New York City-based artist Gina Beavers approaches social media a little bit differently than many of us—she sees art as she scrolls through her Instagram feed. In recent years, she has explored imagery culled from the internet and rendered in realistic acrylic paint, providing us with a different eye on ourselves and the ways in which we express ourselves, even in the most casual forums. Beavers explained some of her inspirations to us, and will elaborate on them further in a lecture at the Albuquerque Museum (2000 Mountain Rd. NW) on Thursday, April 19, at 7pm.
Alibi: Where does your interest in things like social media, food and makeup spring from?
Beavers: My work used to be a lot different before I got a smartphone in 2010! I would see things in the world and paint them! Post-smartphone my attention and observation seemed to go into my phone, into looking at and participating in social media apps, and all of the things that would arise there. One of the first things I noticed [was] a lot of people's photos of their meals at restaurants or meals they had cooked … I also became fascinated with tutorials, specifically makeup tutorials. The makeup artists used such similar tools to painters, it almost appeared when I used these images as sources, that the painting was drawing and painting itself. … Historically, painters have drawn inspiration from their world, for me it's just that a lot of my world is virtual.
Are there any explicit ideas you're working with in your paintings on makeup?
My initial idea was that the painting appeared to be drawing and painting itself as it was looking at the viewer, at the same time it was attempting to make itself appealing. I find the frame-by-frame steps, enabled by collage apps, to also lend an element of animation to these images. The materials and the framing make the finished pieces hyper-real.
How do you go about selecting images to paint?
I screenshot and save thousands of images; I have something like 14 thousand images on my phone. I then go through and sort the ones I'm most interested in making into paintings into folders based on themes. For an image to draw me, it has to have formal, compositional elements as well as some sort of cultural or narrative note that interests me.
Do you have any hopes of what people might understand about their own social media lives by exploring your work?
I have a real appreciation for the “outsider” artist element of the photos people take or compose in social media. I am continually impressed by compositions of users' meals, which appear to be influenced, very intuitively, by still-life painting and food advertising, so I guess in a way I'm thinking, you may not recognize these creative impulses as art, but I think they are.
What have you learned in the process of transposing these images into paintings?
It is challenging, translating angles and trying to understand forms. The depth of certain elements in the background of images has taught me a lot about seeing. I think I have learned that I enjoy setting up problems to solve, that it isn't enough for me to simply render a photo realistically, that I have to build up the acrylic deeply in order to interfere with the rendering of something too realistically.
How do you feel about Instagram and other similar social media? Are these works meant to be a reflection, a critique, something else?
I think for a lot of people social media is kind of like the weather. We don't have a lot of control of it, it just is. It gives and it takes away. There's no doubt that it has connected people in ways that are great and productive, allowing people to find communities and organize activism, it can also be a huge distraction. As an artist, with an interest of making things that exist in the world, I have to limit my exposure in order to get things done! … I approach looking at images there pretty distantly, more as a neutral documentarian, and I come down on the side of seeing social media as an incredibly useful, democratic tool in a lot of ways. It certainly helps artists and galleries that are not in New York or Los Angeles or other big art capitals around the world get attention for their work and projects.
What topics do you expect to broach in your lecture in Albuquerque?
I will talk about my journey as an artist, both the path of my work and making my life as an artist, as well as discussing influences, some of which will come from the Albuquerque Museum collection!