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Beju

Sometimes materials speak to the artist. Sculptors say they see the figure in a block of marble or the painted image on a canvas before they start. For others the inspiration comes in different forms – like a plastic water pipe.

As a self taught artist who did not start his career until he was almost 30, Beju was born in France and landed in America when he was invited to exhibit at a show in Chicago. He began with wood carving as his career flourished in New York restoring and creating new artwork in residences on Long Island and Manhattan. His earliest works include a set of “trompe l’oeil” wood carvings that have been featured several times in the Grand Palais in Paris. His carving became so intricate the pieces look like the real object he is modeling them after – a baseball glove has intricate stitching, while the ball itself is unraveling with bits of stuffing peeking out. A carved envelope bulges with its mystery contents.

It takes a remarkable level of skill to achieve this kind of detail. One of his controversial pieces is a carved wallet that looks as if it were dropped on the floor, a faux hundred dollar bill sticking out. The curators of the exhibit were concerned viewers may try and pry the piece off the floor to get the money. The piece is called “You Own It.”

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“To my eyes it’s okay,” says Beju at his home studio in Lake Worth he shares with his wife who also an artist and community arts organizer “It says more about the viewer or perceiver than anything. If someone wants to try and steal it, own it, that’s their projection. I told the curators I would take full responsibility for any ‘theft’!”

After 24 years of carving, Béju turned his attention to sculpture based on the interaction of the abstract concepts of Conscience and Action. The work has carved metal railings and broken planks that can be functionally used as a seat. They seem to weave in and out of walls, breaking barriers of perception. He sees this “action” as translating into the minds “conscience” to create a different dimension. Several of the pieces are in his living room, he takes great care in the placement and installation, as they are interactive with the environment.

Lately he has been concentrating on a series of playful art in public places sculptures titled “Alley Dudes” that use the unusual material of PVC pipe, connected at various angles to form human/robotic forms to evoke movement, actions, and interaction. He has also devised a way with powdered pigments to color the pristine white pipes – a difficult process as normal paint scratches easily.

Béju’s playful pipes put in action in other cities too…

Bikesitter-by-Beju-in-Coral-Gables,-Florida
Bikesitter by Beju in Coral Gables, Florida

The work is currently on display at the Coral Gables City Hall – a large sculpture called “Bikesitter” that also functions as a bicycle rack –  and he has a show of some of the PVC pieces opening May 14 through August at the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County. He calls the pipe works “Alley Dudes”.

“My “Alley Dude” humanoid sculptures exploit a concept that I deem as eloquent as speech – Body Language,” Beju says. “Its intuitiveness ignores knowledge, transcends cultures, it is universal. Alley Dudes are colorful contemporary interpretations of thought and action through candid, yet precisely organized lines and shapes. These figures literally talk to the observer, when several are used in a display they become performers that entice the public to engage in the ‘conversation’. The lightness of their message reaches spectators of all ages, they are fun, distracting and bright beings. The simplicity of their concept, yet intricate designs will guide you into completing the piece by imagining the details of their facial expressions and hand gestures. They are built with high pressure plumbing PVC tubes and fittings. For each conceptual sculpture, the articulation and colors are always finalized with consideration of the display location and of its users so that they fully integrate the site.

Alley Dudes are light, perfectly suited for the outdoors and can even be submerged. From inches to 20 feet in height they are free standing, can easily be secured to the ground, and attached to walls or harmlessly to trees. To insure stability, their bottom sections can be filled with concrete to lower their center of gravity and their top portions with expanded foam to fill any void.”

For the show at the Cultural Council called Le Cort Vert (The Green Side), Beju raised his figures to an upper ledge rimming the main exhibition hall, a place that had never been used before by an artist at the gallery. Most sculptures at the Council are on the flat ground or on pedestals, part of the beauty of Beju’s work is that it can be placed high on buildings and use that height to make a different connection visually. In this case, the figures can be seen as ascending their circumstances, bridging space and changing the perspective. The title refers to how the grass always seems greener somewhere else.
“I am very sensitive to where my work is installed,” Beju says. ‘For this show I really studied the gallery and saw a new way it could be used. I have a computer program that lets me superimpose the pieces on the gallery and can be used to show people how the art can look in their home or outdoors. My program can also animate the pieces, future projects include making these into cartoons or even 3D projections.”

Now that’s a far out idea, creating the art as a hologram type projection, the actual art would not even be in the space and can be repositioned, moved or projected in a variety of places around a home or gallery.

Beju is working with the City of West Palm Beach to establish an Art Alley, filled with murals and sculptures to liven up normally unused public space. After seeing huge sewer pipes being installed in a new nursery lot across the inlet from his home, he has visions of using these huge pipes to create even bigger Alley Dudes.

About his art he concludes “I think art should be fun, have whimsy and make people think while they smile.”

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Sandra-Schulman Sandra Schulman is an arts writer, music and film producer. Born in Miami, her work has appeared in Billboard, Variety, Rolling Stone, Ocean Drive, Country Music Magazine, The New York Daily News, News From Indian Country, and Entertainment Weekly. She was an entertainment columnist for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel for 8 years. She has authored three books on pop culture. She currently lives in West Palm Beach with her blue eyed whippet. Sandra Schulman’s column appears weekly. Contact her at sandraslink@gmail.com.

See the Artwork of Beju, a French Sculptor Living in America & Creating Inspiring Art Using Plastic Water Pipes. Playful Pipes Put Art in Action in Alleys in the City of West Palm Beach