Acclaimed mixed-media artist Phoebe Beasley presented her survey of artwork “Unsung Requiem: Lost Then Found” in the Harris Gallery with a reception and talk.
The reception opened on April 4 with a performance by Myra Garcia, senior director of development and Beasley’s close friend, who sang “Amazing Grace.”
President Devorah Lieberman was invited by Beasley to say a few words before the reception commenced.
“I’ve known Phoebe for a number of years now and to have her artwork here is a blessing,” Lieberman said. “We are blessed to benefit from the impact her art has made on the world.”
“Unsung Requiem: Lost Then Found” consisted of 40 works based on historical and personal narratives, from honoring significant historical figures to preserving the unique challenges of her ancestors, Beasley’s voice is heard throughout.
“Class of ‘33” is one of the pieces in Beasley’s art show to honor her stepmom’s graduating class from Wilberforce University, the first historically black college in the nation.
The painting included an overarching colorful rainbow overseeing the hundreds of graduating students sitting in the middle of the painting. Toward the bottom, railroad tracks can be seen along with painted figures of different colors.
Damairis Lao, senior art and art history double major, along with Shyonta Glothon, psychology and theatre double major, had the opportunity to collaborate with Beasley and create a panoramic version of “Class of ‘33.”
“We photocopied the image of the graduating class her mother gave her into a much bigger version,” Lao said. “She wanted to use modern day technology within her painting so we went to the Wilson Library Makerspace and 3D printed the train tracks.”
Beasley gave Lao and Glothon personal advice about art throughout the process.
“As an art student, I get so focused on technique and meaning behind my art,” Lao said. “Phoebe does what she wants and doesn’t stress about the little things, which is something she instilled in us.”
Glothon said that although she works with the art department, this experience was different than anything she has done before.
“I’m a theater and psychology major and working with an artist was out of my comfort zone,” Glothon said. “I was scared to mess up her art but she made me feel so comfortable and had personal conversations with me, which she didn’t have to do, and I am very appreciative of that.”
Beasley uses a variety of vibrant colors along with different textures, fabrics, objects, and paper to create her pieces.
While some are portraits, such as “Sunset on Laguna Lady,” where a woman is sitting on a white chair with the sunset as her background, other paintings are more abstract, such as the “Orchid Sun” collage, two paintings of white orchids with a swirl of pink, purple and blue backgrounds along with a mix of patterned paper.
Along with paint, Beasley places objects on the paintings themselves, such as buttons, stamps, coins, cardboard, jewelry and even a shoe in order to provide a 3D experience for her audience.
Similar to her paintings, each piece of 3D art represents yet another part of her life.
Dion Johnson, director of galleries, explained the manner in which Beasley’s art was placed and the reason behind it.
“Color for Phoebe is so important and she connects color to emotion,” Johnson said. “She wanted to place pieces together that would spark conversation.”
Johnson pointed out that Beasley’s 3D sculpture, “Where Servants and Spirits Reside,” was placed between the original and panoramic version of “Class of ‘33” due to the small rainbow in the sculpture that has a connection to the larger rainbow in “Class of ‘33.”
Simultaneously, Beasley placed dark colors, such as grays or blacks, on another wall to represent the quieter moments of her life.
“With ‘Class of ‘33,’ Phoebe painted a rainbow with bright colors in celebration of history,” Johnson said. “Whereas she combines colors of either darker or lighter shades together to represent the different emotions she felt during that time of her life.”
Each art piece was placed intentionally, so that there was almost a domino pattern, where one piece led to another.
Morgan Lee, a junior anthropology major, attended the reception and artist talk for her SOLVE class and said it was more interactive than other events she has attended.
“I can actually take something back to share with my classmates,” Lee said. “This is definitely one of the most interesting events that I’ve attended and actually learned something from.”
Jon Leaver, art history professor, said he was captivated by the diversity of materials Beasley used within her art.
“The amount of different material she uses to create a single composition almost makes her art seem like memory capsules,” Leaver said. “Everything she uses, from patterned paper to coins, is personal to her which makes it that much more powerful for the audience.”
Beasley’s art will be displayed through May 16 in the Harris Gallery.
Alondra Compos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.