Gubby Beck: Desert Sculptor

by Katie Nartonis

“The excitement of the sparks, fire, and learning all the possibilities and manipulations that were possible with steel!”
– Gubby Beck

Gubby Beck (ne Beckenstein) is a Yucca Valley metal sculptor originally from Upstate New York. She earned her BFA in Sculpture and Printmaking at SUNY (Statue University, New York) in Plattsburgh. Her work ranges in size from large scale installations to home decor and miniatures. She is a metal welder, and bends all of her metal by hand – without using any heat. Gubby’s sculptures vary from illustrative landscapes, to organic abstract forms, to whimsical “surreal scapes.”

Gubby grew up in upstate New York, surrounded by mountains and lots of green trees. “Nature was always a big inspiration for me and my work, whether it would be drawing from life or finding surreal pareidolia within nature.” Pareidolia is the tendency to perceive images in random visual patterns. The ability to cull identifiable imagery from chaos may indeed be a useful tool for the visual artist.

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When she was a teenager, her Father moved to California, and she would visit him whenever able. In her mid-twenties, she made the permanent move to Venice Beach. While she couldn’t afford the space to weld and make sculpture, she decided to instead concentrate on her painting practice. When she met her now fiancée, he mentioned off-hand that she would love Joshua Tree. “We took a visit, and I instantly fell in love with the landscape, the funky desert trees, and rockscapes. We realized the desert was more our pace, rather than the busy city and congested areas. We’ve now been living here for over 7 years and we still love it!”

“I love the sunshine and opportunities found on the West coast” Beck

Beck notes that she has been an artist her entire life – starting with drawing and ceramics classes at a young age. Throughout school, she had trouble in other classes, but always felt connected and grounded when she was in an art class. “The world made more sense to me if it was visual rather than comprehending written text. When it was time to apply for college, the only avenue that I thought was for me was a Fine Arts degree.” She started off with graphic design, thinking that was a way for an artist to make continuous money.

After a few classes, she realized that creating through a computer screen was not as fulfilling as creating with her hands and “feeling a medium.” She ventured into the other art classes that were offered at her school. Printmaking caught her eye, as it was similar to the world of graphic design and she was able to do my illustration work. Then she explored ceramics, painting and drawing. Two years into her schooling she came across a sculpture class – that was where she fell in love with welding!

“I enjoy experimenting and challenging myself with steel, from going large scale to miniatures. It is actually more difficult to weld small and I find myself bouncing back and forth between a large sculpture to a small one, which keeps it interesting!”

Her latest sculpture, the 8 foot tall Infinite Connection is the first sculpture selected for the new Yucca Valley Library temporary art program. For the artist, it symbolizes the varied connections of the world and bringing people together.

She designed the piece as part of a response to the Library’s call for art. “For a few months I had an idea of a sculpture that I really wanted to create. I sent in my sketch proposal, and before hearing anything back, I was so excited that I decided to start it regardless if I was accepted or not. This sculpture is similar to one that I’ve done before, but it would be thicker, larger and stronger – more impactful. I started by bending and welding steel into what I call a “pod” shape, which is similar to a diamond or geometric form. I based this sculpture off of circles and the infinity shape, making it look like it’s a continuous form. I ended up creating 51 pods in total to complete the sculpture, ranging in size but all the same ⅜” thickness.”

It took her a few weeks to build the pods alone – all curves were hand bent without any heat, meaning just elbow grease and leverage. Assembling the pods together took another 2 weeks. The piece now measures at 8ft 7in x 8ft x 8ft 9in and the steel is left raw to embrace the natural rust overtime. The linear aspect of this sculpture casts wonderful shadows, continuing its form and changing throughout the time of day and seasons. The sculpture will be up for the year, and then a new piece will be featured. Infinite Connection will be for sale after it’s run, and can be delivered after November.

Gubby knows that the area thrives when our local artists have a space to show. This past year, she opened her own gallery and studio space storefront in Old Town, Yucca Valley called Open Vault Studios. She notes, “In our space you can find my sculptures and my fiancé’s paintings, illustrations, and digital work. We also occasionally feature other local artists, allowing them to pop-up and sell to the public. I also used to run an artisan market in Yucca called “Old Town Get Down” and I hope to do another in the future. Gallery spaces and markets are the main space for artists to show their work and connect with the community.”

Katie Nartonis is a writer, curator, film maker and specialist in art and design. Her most recent documentary film, “Jack Rogers Hopkins: Calfornia Design Maverick,” about the late San Diego based mid-century designercraftsman, premiered during Palm Springs Modernism Week in 2023. She is currently writing “Glimpses of The Joshua Tree Dream,” a book on the way we live in the high desert.

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