Beverly Acha often starts with color—a general sense of palette—and her process is an intuitive one: “The fact that I don’t know where I’ll end up is both terrifying and also the reason why I do it.” She tells me this in her East Austin studio as she shows me her painting Find Me Out, a 72 x 56 in. oil on canvas. The sharp lines and bright colors snag the eye, but the longer I stay in front of it, the more the darker blues in the background—that immense and absorbing richness—seem to creep forward. The effect is akin to standing on the edge of a swimming pool and peering into the water, only to realize there is no bottom.
Central Texas is a new landscape for Acha, who grew up in Miami and only recently relocated to Austin for a teaching job at the University of Texas. When asked about the relationship between her work and landscape, Acha reflects on her time in graduate school, a period where she found herself drawn to saturated colors, specifically yellow, even if she wasn’t always sure why. A year-long stay in Roswell, where she found herself thinking a great deal “about landscape and about space,” followed. Despite the geographical differences between New Mexico and Florida, she found kinship through the flatness, the way one can see “the whole sky, the whole literal dome. You felt like you were in one of those snow globes, the ones that are flat. The globe as the Earth. Earth form. I felt like I understood that I was in it, in a way that I hadn’t felt, except in Miami. I hadn’t made the connection to how present that kind of light was in my thinking about color.”
If landscape has helped to bring about important discoveries in Acha’s work, another turning point came during her 2019 residency at the MacDowell Colony, where the majority of the work represented in this portfolio was created. There Acha worked on over ten paintings at the same time (a typical practice for her), trusting that “the thing I am gravitated toward working on that day is what I need.” This was hardly Acha’s first residency, but there was one significant difference: At MacDowell, Acha dispensed with the rules and constraints upon which she typically relies and instead gave herself no rules at all in an effort to “break all the rules.”
That lack of constraints helped generate an expansive and striking body of work. One painting, mira, Noche Azul, operates as a grid that evokes a window looking out on an abstracted landscape. Thick stripes of deep blue paint repeat but also transform, growing lighter as the eye travels from the bottom of the canvas to the top. In mirando por ahi, the grid/window pattern recurs, only this time the landscape is suggestive of a yellow and orange sunburst sky that calls to mind the brightness of Miami. In ondas sonoras o Actias luna, wave-like shapes, painted in a verdant green, bring striking movement to the canvas. Windows, grids, and mirrors all repeat and transmute, creating capacious landscapes that draw the viewer deeper and deeper; the longer one looks, the less sure they become of the painting’s exact borders.
Mid-February in Austin is warm, the skies are blue, the trees are already starting to bloom. The Colorado River is close at hand. Just beyond the city limits the Texas hill country awaits. Acha is new to the city, but she plans to stay for a while. When I ask how she anticipates yet another new landscape impacting her work, she turns introspective. After all her time moving from place to place, from one artist’s residency and teaching job to the next, Acha is especially curious about what it might be like to be in one place for a longer period of time, how that might create a “space of reflection” for her. She doesn’t quite know yet, but she’s “sure it’ll come in.”
— Laura van den Berg