Curator Sarah Urist Green has been interviewing artists about their practices for six years on the PBS digital series The Art Assignment. In each episode, viewers are presented with a fresh, original art lesson inspired by the artist’s work. Now, those lessons and brand-new ones are available in the book You Are an Artist, published earlier this month by Penguin Books. The volume brings together over 50 art assignments that aim to prove that you don’t need to be an artist to make creative work. Below, we share an excerpt from
You Are an Artist—an assignment inspired by the work of contemporary painter .
Gina Beavers’s art changed dramatically in 2010. She had been making hard-edged
and was unenthused about them, especially after admiring several racks of T-shirts in a store with screen-printed abstractions on them. Beavers liked the shirts better than her own paintings, and, at $5.00 each, they were not only cheaper but easier to make. So challenged, she returned to her studio to see if she could make something that appeared more handmade, something that couldn’t be accomplished by a machine. A friend had dropped off some acrylic paints for her to try, and she started experimenting by building up thicker layers of paint. Around this time another event happened, this one cataclysmic. Beavers got an iPhone.
Instead of directly observing the world around her as artists had for centuries, she began doing what everybody else was: looking at her phone. What she found delighted her. Images, endless images. All the ones you’d expect to find, plus many more you wouldn’t. Beavers started noticing a lot of food photography in her social media feed, and was particularly intrigued by a friend’s post of some short ribs he was making. She appreciated how abstracted the brown rib forms appeared against a blue cloth and set about painting them. Instead of maintaining the flatness of the original image, Beavers built up the canvas with acrylic medium to make the forms and textures pop off the canvas. She began following the hashtag #foodporn and painted any image that struck her as interesting, from a pile of chicken and waffles on a platter to an oozing blueberry pie in an aluminum foil pan. Falling somewhere between painting and sculpture, Beavers’s relief works appear simultaneously hyperrealistic and charmingly, gloppily handcrafted. They are tactile, heavy, and resolutely physical, the antithesis of their fleeting source material.