It was an interesting joy to experience the Indy Film Fest viewing of a variety of folks from artist David Beck's hometown of Muncie, Indiana including members of Beck's own family. While Beck himself was nowhere to be found, unless he was off hiding in a Dodo bird somewhere, Curious Worlds: The Art & Imagination of David Beck was warmly received by those who remember the young man who left Indiana in the mid-1970's and made a name for himself "the most accomplished American artist you've never heard of."
Beck, who bears more than a passing resemblance to actor Max Wright, yeah I went there, is noted for the dazzling and imaginative worlds he creates and is known as an accomplished woodworker, sculptor, painter and craftsman. He's also a pretty darn fine musician, a skill he acknowledges acquiring to help force himself out of his home.
While Beck would likely cringe to hear these words, I couldn't help but think while watching this documentary based upon his artistic life that he's practically the definition of a transplanted Hoosier. Convinced that he couldn't make a name for himself without leaving, likely a truth considering this was in the 1970s, Beck began a journey that included obtaining a B.F.A. from Carnegie-Mellon and perfecting the starving artist routine before gradually making a name for himself despite never quite having achieved "household name" status.
Described by the Smithsonian American Art Museum as "influenced by crank toys, whirligigs, and eighteenth- and nineteenth-century mechanical robots called automata that delighted, and sometimes tricked, children and adults," Beck is a fascinating and humble man whose works seem to represent a sort of romanticized yet slightly skewed worldview that is compelling and spirited. He crafts intricate elaborations of seemingly fundamental settings such as opera houses, movie houses, museums and more. Curious Worlds captures both the seemingly mundane moments in Beck's artistic journey and the involved and remarkably complex ways in which Beck has created a life that allows him to constantly live into his own artistic vision for his life.
In fact, I would dare say that Curious Worlds doesn't quite do Beck justice when it comes to its journey through some of his most remarkable art works including "Dodo Museum," "This is Not a Pipe Organ," and "L'Elephant Agreeable" among many others. Beck is not so much a prolific artist churning out endless supplies of pop art as he is the kind of artist who will spend years working on a comissioned piece openly wondering if he'll finish it in his own lifetime.
Curious Worlds: The Art & Imagination of David Beck is an enjoyable journey through Beck's creative process that also captures the heart and soul of a man whose life, much like his art, seems to have been lived a couple doors down from normal. Director Olympia Stone's approach toward bringing this all to life is, for the most part, a rather hands-off approach that prefers trusting the character that is David Beck to bring his story to life. For the most part, it succeeds in painting an honest and entertaining portrait of one of America's most gifted yet unknown artists.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic