The New York Times, 2004
The New York Times – ‘La Naturecanique’
February 06, 2004
The amazing David Beck is back, the maker of tiny, ingenious carved and mechanical devices that this time take the form of animals, water creatures and grandly winged insects. Anyone who saw Mr. Beck’s brilliant staging of a mechanically run “Aida” in a 6-by-4-foot opera house several years ago knows what to expect of this woodcarver and animation wizard, and he doesn’t disappoint.
This display’s items carved, painted and gilded, and animated by minute hand cranks, was inspired by 17th-century cabinets of curiosities, the showcases of marvelous oddments beloved by collectors of that era.
Mr. Beck’s 21st-century chef d’oeuvre, not quite as elaborate as his opera house but pretty special nonetheless, is a coconut with a carved face on its surface. Its hinged top opens to reveal, in exquisite detail, a wrenching scene from Dante’s “Inferno” in the top, panels showing punishments for each of the Seven Deadly Sins around its flanks and, in the bottom, a bowl, supported by goblins, in which a hideous mechanical she-devil waves her arms as she births a struggling offspring.
But there’s so much else. A tiny white elephant kicks up its heels and stands on two legs. Big, brilliantly colored moths flutter and flap their wings. Species of fish include a “boxfish” that opens out from a closed cube; a blowfish with lifelike painted skin that opens its mouth and wiggles its tail; a piranha that bares fierce teeth; a sectional fish that expands and contracts like an accordion.
You can find cues for Mr. Beck’s work in many sources, everything from Asian art to comic books. But it’s his vision, along with his incredible carving and animation skills, that makes him unique.