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Useless and indispensable

Tacoma artist Saul Becker always remembers where he’s from

"Virtual Field #2, electroplated plants in rock salt by Saul Becker

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Saul Becker is a Tacoma artist who strives to capture the world via sculpture and landscape painting and drawing. While Becker grew up in T-town, he has traveled the world more than he has stayed, seeking new horizons to fortify his work. His unique sense of style yields some cool pieces, including rough-hewn landscapes with an industrial edge, and electroplated weeds sheltered from the world in display cases.

Becker's work often juxtaposes nature and the industrial world - and if that sounds familiar, you are probably from or a resident of Tacoma. Where else can you check out amazing views of a majestic mountain whilst looking through plumes of port smoke?

"I was born and raised in Tacoma," says Becker. "It's had a huge influence on my work. There's something about growing up in the shadow of an active volcano that never leaves you. ... I was living in a city surrounded by incredible natural beauty, but struggling with its own aesthetic reality."

He adds, "The mountain itself, though beautiful, was imposing and a bit threatening. I guess I always had a sense of tension in the landscape and that the things we built never really did the landscape justice."

Becker currently wades in two mediums of work - sculpture and landscape painting and drawing. What you will not see from him are the rolling green landscapes of yore. Instead, expect a lovely landscape obscured by chain-link fence, or surprising tones and colors that highlight some aspects of what you are looking at, and mute others.

"I'm intensely interested in the history of landscape painting and how this reveals our relationships with ‘nature.' For so long landscape painting was sort of put away in the cupboards as being something that was done," says Becker. "I think our relationship with the natural world has made huge shifts in the past decade and landscape painting has a lot of catching-up to do."

Becker's sculpture work is what first captured my attention. I like to think of these pieces as plants in a box. What may look like plants arranged in display cases are actually real weeds and plants electroplated in copper, standing upright in rock salt. These works are sometimes done in collaboration with another artist, Stephen Vitiello, and are often more experimental than his paintings and drawings.

"I'm extremely interested in the world and how we move through it, build on it, define it and, in return, how we differ from it," Becker says of what inspires his work. "I grew up with friends who had backyard metal shops, built cars, made furniture and built boats. I'm just the same in that I like to make things. I just need to make something that I can put all my over-analyzing energy into and be in dialogue with others who are pestered by the same things. This just happens to be art because it's useless and indispensable at the same time."

Becker received a BFA from Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and a MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University.

"In a way, I feel self-taught even though I went to formal art school," he says. "Art isn't really something you can teach. I had a professor who used to say, ‘Painting is like playing ping pong - it's just a motor skill. Making art is something altogether different.'"

Currently, Becker does not have work up in Tacoma, but keep an eye out for it in the future, as he has returned to bask in the shadow of the volcano. If you are traveling, Becker‘s work will be on display in Chicago this September and in New York in December. 

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Comments for "Useless and indispensable" (1)

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John Briner Art said on Jun. 15, 2011 at 8:55am

Admirable concept you've made! Very unique though! =) It looks like plants underwater! Wonderful work! Keep it up! =)

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