Beverly Pepper

Steel and Paint
Collection of the Lowe Art Museum
Gift of the Estate of B. Carlin
Location: Ferre Building

Lowe Art Museum Collection

My work both responds to and tries to reinforce the human capacity for wonder … we can’t rebuild the monuments of the ancient world, but we can aspire to re-evoke, in however modern a world, some of the enduring and perhaps renewable sensations of amazement, even awe. - Beverly Pepper 

Born in Brooklyn in 1922, Beverly Pepper knew from childhood that she wanted to be an artist. Her path to sculpture (the specialization for which she is now best remembered), however, was less direct. After completing studies in Industrial and Advertising Design at Pratt Institute and starting a career as a commercial art director, Pepper relocated in the 1940s to Italy, where she devoted herself to painting. In fact, it was not until the early 1950s that Pepper learned to weld, developing a unique formal vocabulary marked by abstract geometric forms on a monumental scale. Such work led to her being linked to early- and mid-twentieth-century art and design movements, such as Russian Constructivism, Minimalism, and the Bauhaus.

Pepper’s sources of inspiration, though, were actually much broader, and included ancient monuments, memorials, and religious sites, whose spirituality, power, and timelessness fascinated her. Those impulses are apparent in Ascension/Descension, each of whose two “legs” rises from a broad, wedge-shaped base to meet at a sharp point at the sculpture’s zenith. Reminiscent of ancient Egypt’s elegant and imposing pyramids and true to the elements of Modern design, the sculpture’s skewed angles, asymmetrical slopes, and gleaming finish attest to Pepper’s ability to craft a seamless dialogue between history and modernity.

Student Works Inspired By Ascension/Descension

Isaac Diskin

For this project I chose the sculpture Ascension/Descension by the American artist Beverly Pepper. Though this sculpture is minimal, both in form and color, I found it quite intriguing when I began to think about it musically. I decided to create a purely improvisational piece, just me and a guitar, to see where this sculpture would lead me musically. I found that the contrast of ascension and descension in the sculpture itself translated into my music. With the sculpture, any part could be ascending or descending, depending on your orientation. This manifested in me moving through chord shapes that had both ascending and descending lines in them, usually the root note moving down while the top, or top two voices move up. I also found the simplicity of the form to direct me musically. Though the sculpture can be disorienting, it is still calm and ordered. The tips of each metal triangle meeting at the top form a kind of unity through the whole physical piece. In my improvisation, I kept it all in one key to try and mimic this unity; I also wanted the harmony to sound pleasurable, with just enough moving parts for interest, which I found reflected the sculpture’s simple yet fascinating nature. Pepper’s piece has the distinct feeling of being grounded, with the thickest part of the sculpture on the ground it feels as if it growing out of, or a part of the earth itself. When I played my piece I didn’t try and do anything specific musically to represent this, but I focused on the feeling of being ‘down to earth’, or tried to get in a slightly meditative mindset. I felt that this kind of head space would allow me to the simplicity of the sculpture, and let it naturally inspire whatever it would.