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Abstract Realist

Paul Beattie, 1924-1988

February 5 - March 13, 2005

Paul Beattie was born in Bay City, Michigan in 1924. He began his art career at the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts in 1945 where he was exposed to the work of the Impressionists, the Fauves, and the German Expressionists. Thus inspired, Beattie moved to New York City where he encountered the influences of Picasso, Matisse, Pollock, and de Kooning.

In the late 40's and early 50's while living in the evolving art community of Greenwich Village, Beattie began to work in a more personal direction. In his painting he imparted a deep-space quality to what he called "Pollockian" surface-patterned tracery. In 1948 he received an award in an international art competition sponsored by Philip Rosenthal-Brooklyn Museum Art School/ Ro-Ko Gallery. He also exhibited at The Jacques Seligmann Galleries in N.Y.C. in 1949 and in 1950 participated in a group show, Exhibition of Paintings, at the Studio 35 with Elaine de Kooning and Richenburg. Beattie's New York career culminated in a one-man show at the prestigious Hansa Gallery. He moved to San Francisco with his wife Dee and their first child in 1954.

On the West Coast, Paul collaborated in a mixed-media, improvisational manner with George Herms, Arthur Richer, and Wallace Berman, as well as Larry and Patty Jordan, Bill Spencer, Warner Jepson, ruth weiss, and Jay De Feo. The 1950's San Francisco jazz scene found Beattie jamming on his saxophone in North Beach nightclubs, caught up in the energetic force field of consciousness that became known as the "Beat Revolution."

During this time, Beattie experimented with collage, sculpture, constructions, press works, light shows, and filmmaking. The latter saw fruition in a dozen films distributed by the New York Filmmakers Cooperative and screened throughout the United States and Europe. He also exhibited his art in several innovative San Francisco galleries of the Beat era: the East and West and The 6 in 1955, the New Mission in 1962, and the Batman in 1963 and 1964.

In late 1963 the Beattie family moved north from San Francisco to the redwoods of Sonoma County. Surrounded by five children, gardens, trees, and stars, Paul again collaborated with fellow artists Arthur Richer and George Hermes making films and creating "Dadaesque" combinations of poetry and graphics printed on a small 6 X 9 hand press. He resumed painting, drawing, collage, and making constructions, reflecting and furthering his interest in Abstract Expressionism and building on the work he had done in New York City and San Francisco in the 50's and early 60's.

During the next two decades Beattie continued to exhibit in San Francisco and Los Angeles while working on his M.A. in Studio Art (University of California at Berkeley, 1976). From 1974 through 1980 he taught landscape composition and watercolor painting at Santa Rosa Junior College. In 1975 he was invited to be part of the exhibition Collage and Assemblage in Southern California at the L.A. Institute of Contemporary Art (LICA). He also exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: Painting and Sculpture in California: The Modern Era (1976); a large solo show, Paul Beattie: Paintings and Drawings (1980); and the Museum's The 50th Anniversary exhibition (1984-85).

In addition to creating and exhibiting his art during these years, Paul and Dee found time together to study astronomy, cosmology, and physics. Profoundly influenced by quantum physics and the workings of the cosmos, he wrote an unpublished manuscript, "Art, Aesthetics and Astrophysics." In it he pointed out many similarities between art, physics, and the cosmos. This paper was presented by Beattie to the Modern Language Association in San Francisco in 1979.

At this point in his life Beattie began to see himself as an "abstract realist." His search for a fresh, original genre and for a source of imagery which would lend itself to his preference for open brushwork, to sketch-like qualities in drawing, and to creating structure through color all led him towards the use of the cloud and sky-oriented subjects in his art. This artistic form gradually evolved from landscapes and horizon lines into atmospheric "decks" and their extensions, helping to satisfy Beattie's interest in "bringing together the qualities of a completely abstract painting experience and of a literal (bordering on photographic) verisimilitude." His attention to qualities of light and color, and his sensitivity to a non-distorted viewer experience, reinforced the two-dimensional surface—color intensity increasing with distance—while offering the viewer samplings of "deep-space" artistic vision in his work.

In 1980 Thomas Albright, critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote that Beattie's paintings "...explore cosmological phenomena, but they simultaneously focus more intently on the various points at which these phenomena intersect with art-historical elements. Thus there are stains and patches of irregularly daubed and dappled color that suggest not only clouds and nebulas but the amorphous Impressionist surfaces of late Monet—there are lines and rods of color that imply not only the kinetic movement of magnetic fields, but the fractured geometry of early Mondrian."

Six months after his death in June 1988, the California Museum of Art at the Luther Burbank Center in Santa Rosa presented a retrospective exhibition of Paul Beattie's work. Fellow artist and guest curator Raymond Barnhart said, "This show…is but a sampling of an enormous body of work of a man lost to us in the midst of an unbelievably productive career, a man who has a long record of superior production, a style and subject matter of his own and a great diversity of media. Beattie is a genius…whose work is just waiting to be discovered on a national basis."

Paul Beattie was passionately interested in revitalizing the pictorial painterly experience. He was intent on ingesting and transforming the linear quality, surface shapes, and the kinetic action aspects of Pollack's work as well as the Cubist's faceted segmenting of the pictorial surface. Beattie strove to extend Cezanne's approach to interlocking edges and the open brushwork of Degas, Manet, Rembrandt, and de Kooning, transforming all of these elements through his interest in astronomy, cosmology, particle physics, and organic molecular evolutionary progressions.

At the time of his death Beattie was working on what he considered a very special body of work—a series of three-hundred-and-forty large graphite drawings of individual terraformed planets. This series was specifically designed to be exhibited in an ordered progression up the rotunda staircase in the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Inspired by a visit to the Museum in the mid-80's, Paul did a great deal of research into the project, scaling the size and spacing of the drawings to fill the stairwell from bottom to top. Each planet is identical to the rest in size, and each manifests Beattie's life-long artistic struggle between reality and abstractness in his work. The Large Graphite Planet/Guggenheim series remains intact, a tribute to Beattie's lifelong melding of art and astronomy, artistic vision, and scientific focus.

Paul Beattie's Studio

Paul Beattie's studio


click on images for larger views

"CP-72.24" by Paul Beattie
Acrylic/mixed media,
11" x 12", 1981

Paul Beattie's drawings explore with particular success the nebulous, borderline area between fact and mystical vision...
—Thomas Albright, San Francisco, 1980

LGP-122.81 (Large Graphite Planet series)
LGP-122.81, 15" x 15", 1987
(Large Graphite Planet series)
Paul Beattie as a young man
Paul Beattie as a young man

Paul Beattie was an artist of rare perception.
From his early intuitive collages to his cosmic
drawings and paintings,
he offered glimpses of a world unseen except by him.
A little more time, money, and a little more humanity,
Paul would have been rich and famous.
But we knew a better man, a devoted artist
and a kindly counter-point in today's maddening art world.

—Henry Hopkins (Director), San Francisco Museum
of Modern Art, 1988

Paul's Resume