Artist’s Notebook: Lisa Beck

December 22, 2014 | Rhett Jones

ANIMAL’s feature Artist’s Notebook asks artists to show us their original “idea sketch” next to a finished artwork or project. This week, artist New York-based artist Lisa Beck talks about Threshold, an outdoor sculpture that is “solid but also open,” inspired by passing.

I was invited to make an outdoor sculpture for the exhibition called “Another, Once Again, Many Times More” at Martos Gallery’ summer show in East Marion, Long Island.

I was thinking about how “past” and “future” appear in my mind as big places, with “now” being a slender, narrow place linking the two. I was thinking about several loved ones who had died in the last two years, and how we say they “passed away.” I was thinking a lot about the idea of passing through, temporally and physically. I wanted to make a piece that was solid but also open – that acted as a sort of realization of the transition between here and there.


I drew a few quick sketches in a small note book.

Then I had to figure out how out actually build this thing. Since I’m not much good at planning, this was a real challenge. I moved onto graph paper.


Many pages were filled with calculations about the angle and size of the piece, what type and how much lumber I would need to buy. I was drawing on every scrap of paper and cardboard lying around.

At first I was trying to work out how to make it with same-sized slats, and this took a lot of mathematical figuring. My husband helped a lot with this process. The piece seemed to want to be 10-feet tall — that was too big and heavy to handle in one piece. So we figured out that each of the four sides (front and back for each side of the opening) could be made in three sections that fit together. Another problem was figuring out how it would be anchored to the ground to withstand wind and rain.


Finally I couldn’t plan anymore. I had to start making the piece to really figure it out. My best work really comes from the process itself. My studio ceiling wasn’t high enough, so most of the piece was built in the backyard.


It became clear to me that all same size slats of wood would make it too harshly reductive. I wanted rough, irregular textures. And a gradation of color from dark to light.


The process of making it had several steps — making the interlocking panel sections, attaching the strips of wood, assembling the panel sections to the full height of 10 feet.


They needed to be painted and or stained and sealed with marine quality varnish. I used all stainless steel screws to avoid corrosion.


Then I had to decide what would happen on the inside edge of the doorway. I thought that a reflective surface that would let you catch a glimpse of yourself as you moved through the opening would be right.


This took the form of 10-foot-long pieces of polished stainless steel to line the inner edges of the passage.


Bringing it to the site, we had support posts sunk into the ground and secured with cement, then the process of putting the piece fully together for the very first time (never got around to it at home!) began.

We worked all day and long into the night for 2 1/2 days.

In the end, Threshold came to most closely resemble the first sketches I made.


21-threshold-closer view