A buoy, the stars, the sea and the firmament make up Robert Beck’s Milky Way, conjuring a host of emotions. That’s just what the artist intended. The location is universal. It’s buoy No. 1, outside most any harbor, Beck says. “Either the first one you encounter coming home or the last as you head to sea,” he says.
The feeling the painting evokes is one of solitude, he says, particularly the solitude of a sailor at sea. “I’ve been out to sea at night and seen the Milky Way from many places on Earth,” says Beck, who is 66 and from New Hope, Pennsylvania. “Like the moon, it grounds me, kind of puts me in my place.”
Beck, who attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, paints mostly in the Jonesport area of Down East Maine, staying in a cottage at the Jonesport Shipyard. The idea for Milky Way — an 18-by-22-inch oil on panel — came to him while standing in his backyard, looking at the stars. “I isolate simple icons or triggers, peeling the layers back to reveal basic observations,” Beck says. “All of my work centers around describing how it feels to encounter my subject. When I do it well, viewers feel it, too, because they’ve been there, and somewhere inside it rings a bell.”
Milky Way remains one of Beck’s favorite paintings among the 400-plus works he’s created. The scene, he says, references those “inner conversations we have at night on the water, passing the outermost buoy, noticing a running light on the horizon, standing in awe of the heavens.”
Beck, who’s also an art columnist for the architecture and design magazine Icon, recently concluded a solo show at the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath — the museum’s first exhibition featuring a single artist. His gallery is in Lambertville, New Jersey. “My inspiration or motivation is in chasing down visual cues that effect those deep feelings we all experience,” he says, “all those things we have in common.”
This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue.