Beautiful Chaos: the Art and Mind of Thaddeus Beal


I MET THADDEUS BEAL at a holiday party two years ago. It was the first holiday cocktail party for Kings Court, I had been told, and for a street in Essex with only seven houses, I must say the company was truly wonderful:  A poet, an artist, a pop star, a former ballet dancer turned contractor and well, the rest of us.

Thaddeus looked as though he might prefer to be elsewhere.  We chatted briefly during which time I discovered that he was an artist.  He was sweet and quirky.  I told him I would love to see his work.  He left the party quite early.

The following day, a card was placed in my mailbox.  It had an invigorating and intricate painting on the front.  Inside was a note from Thaddeus Beal inviting me to visit his studio at the end of the street.  On the back, I learned that the painting could be found at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

On my first visit to Thaddeus’s studio I was completely taken by the barn where he works. It is rustic yet modern, warm with clean lines.  I would come to learn that Thaddeus designed the barn himself, and built it as well, one summer along with a few helpers.  The studio itself was my initial introduction to the beauty of chaos — Thaddeus’s floor with all of its spatters and drips was gorgeous.  The space felt alive and exciting.  I was amazed at how quickly he and I settled into a very genuine conversation.  I noted that he had purchase two lovely muffins;  I thought this was very sweet.  We chatted about his career prior to being an artist, his first marriage to a poet (who lives next door to him), his children, and his current wife, a documentary film maker.  Woven into these sort of life markers were references to math, history, science and all manner of marvelous things.  We left the studio to visit a small outbuilding where he keeps his finished work —  paintings of all kinds, sizes and feelings.  A history of his mind.  Enviable to have it documented in such a way.  I loved many of his pieces, but one in particular.  It was gray, with lovely strong geometric shapes.  It felt at once expansive, but also soft like suede.  Later, when I headed home I was stunned to find that Thaddeus was sending me off with my uneaten muffin and — the painting.

Thaddeus’s professional life began as a lawyer.  He received his undergraduate degree from Yale and his law degree from Stanford.  He became a criminal prosecutor for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office in Boston and then joined Peabody & Brown (now Peabody & Nixon) law firm in Boston where he eventually became a senior partner.  But while he enjoyed the complexity of the cases, he struggled with the meaning of it all.  Then, his father died.   At the age of 64.   He fell off of his bike and died.  It would seem that this set into motion a sort of unfettering of Thaddeus.  Shortly thereafter, he began taking art classes and flirting with the idea of leaving the firm.  Eventually, he did; a major leap out of a world of safety and prestige and into the unknown.  He enrolled full-time in the MFA School of Fine Arts where he would spend the next five years studying and working.  He explains that he was terrible at drawing and pretty much all else (which I am not entirely sure I believe) but that his time there did teach him about attitude — a comfort with not knowing.

Out of art school he was lucky (his word - mine would be “enormously talented”) and was accepted to gallery in Boston.  He created pieces for shows which kept him working steadily.  He was also invited to participate in two shows at a gallery in Chelsea on the west side of Manhattan; he had established himself as a known artist.  This led to a consistent and fruitful career of 21 years, so far.  Today his collections can be found at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, The Massachusetts Convention and Exhibition Center, The Boston Stock Exchange, Beth Israel Hospital, Simmons College, Pfizer and in law firms, corporations and private collections throughout Boston.

On my second visit, I found Thaddeus outside standing over huge paintings laying on the ground.  They were soon to be completely covered in snow.  He was pondering them. When I asked what he was expecting to happen he said brightly — I have no idea, with a shoulder shrug and eyebrow raise that together were an undeniable declaration of his love of making art; you could feel his curiosity and delight.

Early in his art career, Thaddeus was introduced to a book called Chaos by James Gleick about chaos theory and non-linear physics.  This idea of patterns in randomness consistently shows up in Thaddeus’s work.  He became fascinated by Boids, an artificial life program; a flocking algorithm and example of emergent behavior.  On a computer it looks like a flock of shapes interacting in this sort of mesmerizing way.  The complexity of Boids comes from the interaction of three simple rules: separation, alignment, and cohesion.  From order comes — wonder.

In the spirit of wonder, Thaddeus works with a wide variety of mediums: paint, dye, bleach, tar, rust and more.  He likes the uncertainty of the patterns they create when blended, a sort of controlled chaos.  He also works on all manner of materials, paper, canvas, wood, metal, and various forms of plastic.  I have seen him rusting chains on huge boards outside, inviting the elements to participate in his work.

The work of Thaddeus Beal is a glimpse inside a beautiful and complex mind.  A mind intrigued by randomness and chaos.  And while he may be trying to capture it in some way, he is not at all trying to make sense of it.  His work feels like a language of distillation —  taking the geometry, physics, Boids and whatever else he is considering and giving them a novel translation.  A wonder of their own.  A beautiful chaos.

yale, poet, an artist, museum of fine arts, mfa school of fine arts, thaddeus beal, known artist, james gleick