Guarding the Artistic Soul
By Victoria Banegas
Joe Biel is a Los Angeles based artist and professor with his expertise and interest in painting and drawing. His work is addicted to narratives, inspired by real life and conspired in his imagination, often executed with a sense of grim humor. About a year ago, I had the honor of attending a lecture Biel gave at Cal-State San Bernardino, and I must say that I was blown away. The amount of discipline and time Biel puts into his meticulously drawn masterpieces is admirable and inspiring. After reading that Biel would be a featured artist at UCR’s ARTSblock, I couldn’t miss this event, to see such beautiful work in person was much better than the slew of slides shown in Biel’s lecture.
Walking in to the Culver Center of Arts, one is welcomed by a rather grand entrance, with a sun roof, a large open space with beautiful pillars holding up the second floor of the space. In this atrium area, Biel has spent the better part of the past month hand drawing two identical men, their backs facing the gallery’s visitors, with chains around their necks which meet in the center of the wall. Sentry—a guard forbidding access to anyone who does not belong, is what these two men, photo-realistically rendered in exquisite blue detail stand for. Their chains are their commitment to whatever it is they are guarding, ambiguous and minimal, like most of Biel’s work. Leading viewers in to an abyss of their own imagination.
Walking in the Sweeney Gallery, I am welcome by a handful of larger than life images, all minimal at first, but with a closer look, go in to a world of detail.
A series of worlds all placed in vast negative space, representing a never-ending
slew of possibilities. Who are these characters presented in the work and why has the artist lent us such a small amount of specific information? This is something I have cherished about Biel’s work, not the typical spoon-fed concepts I saw in art school, but something more profound and provocative.
An old man with a walker and a red hat, every single detail and personal attribute is acknowledged in this character. From the wrinkles in his clothing to the half-tucked-in coat, viewers get many tiny somethings to connect with and find meaning in. It’s these details that make Biel’s work so captivating and charming, even with the sometimes, somber mood projected in some pieces.
Creating voyeuristic images of individuals is Biel’s way of documenting the human existence in all of its absurdity. We are not perfect beings and can be caught in some of our most vulnerable moments, creating subtle perceptions of us for the rest of the world to see. What Biel’s work does for me is it encourages me not to judge a book by its cover, but to search my mind for possibilities. Reality can be stretched far, up to a point where the lines between fact and fiction are blurred and we are left with nothing but mere assumptions.
There is so much complexity that goes in to Biel’s illustrations, not only because of the amount of work put in to it, but the multitude of ideas spanning from his images. Not only will his work captivate you, it will intellectually challenge you and bring to attention how art can be perceived in soo many different ways. With that being said, sometimes takes art to remind us to look beyond what is in front of us, what we see is not always what is. This is a brilliant exhibition, a must see for art connoisseurs across the board.
“Sentry: Large Scale Drawings” by Joe Biel at UCR ARTSblock, 3824 Main St., Riverside, (951) 827-5191; www.artsblock.ucr.edu. On view thru March 22, 2014. Artist walkthrough and reception: Feb. 1, 214. 5:30pm-9pm.