Artist Spotlight: Kristin Beaver

Artist Spotlight: Kristin Beaver

As evidenced by her Kresge Artist Fellowship (she was one of the inaugural class of recipients), Kristin Beaver is an exceptionally talented artist. As further evidence, she is represented by the prestigious David Klein Gallery, and she shows regularly throughout the U.S.

Kristin paints large oil portraits. Through her paintings, she uses her technical skills to capture the truth of (what appears to be) candid moments.  Her paintings often have strong shadows that frame her subjects. These paintings are striking portraits that grab viewers by their size and composition, and then they entrance viewers through their ability to capture the subject’s soul.

Because Kristin appears to have this whole being an artist thing down, wanted to talk to her and learn her secrets. How long have you been painting?

Kristin: I painted naively as a youngster and a teen—not knowing anything about drawing or color—but learned like a sponge around age eighteen. How would you describe the Detroit art scene?

Kristin: It is diverse. It can seem small yet large; there are a lot of people making things here. There is definitely a regional component to a number of artists’ work. People cannot help but react to the environment and state of the City. Then there are the escapists, with whom I feel more akin. What inspires you?

Kristin: Tight bonds and attractions with and between people, twins, pairs, and sidekicks, my parents’ and their parents’ old scrapbooks of photos, 60’s Italian and French films, the evolution and history of fashion, hair and attitude, 19th Century portraiture, memories, dreams, cocktails with friends, escaping banal realities—all inspire me. Music is influential as well. My earlier work stems from old country and rock and roll that doesn’t apologize for its honesty, all the while being flamboyant and glamorous. Does beauty play a role in your art?

Kristin: Beauty is central to my work; I paint people and things I find attractive. However, I am interested in the other side of beauty, as well—I wouldn’t want the image or subject to be saccharine. There has to be a way of relating to the low end of what happens when we are drawn to things… the biting part of attraction and beauty. How has your career changed over the past 5 years?

Kristin: My work is in a state of fluctuation, with new visions coming to fruition, while working through ideas I’ve had for years. I can clearly look back and see an autobiographical documentation of events and relationships from my twenties that feel separate and distant now. I grapple with the act of sharing intensely personal ideas and visions in a public way, to wanting to create small, quiet, secretive, and intimate exchanges. How long have you had a studio in Detroit? What is your experience with having a studio in Detroit?

Kristin: I have lived and worked in the Detroit area for eleven years, after moving from Illinois to go to graduate school at Wayne State University. After graduating I had a studio in the Pioneer building, which was a nice large industrial space, but later moved into a house in Hamtramck that used to have a candy store in the front, which is now where I work and live. I like Hamtramck and it’s good for me be able to work where I live, at any hour. This is Women’s History Month, are you particularly inspired by any women artists?

Kristin: I became thrilled with the idea of being a painter around age ten, after seeing Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings. I had always loved flinging paint around whenever I had the chance as a kid, but when I saw her paintings, I was immediately taken with the colored gradients in her flower abstractions. I remember wondering how it would be possible to make paint look like that. Since studying art more seriously, I have been particularly encouraged by the work and lives of Artemisia Gentileschi, Louise Bourgeois, Susanna Coffey, Diane Arbus, Kiki Smith, Jenny Saville, Lee Bontecou, Louise Nevelson, Louisa Matthiasdottir, Rineke Dijkstra, Patti Smith, and Vanessa Beecroft. Do you see any roadblocks for being a professional artist that are particular to women?

Kristin: I am fortunate to have never felt like I wasn’t capable, or didn’t have just as much professional opportunity as a man would. I do not take this position for granted, and am often reminded of how recently sexism affected women’s careers when talking to people a generation or two before mine. After moving to Detroit and fearlessly taking on opportunities to show my work, older women would congratulate me and tell me what unfair situations or setbacks there were for them at my age. I have gratitude for all of those women who stuck to their guns and felt strong throughout those times. The state of wavering in the current political landscape in terms of women’s rights is utterly baffling and unacceptable…