From "Robert Beckmann on the Vegas Vanitas Series: A Conversation with Libby Lumpkin"

LL: In your Vegas Vanitas series, you quote liberally from paintings by Nicholas Poussin, Wright of Derby, J.M.W. Turner and Thomas Cole. What motivated you to choose works by these particular artists?

RB: Landscapes painted by these particular artists have always intrigued me. I respect their incredible craft. For me, painting from their images is a form of homage. Burke's concept of the sublime, which has to do with uncertainity, darkness, awe or terror, characterizes a lot of their work and mine. Poussin saw nature as the arena of myth, architecture as the arena of history. In all my source images architecture is presented in relation to the natural environment; they're allegorical. I transpose them to Vegas and further allegorize them.

LL: Your work in the Vegas Vanitas series are produced in a style associated with the classical, or what has been called the "linear" tradition of painting. Did you adopt this style for a specific reason?

RB: In a very real sense, these paintings are mergers - mergers between different entities, the past and the present, Europe and Vegas, old world formal and moral values and the vagaries of chance-or what I refer to as "Vegaries"...Working from photographs of Las Vegas, and in many cases many photos were used as sources for a single painting, I needed clarity in my receiving organization to place things effectively. Of course in reorganizing, finding the new structure, there had to be some flexibility hence my more painterly technique. The idea of transformation interests me. I recall the old alchemist's maxim here, solve et coagula, dissolve and come together. Assessing these mergers in process, there were many surprises. Some assets just bumped into each other, to comic effect, others abraded, a tragic effect. I took great pleasure in unrveling new narratives, new meanings and new formal relations as the paintings evolved.

LL: Despite the buildings on the Las Vegas Strip that mimic great landmarks of the past, the city of Las Vegas seems unconcerned with its place in history. Do you have a message for Las vegas in the Vegas Vanitas series?

RB: Clark Coutnry, which includes the City of Las Vegas, has a fascinating history that includes early explorers, the railroad and a nuclear test site. By contrast, "Vegas" is mythical, the ultimate Postmodern city-maybe a post-historical city; it exists only in the present. The only constant here is the roll of the dice and reel. My Vegas Vanitas series contrasts the real historis of past art and Clark County with the mythical Vegas. The paintings ask questions about these relations.

Libby Lumpkin is an art historian in the Department of Art, UNLV, director of the Las Vegas Museum of Art, and is a contributing writer and critic for a number of contemporary journals.


Robert Beckmann - Vegas Vanitas

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