Art Review


There's an extremely unusual show at Capsule (554 Santa Fe Drive, 303-623-3460) called Justin Beard: Second Hand Smoke. The handsome exhibit represents a very strong early showing for a young emerging artist who's just out of art school. Capsule director Lauri Lynnxe Murphy describes Beard's installation as being "very cool -- and very original," and it's pretty hard to disagree with her.

The title of the show, Second Hand Smoke, applies to the unlikely material Beard uses: cigarette smoke. With the smoke, Beard mechanically produces duotone representational images of faces that he calls "nicotine drawings." Beard, who is seen above creating one of them, forcefully pulls the smoke through the paper so that brown tars are transferred onto it.

In the middle of Capsule is a custom-made banquette and table that suggest a booth in a '50s diner. The banquette is upholstered in red vinyl, and the table has a white top with black legs. On the table is an open sketchbook with a black cover, and next to it, a black amoebic ashtray and a red disposable lighter. Coming off the back of the banquette is a flexible, ribbed black-plastic tube that terminates in a red-vinyl-covered box surrounding a ready-made air filter. Hidden in the banquette is a vacuum connected by a system of tubes in the table's base and pedestal to the underside of the page the sketchbook is open to. On the back of the page is a stencil that controls the flow of the smoke.

When it's on, it's noisy. A hidden filter pulls the page tight, preventing it from being sucked up. The resulting drawings are surprisingly traditional-looking, and Beard explained that Second Hand Smoke is about the art he liked before he went to college and the stuff he's interested in now.

The drawing-machine booth is surrounded by a series of already completed nicotine drawings mounted on the walls. The drawings are still bound in the sketchbooks, with the edges of the black covers standing in for frames -- the way the smoke stands in for ink.

The great little Justin Beard: Second Hand Smoke show at Capsule is now midway through its run; it's scheduled to close on May 29.

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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia