Art On Paper

May, 2002

Robert Beck

By Faye Hirsch

Robert Beck & Dale Peck, The Ballad of Earl King (2001), a boxed portfolio with mixed-media contents in an edition of 45 plus six artist’s proofs. It contains the following: a page with Goethe’s poem “Der Erlkönig” in German on one side and in English on the other and a two-sided sheet of photographs, both laser-printed on archival paper; a photolithographed story, “The Ballad of Earl King,” by Dale Peck, and five drawings, lithographs from stone, all printed by Andrew Mockler and Tilden Daniels at Jungle Press, New York; and two unique components – a “handgun-shot drawing, in which a small piece of paper has been shot by a bullet, and a typed library reference card. 

All these various pieces of paper are gathered together in an archival manila folder labeled “KING, Earl, and placed in a portfolio box with the title on it in letterpress. There are, in addition, the title sheet and a colophon printed on the inside bottom of the box. Letterpress is by Wolfe Editions in Portland, Maine. The idea here is that you open an evidentiary file about a murder-and it has just that creepy feeling, with the bullet-shot sheet (reportedly, Beck’s father held the paper and Beck shot the gun) and photos of the “crime scene, an abandoned 1966 Pontiac Bonneville convertible with the keys still in the ignition and the doors left open. Drawings by children are based on those in research books that gather pictorial evidence of juvenile psychological disturbances: Beck copied them freehand onto the stone, with captions done in photolithography. It took a long time and much strategizing, apparently, to create the illusion of the bits-and-pieces process, the gathering of clues, of a criminal investigation. The proof in a way, is in the texts- the famous poem by Goethe, in which a small, feverish child dies in the arms of his father, and the story, with its punning title, by Dale Peck, a perversely contemporary retelling of Goethe in which filial eroticism meets a bad end in a bad neighborhood.

Robert Beck has created other works in which the combination of erotic fantasy and crime underscores the inextricability of the two in a certain strain of American aesthetics. But this understated project, with its intimate and romantic unfolding, is especially impressive.

Price: $1,500. Co-published by the artist and CRG Gallery, New York.


The signature of the artist changed from Robert Beck to Robert Buck in 2008.