New York

Beverly Buchanan: And You May Find Yourself… at Andrew Edlin Gallery

Though certainly no stranger to the art world, Beverly Buchanan has followed an unusual trajectory in her career and public profile as an artist. Born in 1940 in North Carolina, and raised in South Carolina, she spent much of her childhood accompanying her father, an agricultural scientist, while he visited sharecroppers in far-flung locations throughout the rural South, observing the lives and structures they made for themselves in hardscrabble circumstances. After devoting herself to medical work while a young adult, Buchanan developed an individualistic creative practice focused on making images and sculptures representing provisional and idiosyncratic buildings in the form of scale models.

Beverly Buchanan. Old Colored School, 2010; wood and paint; 20.25 x 14.75 x 18.5 in (51.4 x 37.5 x 47 cm). Courtesy Andrew Edlin Gallery.

Beverly Buchanan. Old Colored School, 2010; wood and paint; 20.25 x 14.75 x 18.5 in. (51.4 x 37.5 x 47 cm). Courtesy of Andrew Edlin Gallery.

Buchanan’s unique perspective was nurtured through studies with Norman Lewis and Romare Bearden at the Art Students League, and her work has been shown and collected by some significant cultural institutions. Nonetheless, her work has been seen only sporadically in the past decade and a half, mostly in regional art centers. So her inclusion in a 2014 group show at the Studio Museum was in some way an unveiling to a larger public, and now a selection of her works, ranging in date from 1987 to 2012, is on view at Andrew Edlin Gallery.

Edlin has specialized in showing work by artists ranging from the classic position of outsider—socially isolated or low-functioning individuals, such as the now-celebrated Henry Darger and the less-known yet ineffable Charles Steffen—to highly educated and accomplished fine artists such as Victor Moscoso and Chris Doyle; in between are creative practitioners such as Brent Green and Buchanan, who work more roughly or idiosyncratically.

Beverly Buchanan. Still Life House, 2008; foam core, acrylic paint; 9.25 x 8 x 9 in (23.5 x 20.3 x 22.9 cm). Courtesy Andrew Edlin Gallery.

Beverly Buchanan. Still Life House, 2008; foam core, acrylic paint; 9.25 x 8 x 9 in. (23.5 x 20.3 x 22.9 cm). Courtesy of Andrew Edlin Gallery.

Visitors to Buchanan’s show are greeted with a series of seven midsize works of pastel on paper; the largest is Barber Street (1995). The drawings are hung evenly in a line along one wall of a narrow corridor, leading to a well-lit, airy back room that houses eleven small sculptures of various sizes. The smallest, Still Life House (2008), is made of foam core and acrylic, atypical materials for the artist.

Beverly Buchanan. Barber Street, 1995; oil pastel on paper; 25.5 x 38 in (64.8 x 96.5 cm). Courtesy Andrew Edlin Gallery.

Beverly Buchanan. Barber Street, 1995; oil pastel on paper; 25.5 x 38 in. (64.8 x 96.5 cm). Courtesy of Andrew Edlin Gallery.

The sculptures are primarily made of smaller strips of wood of irregular sizes, mostly unpainted. The entirety is gathered together in a smart yet seemingly casual way on one large plinth in the back room, as if a residential community had been formed by the simple accumulation of individual houses and outbuildings. This shared field of presentation makes each sculpture—though somewhat precarious or contingent in material and construction—feel both less pathetic and less precious than if each was isolated on its own shelf or podium or under a vitrine.

The obvious care with which they were constructed belies the description of ramshackle that might be a default for many initial viewings of the models (and the houses or other buildings that might have inspired them). Buchanan states that her sculptures are not reproductions, though the specificity of many of their forms, and especially their titles, suggest that the artist was inspired by particular examples of “offbeat architecture” in the real world, as she calls them.

Beverly Buchanan. My Shed, 2009; wood and metal; 9.75 x 16 x 8 in (24.8 x 40.6 x 20.3 cm). Courtesy Andrew Edlin Gallery.

Beverly Buchanan. My Shed, 2009; wood and metal; 9.75 x 16 x 8 in. (24.8 x 40.6 x 20.3 cm). Courtesy of Andrew Edlin Gallery.

The titles are simultaneously plain-spoken and evocative, whether in quotation or description of general appearance, location, style, or use (for example: Preacher’s Room, Cook’s Shack, Keep Out, My Shed, Modern House 2). More important for the artist than any verisimilitude in emulating real-world models, it would seem, is the larger idea of the choices that make actual buildings both physical and sentimental bases for humans. Buchanan has long referred to the idea of “groundings” in her process of “creating objects that relate to … houses mainly lived in now or abandoned that served as home or an emotional grounding.”[1]

Buchanan’s occasional use of plastic as windowpanes seems a deliberate choice, to stay in the realm of the model. The addition of small plates of slightly worn copper on a few of the sculptures proposes another abstraction: that of construction material’s worth, not only in monetary value but also in its ability to conduct electricity—a different allusion to the grounding notion.

In contrast to the plainness of most of the house sculptures (though a handful have also been painted), the drawings are bright and multicolored. In the two-dimensional works, most striking is the way that the areas of flora and skies surround the central houses in wide arrays of saturated color, in a manner that suggests late Impressionism as much or more than the realism or expressionism favored by some of Buchanan’s mentors at the Art Students League. Such treatments bring the lone buildings in the drawn images—which seem, as in the sculptural versions, somewhat isolated yet defiantly not forlorn—back into the context of a larger world.

Beverly Buchanan: And You May Find Yourself… is on view at Andrew Edlin Gallery through June 13, 2015.

 

[1] Beverly Buchanan, “Statement,” accessed June 8, 2015, at http://beverlybuchanan.com/about/statement/.

Share