A sculptor chooses his medium carefully, just as a painter chooses his palette. Although some art historians may disagree, sculpture is more often dependent on materiality than on form. The material serves as a structural vehicle for the work, as if the material is a participant in the artist’s performance. A Chihuly chandelier would read very differently if cast in metal instead of being blown in glass; just as Milkstone by sculptor Wolfgang Laib would be awry if anything were to substitute the stone’s milk surface layer. A successful artist transforms his material choices to suit his needs and speak to the space, to the conceptual ambitions, and to the audience.
“Every master knows the material teaches the artist.” – Ilya Ehrenburg
Tom Beale 00’ is a master of materiality and the articulate manipulation of wood. His sculptures range from domestic and intimate to grand in scale.
Beale graduated from Dartmouth in 2000 with a dual degree in Studio Art and English. After leaving Hanover, he moved to Burlington, VT where he split his time between intensive studio sessions and crafting wood furniture for a local artisan. Beale has had countless exhibitions in the U.S. and internationally; he has shown his work in Japan, Ukraine, Tasmania, and Russia. At 23, he was the youngest applicant to win the National Endowment for the Arts' Japan–United States Friendship Commission Creative Artists Fellowship, which allowed him to explore his fascination with traditional Japanese architecture and build his portfolio. Once back in the U.S., Beale had a shower of good fortune, which resulted in the Chelsea-housed phenomenon that was the HoneySpace Gallery. Now, in 2016, Beale is teaching Sculpture and a Senior Seminar as a visiting professor at Dartmouth College.
Beale’s knack for sculpture was not always so apparent—while attending college he thought of himself as a painter. He notes that, despite his inclination toward painting, something felt amiss, and he couldn’t seem to find his voice. He recalls his knowledge of art history and how his paintings were guided by the voices of great masters but his individual style was buried behind the influences of history.
Beale wished to create mature art, art that could stand alone outside of an undergraduate studio art department and be taken seriously. After dedicating the winter of his third year to finding his voice, Beale returned to campus and enrolled in sculpture that spring. Beale found himself working in plaster and metal and wire on assignments, but, just like painting, he felt the sterility of the media hindered his ability to speak as an individual through his art.
Wood was the answer. At first, the uniform slabs of disposed trees found in the studio’s shop were substantial enough. However, as Beale pushed forward with his sculptural experimentations, he discovered sterility in the shop’s wood, akin to plaster or metal. Found wood was the solution to the uniformity, the sterility, and to the financial sustainability of his sculptures. Beale recognizes that found wood holds a history that new wood is simply incapable of possessing; this same found wood still serves as a way for Beale to reclaim waste and transform discarded material into art.
“Practically all great artists accept the influence of others. But the artist with vision sees his material, chooses, changes, and by integrating what he has learned with is own experiences, finally molds something distinctly personal.” – Romare Howard Bearden
So, after six weeks of sculpture 2/3 and hours ofintensive work with his new medium, Beale produced what he considers his breakthrough piece.
The piece was displayed in the Hopkins Center rotunda, where it sat peacefully awaiting the unthinkable – only days after completion the piece tipped forward in the rotunda (due to jackhammer construction right outside the Hopkins Center) and smashed the glass panes separating it from the spring air. Instead of letting the piece’s destruction deter his sculptural momentum, he let the grieving process steer him toward a resurrection. Working hours on end, Beale took the shattered remnants of the piece and began to assemble them in a new form, using even more wood and eventually producing a sculpture too large to be removed from the rotunda after its completion inside the gallery space. This strengthened Beale’s inclination toward emotional separation from his sculptures; after all, these pieces were ephemeral, and their lives would be entwined with the space of their creation as a result of logistical hindrances of scale.
A surge of creative momentum pushed Beale through his senior year and past Dartmouth where opportunity awaited. Beale built upon his practice, creating a breadth of mature works that carried him through the gates of the art world. Not even two years out of college, Dartmouth put Beale’s sculpture Harlequin on display in Fairchild, where it still sits today.
Beale felt that regardless of where he situated himself geographically his top priority was always to find a studio and then to find a place to live. Art was a life force that awakened a brilliant ambition and unwavering motivation to keep creating. He strove to keep moving forward, whether that meant studying in Japan on the NEA Artists Grant or spending a summer installing a piece in front of the Russian Theater in Moscow, Beale never seems to slow down.
An integral part of Beale’s growth as an artist was HoneySpace (pictured above). In 2008, Beale found a Chelsea warehouse that was scheduled for demolition and negotiated the temporary rent-free use of the space; the economic collapse meant that the eventual re-development of the space was delayed for four years, during which time Beale was free to use the space as a gallery. Run as a free space to show art, Beale curated a variety of shows such as exhibitions of Adam Stanforth, Midori Harima, John Wells, Daphne Park, and many others including Beale, himself.
HoneySpace closed in 2012, allowing Beale to prioritize his practice. His body of work mainly consists of sculptures meticulously crafted from found wood but Beale has also been known to incorporate other organic materials into his sculptures such as shells, moss, and earth. Tom Beale is a phenomenal example of an artist who found his passion, his voice, and his calling. His sculptures seem to breathe intuition and exude an instinctual execution of form, ultimately rooting them in the natural world we seem to too often ignore.
“For me it is the direct contact of artist to material which is original, and it is the earth and his contact to it which will free him of the artificiality of the present and his dependence on industrial products.” - Isamu Noguchi
If you’re interested in viewing more of Tom Beale’s work visit his website here http://www.tbeale.com, or if you’d like to learn more about HoneySpace visit its archives located here http://honey-space.com.