A Singularity of Place February 27 – September 26, 2014
Since 1990 I have worked in the medium that I call digital montage — a seamless union of diverse visual elements in a composition the original form of which is a digital file. Combining primarily elements of photography as well as painting, drawing, and scanned materials, the techniques I use foster and give form to visual ambiguities, reexamining the boundaries of mixed media and creating altered realities that merge into images rich in symbolism both personal and archetypal.
The following excerpt is from the January 2014 Maine Home and Design article by Britta Konau
Jeffery Becton was born in Englewood, New Jersey. After studying history at Yale, he received a master of fine arts in graphic design from the Yale School of Art (now Yale School of Art and Architecture). He has exhibited in group shows throughout New England and New York state and has been juried into 11 annual and biennial shows at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art and three Portland Museum of Art Biennials. At the end of February Becton will have a solo exhibition organized by the Maine Museum of Photographic Arts at the Glickman Family Library of the University of Southern Maine. The artist’s work is included in numerous publications on digital photography and imaging, most notably the 2007 Nash Editions: Photography and the Art of Digital Printing. For a fuller view of his accomplishments refer to the vita on his website jeffereybecton.com. Photographs by Becton are in five museum collections, including the Portland Museum of Art and the New Orleans Museum of Art. He regularly shows his work at the Turtle Gallery in Deer Isle, Elizabeth Moss Galleries in Falmouth, Courthouse Gallery Fine Art in Ellsworth, and VoxPhotographs in Portland.
With a background in graphic design, Jeffery Becton has always been interested in making pictures rather than taking them. He digitally tinted an early- to mid-1990s series of images photographed in Stonington and came into his artistic own when new software introduced the possibility of visual layering. Since the mid-1990s, Becton’s work has become more visually complex, as he digitally integrates images and textures sourced from his own photographs and scans in a fluid process guided more by intuition than a premeditated plan. The resulting digital montages are utterly convincing yet strange scenarios that engender often visceral reactions in viewers and force them to do a double take. “The techniques I use foster visual ambiguities, re-examining the boundaries of mixed media and creating altered realities that merge into images rich in symbols both personal and archetypal,” the artist states.
In these new realities, landscapes merge with interiors, literally bringing the outdoors into the home. Becton works primarily with the interiors of private homes, “because an interior space has so many wonderful ways of being particular with any given kind of light.” Using natural elements rich with associations, like islands and sky, together with manmade forms, Becton explores feelings of existential confusion, loneliness, even fear, but also tranquility and hope. “I try to tease out resonances and amplify them,” he explains, “because life is difficult and unfair and the passing of time mysterious.”
Blue Chest, for which Becton won an honorable mention in last year’s Maine Media Workshops’ contest “Spirit of Place” in the Single Image category, is a typical example of the beauty and unease in his altered interiors. Wall, floor, and ceiling space have been taken over by nature: the entire floor is flooded, clouds occupy the plaster ceiling, and instead of walls the view opens out to a stretch of islands. This home seems not a shelter at all but, rather, exposed to the natural elements. Only a few hints, such as the glimpse of a bed frame in the mirror and a curl of birch bark next to it, allude to the generations of family members who have spent summers in this house, leaving what the artist describes as “layers of patina, real and imagined.” In his version, the home has evolved from a place of containment and protection to one of openness and precariousness. Yet amongst this sense of foreboding and loss prevails an equally strong feeling of the interconnectedness of all life.
Jeffery Becton’s Border World Carl Little
Every true artist manipulates the world, seeking by various means to represent a personal vision of what is out there—to alter, heighten, transform. For going on 25 years Jeffery Becton has used photography to reinvent his surroundings, blending interior and exterior to visually compelling effect. He calls these compositions digital montages; I call them invitations to an alternative—and remarkable—reality.
Becton’s photographs are especially resonant of certain elements of Maine: islands and old houses and light. His is a kind of vintage world where attics still hold treasures, where ceilings slant at odd angles, where a piece of furniture—a chair, a bureau, a lamp—takes on a presence that serves as a stand-in for the people who inhabit these otherworldly spaces. When someone does appear, such as Claudia in the Wharf House, they seem perfectly aligned to the place and add to the haunting—and haunted—quality of the mise-en-scène.
Among Becton’s aesthetic kin one must count the Surrealists—in particular, perhaps, Magritte, who liked to mess with our grasp of the landscape. One might also make a connection to the Edward Hopper painting Rooms by the Sea (1951), in which the waters of Cape Cod Bay come right up to the door of the artist’s Truro studio. Of course, Becton brings the ocean into his houses, thereby conjuring the tidal and porous nature of our existence.
Becton’s compositions also have a place in the trompe-l’oeil tradition, although I would argue that his immaculate images move far beyond fooling the eye. They subvert perception by drawing us into an out-of-the-ordinary universe that makes perfect sense. We may be disconcerted by the flooded floor of an adjoining room, but we enter it nonetheless.
When asked what it was like to live on a Maine island, the great Belgian-born novelist Marguerite Yourcenar replied: “You feel that you’re standing on the border between the human world and the rest of the universe.” Her words keep coming to mind while studying Becton’s photographs, which capture that in-between milieu that one inhabits when living by the sea.
Time and again Becton’s seamless compositions paradoxically blur the boundaries between the conscious and the unconscious, the real and the dream. That is his singular art.
Carl Little’s latest book is Nature & Culture: The Art of Joel Babb. He lives and writes on Mount Desert Island.