Early in 2015, I was visiting the Narrows Center for the Arts in the old South Coast mill city of Fall River, taking notes for a possible review. While I was there, Debra Charlebois, the director of operations for the gallery, asked me if I might consider acting as a guest curator at some point.
The invitation was fairly openended. The subject of the exhibition and the artists to be included would be entirely at my discretion. I accepted the offer and proposed a show that would feature the human figure. It would ultimately be titled “The Tenacity of the Figure” and would attempt to once again affirm the resolute and primal staying power of the human form as one of central significance in artmaking.
I imagined a strong coterie of painters and sculptors to pull off my curatorial thesis. But I needed a linchpin, the key player whose involvement would help determine the selection of the rest of the group. That linchpin was an old colleague, Provincetown painter Donald Beal.
Beal told me he didn’t “do themes,” but that wasn’t exactly true. What he meant was he didn’t paint to spec — but he always did themes. From his days as an undergraduate student at the long-defunct Swain School of Design in New Bedford, where he studied with the late David Loeffler Smith, to the Parsons School of Design in New York City, from which he earned his MFA and studied with Paul Resika, to the present, Beal has done themes: the landscape, the still life, harbor scenes and seascapes, floral arrangements, and most significantly to my eye, the figure.