Film Premiere: Curious Worlds: The Art and Imagination of David Beck
November 11, 2014
The Smithsonian American Art Museum is screening a sneak preview of the film Curious Worlds: The Art and Imagination of David Beck, an artist featured in the exhibition, The Singing and the Silence: Birds in Contemporary Art, now on view. The screening will take place Thursday, November 13, 2014, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. in American Art's McEvoy Auditorium. And the program is free. Public programs coordinator, Laurel Fehrenbach, spoke with the film's director Olympia Stone to find out more about her work and her fascination with Beck's artistic practice.
Eye Level: How did this film come about? What got you so curious about David Beck and his work?
Olympia Stone: I've had the privilege of knowing David Beck for almost my entire life. My father, Allan Stone, was his art dealer for many years, and David would often visit our home in Purchase, New York. My father collected many different kinds of art and represented artists working in a range of genres, but from the time I was about 7 years old, David stood out as the artist that I was most deeply inspired by—I remember Saturday mornings spent trying to imitate his tiny creatures with modeling clay (totally unsuccessfully, needless to say!) My fascination with the tiny scale of David's work has never ceased, and it is something I felt compelled to explore. Also, because David's work is so exceptional and yet he is not widely known—I hope that Curious Worlds will help to change that by introducing his artwork to a wider audience.
EL: From start to finish, how long did it take to pull it all together? Can you describe your process from idea to its first showing?
OS: I started planning the film in late 2009 and began filming in spring of 2010, and the film be finished in September 2014. Considering my last film (The Cardboard Bernini) took 6 years to make, this project went relatively fast!
Because David is so prolific, and his pieces are so intricate, his work is challenging to film, and takes time to show. Like an art exhibit, this film had to be "curated" because (even if you want to) you can't include everything in the film. So my process was to figure out what to highlight, and to film a select group of his large artworks. I tend to edit as I am filming, so I would put sequences together, then add on to it, then decide what was and wasn't working and try different approaches. As with most films, many sequences that were in the first cut, ended up being taken out for various reasons, I also had a collaborator in building the story sequencing., Jody Becker, (credited as the writer of the film), helped me with illuminating the stories of each of the pieces, while weaving in footage of David working in his studio, and elements of his personal biography.
EL: What moment, in particular, stands out during filming? Do something surprise you, or deeply intrigue you?
OS: There are a few things that stand out for me about spending time filming with David. The main thing is that even knowing some of David's artwork as well as I do, I was still unprepared for how involved his process really is: the unbelievable, painstaking nature of his work, and the many varied skills (gilding, mosaic work, carving, welding, painting, etc.) that come into play in each piece. His seemingly endless, boundless creativity is totally inspiring to me. His creativity is evident in the work, but there is also an invisible element, which is revealed in the kind of on-going problem solving I saw him engaged in, and captured with the camera.
I also loved learning about and visiting David's many sources of inspiration, like going to the flea market with him, or seeing him in the Morgan Library in New York, interacting with the ancient seal carvings. One of my favorite moments during filming was when David took out his old sketchbooks, and flipped through them. You could see the way his vision of the Dodo had evolved over many years, and the evolution was amazing to witness.
EL: How did you select people for the interviews? How do you decide what is important to include and what to cut?
OS: Many of the people in the film are not interviewed in the context of being "art experts" (although some of them are) but as David's friends. Seeing him interacting with his old friends and hearing their funny stories or thoughtful remarks about him was a wonderful part of making the film. I would have loved to include more of those playful scenes but ultimately I had to decide which worked in the larger context of the film, and those moments that didn't had to go. These are the tough decisions you are forced to make in the edit room!
EL: What is next for you? Do you have a new project you're working on that you can tell us about?
OS: One of the people I interviewed while working on David's film is a most unusual and accomplished sculptor, Elizabeth King. She lives and works in Richmond, Virginia. She and David are old friends, and share certain things in common in terms of their art process. My next film will be about Elizabeth and her very interesting work. I believe she is another artist working largely in her own genre. Filming has begun!
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