Visual Wanderlust

"Oblivion," by Saul Becker. Gouache, watercolor & ink on paper

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” Martin Buber

“Most of American life consists of driving somewhere and then returning home, wondering why the hell you went.” John Updike

"Hard Times (I)," by Saul Becker. Gouache, watercolor & ink on paper

Saul Becker is an American painter, from Tacoma, who is widely traveled and intentional in his movements, yet the psychological surveying he conducts of external and internal landscapes sometimes eludes description. His schooling and aesthetic curiosity have taken him from Lisbon, Portugal, to Halifax, Nova Scotia; most recently, he boarded a sailing ship for a three-week artist’s residency above the Arctic Circle.

“Travel and expeditions have become very important in my work, and it’s always tricky to talk about what that means specifically,” he says. Of the Arctic voyage, he notes, “I’m still trying to figure out what that experience means to me. I try to flesh these things out in the work I make. I think our relationships with the environment are much more involved and nuanced than we commonly think. My particular sensitivity happens to be obsessed with how I relate to places.”

Ruston Way redux.

The geography of Becker’s painting ranges from the hellish, primordial landscape of Oblivion (above top), to a Ruston Way scene where faded graffiti clings to a slab of Asarco smelter concrete like the remnants of ancient petroglyphs. The artist, the recent recipient of both an Artist Trust Fellowship, and a TAIP grant from the Tacoma Arts Commission, is currently working on a group of sculptures involving hand-collected plant specimens that are electroplated then installed in vitrines: “They are, in part, concerned with ideas about preserving nature, and inertia. I also think of them as being miniature landscapes.”

Becker has upcoming exhibitions in New York City and Chicago; Spaceworks Tacoma is helping support his current, frenzied output with a three-month creative residency at 1114 Pacific Avenue. The artist and his family moved back to Tacoma from New York: “I think my relationship with the world at large will always reference back to the Northwest. I grew up here, so certain relationships will always revert to a sort of baseline that is present here. In a way, travel always informs you as much about home as the place you are visiting.” And he still finds the local topography inspiring: “Landscapes are visible manifestations of our ideas and values concerning the world outside ourselves. How we relate to, and define, ‘nature’ is a pretty rich vein to mine. This is what inspires me to paint landscapes, and gently move landscape painting into a more critical dialogue.” For more information, visit

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