In Conversation with Kelly Beeman

New York City based Kelly Beeman is a fashion illustrator and artist. Her paintings depict quietly confident women with relaxed eyes but expressionless features. Adorned in uniquely patterned textiles, sat on elaborately upholstered soft furnishings, narrative hints begin to emerge. Who the subjects are is a mystery yet each painting reveals something about the individual’s personality, style and taste.

Although her paintings are contemporary watercolours with a clean ink line, Beeman expresses a classic figurative style with a lean towards elongation. German and Post Expressionism movements spring to mind, as does African sculpture and vintage tropical coloured textiles.

Her clients include fashion houses Loewe, Tory Burch, J.W Anderson and Elie Saab with whom she has long established relationships.

We caught up with Beeman to find out about her mysterious characters and how fashion, in a wider sociological aspect, influences her art.

CZ: Tell us about where you grew up and studied.

KB: I grew up in Oklahoma City and started drawing when I was very young. My mother was a watercolor painter and art teacher so she taught me everything she knew. Eventually I began studying at a visual and performing arts high school where I received a great foundation in drawing and painting from observation. This was really my last formal arts education whilst I pursued a degree in sociology.

CZ: What turned you on to fashion illustration?

KB: I have always enjoyed painting people but I didn’t always have a subject so I would invent them. Often they were nude, but then I started to use clothes to enhance or individualize them. I liked finding garments that were unusual so I looked to fashion for inspiration.

I think about the human form and the clothes as two separate elements. I had to acquire two distinct skill sets - firstly drawing the human figure until I felt the freedom to reinterpret it and then secondly learn how to portray garments in a way that complemented that style.

CZ: Tell us about the importance of fashion in everyday life?

KB: People carefully consider how they present themselves by crafting a personal wardrobe that reflects who they are. I am not critical and do not make judgments about the importance we place on appearance. For me, it is a simple fact of life. I want the women (and men) I paint to appear natural, comfortable, and confident in whatever they are wearing.

CZ: Where do you look for inspiration?

KB: My art influences are varied but are mostly periods rather than individual artists; Roman encaustic portraits, Greek pottery, classical sculpture, late medieval painting, Byzantine icons, Greek herbals, Renaissance portraiture, early 20th century Viennese design, graphic art and early 1970s fashion illustration by Antonio Lopez.

CZ: As a painter who depicts females, do you think that there has been a shift in body image in fashion?

KB: It seems to be happening but very, very slowly. You see a little more body diversity on runways now, which may or may not reflect a more profound change. As a painter, it is so important to me to depict proud, powerful, confident and sensual women. I try to achieve this with the facial expression but also in the body shape and posture and sometimes by engaging them in an activity.

CZ: We love how pattern, surface design and interiors feature in your work, how important is context?

KB: It is very important. My subjects are very real to me - they have lives, hobbies, personalities and pasts. Their clothes are a part of the world they inhabit so I like to combine all of these different details and elements so that you get an impression of whom they are.

CZ: Tell us about your Sister Series.

KB: These paintings were inspired by my own life and experiences. Marie Claire Italia asked me to create a 20-page fashion story and gave me total creative freedom. I was interested in exploring childhood memories, sibling relationships and identity. It was a really wonderful project! Usually I am using fashion to create a person from scratch but in this case I made those decisions based on what I already knew about growing up with three sisters.

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