Aside from Gary Panter, no artist from the first wave of Raw has been more influential to the generations that came in his wake that Mark Beyer — and, like Panter, he’s never been content to simply rest on his laurels and let his reputation (to say nothing of his back catalogue) do the talking for him. Indeed, although he’s mainly moved into the world of “fine” art that he had one foot in from the outset, his work continues to both challenge and transfix, ever in pursuit of new statements to make and ideas to explore within a stylistic framework that’s immediately recognizable as his own and no one else’s.
Which brings us to the latest Beyer item to make its way into my hands, the Le Dernier Cri-published Mark Beyer : Sketchbook 2016-17, which eschews pretty much anything by way of titles or branding and just plunges you right in at the deep end, offering page after stupefying page of works the artist drew ostensibly for his own edification, but which were probably destined to be let loose into the wild at some point or other, that point being, as it turns out, not terribly long after it was created. Hey, when your stuff’s in demand, it’s in demand — and Beyer’s stuff will always be in demand.
I’m not sure it would be fair to call the contents of this handsomely-printed (silkscreen covers with offset interiors) collection a “departure” or even a “side-step” when it comes to the overall trajectory of Beyer’s still-unfurling artistic project, but it would be eminently fair to say that as far as “variations on a theme” go, they don’t come much more varied than this. With apologies to Norwegian Black Metal pioneers Darkthrone, there is a “ravishing grimness” to many of these illustrations, a determination to show the inner truths that inform the outer actions of folks on the brink — of losing their grip, of suicide, of revelation. Some of the gallows humor we’ve come to expect from Beyer over the decades is present and accounted for here, but in very limited quantities : on the whole, this is dynamically morose stuff that prides itself on peering into corners many of us wish we’d never seen, or at the very least can’t unsee. I’d say read it and weep, but shit, it’s a sketchbook — there’s nothing to read.
Which doesn’t mean there isn’t a whole lot to absorb here, mind you — by and large you won’t want to move on from one illustration (I hesitate to call them “sketches” when they’re as fleshed-out as these are) to the next until you’ve taken the time to examine all the nooks and crannies for fear not so much of missing any details (although, sure, you’d be kicking yourself for that) as missing anything that could be further used to limn the artist’s intent. Beyer’s world has always been a fallen one but, to paraphrase the infamous late-night television commercial, is it now a fallen one that can’t get up?
It sure looks that way given that the prospects for survival of many of the subjects herein look pretty damn remote, indeed — but this is no mere catalogue of morbidities and grotesqueries. That would be far too easy, and Beyer’s never been one for keeping things simple. Expect, then, nothing apart from the unexpected — as well as a heavy dose of sheer compositional and imaginative prowess. “Where do your ideas come from?” is the single- most cliched and over-used question in the art world, but nevertheless— if I ever got the chance to meet Beyer, it’s probably be the first thing I asked him, even at the risk of losing what few “cool points” I’ve managed to earn over the years. Some minds, after all, are just so utterly singular that one can’t help but attempt, however clumsily or awkwardly, to plumb their depths at a remove.
Which, come to think of it, is precisely what a project like this is all about : an artist whose prime seems to go on forever presenting us with work that wasn’t produced with a prime time audience — or any audience at all, for that matter — in mind. I may not know where Beyer gets his ideas from, then — but I know it must be someplace as amazingly inspirational as it is haunting and harrowing.
Mark Beyer : Sketchbook 2016-17 is available for $18.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/markbeyer.html
Review wrist check – Formex “Essence” brown dial model riding a blue Formex strap.