BY HALEY MELLIN
In Gina Beavers’s first solo at Marianne Boesky Gallery, a series of large-scale and intimate sculptural paintings explore selfhood through the lens of social media. The exhibition's title, World War Me, encapsulates Beavers’s fascination with how online presentation has fractured our sense of self. Beavers spends hours scouring blogs, YouTube, Instagram, and other online sources for images that become the base of these tremendous works. In citing her interest in Jia Tolentino’s essay "The I in Internet" from the recent book Trick Mirror, Beavers’s underlines a self-consciousness that desires social recognition and popularity online. Born in Athens, Greece, the artist’s paintings are rendered in high acrylic bas relief, creating both a faux and actual depth that is metaphorically and literally illustrative. GARAGE spoke with Beavers while at her new studio in Orange, New Jersey to discuss make-up tutorials, memes, and bodybuilder selfies.
In your current show with Marianne Boesky Gallery, your imagery, particularly seen through social media, is grotesque, alluring, and downright factual in many places.
Yes, the “global events” part of the title is not quite that literal. It is global in the sense that it reflects on famous artists, addiction, consumption, self-absorption through the lens of highly close-up or cropped elements of the body.
How do you select a composition?
For a long time, I appropriated images I had saved to my phone. I always felt drawn to photos that had an interesting composition, whether for its color or depth or organization. But in order for me to want to paint it, it also had to have interesting content, like the image was communicating some reality beyond its composition that I related to in my life or that I thought spoke in some interesting way about culture. Now I have a more free-flowing approach where I have ideas for make-up or memes and I have to figure out how I’m going to make them a reality, using face painting, nail art, photography, and Photoshop.
Why did you incorporate bas-relief in the paintings, where the paintings are sculptural, in a way? How do you physically form the surface?
I was working from photos but uninterested in making purely photorealistic works. By incorporating the process of building acrylic, I had to battle the material to get back to the real image, and in the process, created a certain kind of painting language. I add the acrylic in layers and then cut away with an X-ACTO knife and then add additional layers to get as close as I can to the original image. I had been making paintings that were incredibly hard-edged before this and started to think that a screen-printer could make those paintings. I started experimenting with different ways to incorporate a human, sculpted, handmade element that couldn’t be recreated by a screen-print.
What was your goal with this series?
I’m just trying to make paintings about our lives now, through the lens of the history of painting.
This show is a mediated experience of social media, with the global next to the immediate or mundane. How does this make you feel?
I think sometimes it makes me feel insane! And guilty! Like, how do we know how much of ourselves and our desires are okay to indulge in, in the face of such huge, calamitous events? And I think the works speak to that anxiety through the juxtaposition of the figure with things from the world outside of it. The series in the show is really made up of multiple series, which is encapsulated in the idea of the title, World War Me: me at war with myself artistically. And that stems from this heady reality of online living being confusing for the senses, for the mind and heart. Things are out of proportion, the onslaught of information is constant; there’s a certain confusion, vertigo, and anxiety produced by that.
How do you see this construction of the online persona and the frontal surface of a painting in relationship?
Much of what people do online is to try to create connection, to reach out and meet people or talk to people. That is what the surfaces of my painting do in a really literal way, they are reaching off the linen into the viewer’s space.
The title of your show is World War Me. Are you referencing that we are internally at war?
Yes, I think so. I think it becomes harder and harder to find peace the longer you engage online. Particularly if you don’t develop some strategies for recognizing how to put things back into proportion.
Can you speak to your newer, large-scale works, combining images by other famous artists with your own face?
I thought of these as fan art. I’ve made other works that referenced found images of Van Gogh or Da Vinci fan art, and I decided to do my own version. They become a mix between art nerd and exclusionary art, in a way, because not everyone will know the references, even after reading the titles, but I wanted to put the works I look up to out there. A certain part of social media is curating a version of yourself through the things you like!
Repetition comes up in the works, often within a single painting. Can you speak to this as a structural or compositional motif?
I think of this show as a way of reflecting on the self. Just this kind of constant looking back at ourselves or our previous selves, making that myopic self-involved aspect of social media inherent to the composition.
These are very contemporary paintings, in my mind, in their honesty, boldness, courage, and clarity.
Thank you so much, I am just trying to be honest about what I see and feel right now. I had a critic call my works “boomer” at one point so it’s nice to hear that, haha. I mean, he was off-base because I had made a painting of how to make an electric guitar cake. He was so focused on the symbolism of the electric guitar, tagging that as “boomer,” that he missed the tutorial aspect, the foodie/food TV aspect, the photo documentation—all super contemporary!
What do you think the purpose of art is in these times?
Honestly, I don’t know. I feel like it’s always shifting and difficult to get a hold of. I do think art-making has become interestingly democratized through social media. Just fewer and fewer gate-keepers for what’s good. If you can build a popular following for your work, the art world proper will take notice. In some way, everyone is an artist now. But I think I inverted your question. I like what Michael Chabon said in the Paris Review in his piece, “What’s the Point?”… Art brings people together, profound art tells people that they are not alone. In the face of so much division and alienation, just making art is a way of saying you believe in something better.
Do you paint daily? What is your daily routine?
I usually do something every day, or six days a week, whether it’s coming up with ideas, drawing things out, building acrylic or adding pigment. If I can work for a solid four hours, take lunch and then work for another four, I’m pretty happy. I like to set an alarm for the end of a chunk of time, so I can just fully lose track of time.
Now that the show is up, what are you working on?
Well, I just moved studios to a spread-out space in Orange, New Jersey that I’m really excited about! I’m working on a small selection of works for a show in Seoul with Various Small Fires, called Passionaries. I’m making a few food paintings and body works that deal directly with the cross-cultural exchange between Korea and the U.S. through people who work in the “Passion Economy” (doing what you love for a living), foodie culture, nail art, make-up selfies, memes, Sunday painters, and fan art.
What would you like your legacy to be? Or what legacy are you working to make?
I want people to think, “She was just unapologetically herself, she followed whatever paths in her work she could, and she was democratic and open and brave with her ideas.”