by Barry Hampton
Eric Beltz creates “high-definition” allegorical drawings of Founding Fathers, colonists, flannel clad lumberjacks felled in piles of wood, skull headed pioneers, and poisonous plant life. At first look, one is absorbed by his astonishingly sophisticated drafting skills. As looking continues the viewer is drawn in by a complicated web of symbols, historical references, and text. Violence, natural destruction, and psychedelic aspects are entertaining, but as the reading continues one realizes that the artist’s engagement with history and the American origin myth is deep and much more subtle, this is not a cheap formal or pictorial thrill.
To Eric Beltz, the Founding Fathers are intensely conflicted but contemplative, bare-footedly engaged in the natural world, it’s plant lore, it’s natural bounty, but also bent on harvesting and chopping it to increase their personal wealth. They have a desire for equity and justice.
In “Fuck It,” John Adam’s is quoted, “While conscience claps let the world hiss,” but all of the founders’ honor and goodness is directly attached to their moral failings and compromises. Floating heads represent this separation of thought and action. The pieces in Pulse are riddled with text and symbolism that addresses this contradiction. In “The Good Land” Beltz states, “To learn something and to practice it.”
Beltz’s references are wide-ranging, from the King James Bible, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and the writings of early Americans. His handling of graphite is sophisticated, analytical and one cannot help but think of Grant Wood at the same time 18th and 19th century etching. This analytical approach as well as his well rounded understanding of Plant-lore and American History allows us to believe his allegory. As a result, we also discover the believability of his critique and its relationship to present day conundrums.
Tree of the Evil Eagle
The Artist’s criticism reveals the flaws that are built into the American origin myth. Specifically, the Founding Fathers’ connection to generational problems in race relations, identity, and Beltz seems to suggest the natural world. The work would fall short if the questions stopped here. His work challenges the viewer to re-navigate, and clarify the American past as a way of actually dealing with the aforementioned reoccurring problems we face. Where some critics view Beltz’s angle as a grisly/macabre perspective of the Founders, I perceive some subtle reverence.
He does harbor romantic notions about these figures and undoubtedly believes that there are some saving graces built into the idea of our republic. This is of course evidenced in his draftsmanship and the thoughtful poses of the conflicted revolutionaries. From this, the work sends forth one last question, revolution or repair? He directs ‘Washington’ himself, or itself, to “Think before you speak… Go back to the starting point, the core of the soul out of which you came.”