall, with curving strands erupting from the base itself tangle and tangle tensely in the middle, only to rise like triumphant arms at the top. Although we can’t touch the smooth surface (oils on the hand are harmful), we kind of instinctively know how it would feel. Beasley observed: “Sculpture has more practical limitations than painting, but sculptors feel that there is a deeper connection for both creator and viewer that stems from the sculpture being part of the same actual haptic (in terms of touch ) World is like ourselves.”

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A counterpoint to the three-dimensional pieces (but also part of the same VR creative process) is a series of six collages titled Aurai. These gray and white wall pieces are the result of markings captured by the artist using VR, which were then cut out and assembled on paper. Once he achieved the form and fluid movements he wanted to capture, the collages were printed in ink onto Dibond (aluminum composite) panels. They are technically considered limited edition prints.

Like their 3D counterparts, the collages have shapes resembling silver ribbons that curl, climb, twist, twist, and sometimes connect. Describing the process that led to the collages, Beasley said, “They are pieces of images that emerged from the rather complicated process of moving sculptures out of VR space. It’s like they said ‘hey look at me’ and so I said did and they led to these pieces. They are works of art that came out of a different process and I’m glad they did.”

Bruce Beasley: Momentum is on view through November 23 at the Pamela Walsh Gallery, 540 Ramona St., Palo Alto. Visit for more information.


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