Interview with Beau White
Beau White is an exceptionally gifted figurative oil painter with a proclivity towards bizarre and often unsettling themes. He is technically skilled and able to accurately represent his subject matter to near photorealism while still having the elusive “painterly” touch. His ability could easily lend itself to complete works of neoclassical art. When hearing him talk about working with paint, it is easy to see that he has near encyclopaedic knowledge and a passion to match. But, thematically Beau White’s works are far from classical although they do borrow some elements. And although his works are representational they are also otherworldly in the most bizarre and wonderful of ways. Seemingly inspired by both traditional painting techniques and movements and kitsch imagery from the seventies and eighties, Beau weaves his own magic with his brushes and oils to create something truly unique. Paintings with darkness, humour, social commentary, melancholy and absurdity. Beau is currently showing at Beinart Gallery as part of Memento Mori, Memento Amare. The exhibition closes November 12
“I’m interested in, and compelled to, represent the weird, creepy, grotesque and silly in my art. It’s how I view and interpret the world. My work could be summarised as playfulness and joy holding hands with fear and the unknown. Iʼm “whistling past the graveyard” —Beau White
Corinne Beinart: Tell us a bit about the body of work featured in Memento Mori, Memento Amare? What inspired this series?
Beau White: When I began thinking about the themes of the show, I decided to veer slightly from the usual iconography and approach things from a more jovial, tongue-in-cheek angle.
I became aware of historical vanitas paintings and was inspired by their stagy and romantic portrayal of mortality. When I further researched vanitas art and the various symbolic devices used to represent the ephemeral nature of life and the futility of existence, I became excited by the textural and conceptual potential for my own work. Bubbles, fruit and flowers in varying states of decay, mirrors and reflective surfaces, coins, hourglasses, candle flames etc. I wanted to create my own absurd brand of vanitas with variations on the theme here and there.
Another inspiration for the imagery and colour palette for a number of my pieces, were those gaudy and wonderful cookbooks from the seventies and early eighties. Recipes that combined ingredients that not only sound absurd, but look incredibly disturbing and hilarious! The photos of these homely monstrosities possess a kind of tragicomic nostalgia which, to me, correlate nicely with the death and love themes and also with my take on the vanitas genre.
Within the series of eight paintings there are pairs for each variation on my vanitas/memento mori interpretations. Each coupling featured my partner and co-exhibiter, Isabel Peppard and myself, as the reference models. With the exception of the two “Still Death” pieces, which are based on the 19th century “death mask” tradition; they are both modelled on a life cast of Isabelʼs face. All the figurative elements in the series are reposed to signify death. I find that this gives the work a calm, contemplative quality beyond the vibrant colours, macabre subject matter and humorous elements.
CB: Your work can be seen as quite thematically dark but there are often hints of the humorous or absurd. Is this purposeful? If so, why?
BW: It acts as a way for me to counter balance, or even accentuate the dark and disturbing elements of my work. I think it adds a unique dimension and point of interest to otherwise fairly simple, straightforward concepts and imagery. Perhaps, to a certain degree, it’s an aversion to artistic earnestness. But I’m interested in, and compelled to, represent the weird, creepy, grotesque and silly in my art. It’s how I view and interpret the world. My work could be summarised as playfulness and joy holding hands with fear and the unknown. Iʼm “whistling past the graveyard”.
CB: What advice would you give to young artists starting out?
BW: Insert inspirational quote here! I canʼt think of any general advice that I can give to a young artist or an artist of any age and experience level. To be honest, Iʼm not exactly sure how I got from my starting point to now. Persistence, I suppose. I donʼt want to spew forth a whole bunch of vague or over obvious stuff that people can find out through a quick internet search. I can share processes and techniques I use to make art that could be helpful, but these would be in response to specific questions from individuals with an interest in oil painting in a similar style. As far as being an artist in a broader sense, I’m not sure what an artist is exactly or where to even begin!
CB: How has your work changed over the years? Do you see how it will progress in the future?
BW: For many years, from the mid 90ʼs, I was working with ink, watercolour and pastels. I was doing cartooning and illustration, line based art and some pop surrealism and portraiture. I started working as a freelance illustrator from the early 2000ʼs and I began oil painting in 2007. Using sculpted elements, human and animal models and domestic backgrounds, I have created all my own photo reference to work from. Since starting with oils, I have developed a lot and am still exploring and expanding my techniques and approach to the medium. The work I am doing now is so challenging and creatively fulfilling, it feels like Iʼm heading in the right direction. I am unsure how my work will progress in the future. I will continue to explore and push myself conceptually, and hope to refine, and gain more confidence in my style and execution.
CB: Whatʼs next? What projects do you hope to be working on in the near future?
BW: I’m excited about three group shows I am participating in at Beinart Gallery throughout 2018. In the new year I will also open an online store on my website, with prints of selected artworks available for purchase. And, I will also be assisting Isabel Peppard to create miniature set pieces and props for fantasy sequences in her documentary film Morgana. Beyond that, I will be planning for a solo show in 2019 and entering work into Australian art prizes.
Beau is currently exhibiting a series of new oil paintings at Beinart Gallery as part of the show Memento Mori, Memento Amare. This exhibit also features new sculptures by Isabel Peppard and etchings by Jonathan Guthmann. The exhibition closes November 12.