I first met William Beckwith at the Brooks Museum in Memphis. We were at a screening of Mike McCarthy's "Native Son," which features Bill (and in which I make an appearance.) He is an incredible artist, and I asked if he'd answer some questions for the blog. His website is http://williamnbeckwith.com.
As an actor and teacher, I find the entire interview to be a wake up call to my and my approach on a day to day basis. It makes me want to see my own art the way he sees his, or atleast to be influenced by his passion, discipline, humility and irreverence.
Beckwith interview by Corey Parker in the year of the dead Mayans, 2012
You ask “What is a human being?” - Good question, probably best answered by your dog!
How do I see my subjects? I suppose as poems or ballads, movie scripts told in flesh and blood. The trouble comes with translating the information of that mystery, comedy or tragedy back into the static three dimensions of clay and bronze.
The sculpture in my dreams? It would be of vague female torsos, erotically twisted Muses, active, firm and stout with a familiar beauty beyond words or time. They come to buttress and fortify in times of attack; to reinforce in the heat and lust of battle; their kisses are anti-venom, their weapons honed and tempered. Their gestures range from seductively playful to threateningly angry; from sublimely quiet to agitated and loud.
The state of art world? We need to sober up and get back to the real job at hand. We live in a time unparalleled in disconnects: a time of wars on many levels. Contemporary art has become so masturbatory, so personal, and so irresponsible. The time is ripe and screams for socially responsible and politically aware activism. Why spend a lifetime perfecting all of these skills and say nothing useful? What could be more heroic than those in this Orwellian, corporate snake-pit, making a statement without retreat, excuse or shame- not from a selfish strategy, but from a higher place of faith and instinct in an attempt to maintain some form of dignified sanity for us all? Please believe me, they nip at our heels!
You ask what supplies it takes to build a monument. A lifetime of patience, of observation, of failure and focus, of physical study in the face of cheap distractions and pitfalls, lots of profanity and fury, blind faith and dumb trust, executed with the most expensive of energies. All of this despite mechanical repetition and meaningless manipulation by governmental robots and drolls put on this earth to distract, obstruct, hinder and impede.
Music? Yes, music plays its part- medicinal: slow the hemorrhaging, consoling: you ain’t the first or the only poor fool, encouraging: this makes as much sense as anything, elevating: she sings her beauty just for me. It is a conduit to a better plane, to the great studio in the sky, where the Masters produce perfect form in perfect light with abandon… and the angels clean up the mess!
The curse of the sculptor is to find a working composition from every angle, to give form and meaning to the ambiguous dichotomy of truth, beauty and life- a vigilant, sacrificial sailor lost with only instinct and trial and error for a compass… or to impress the girls.
The further apart the subject matter from the content of a piece of art, the more successful, engaging and rewarding it becomes- (of course with respectable proportions of head, heart and hand).
We all love levels of discovery on a good journey, with no explanation necessary: “Show me some truth I missed.”; “Get me out of the stupid.”; “Give me reinforcement.”; “Touch me, make me feel.”; “Let me hear your voice.”; “Make me pause- help me lose myself, if even for a minute, and I shall thank you forever.”