Editor’s Note: The following artcile is an edited excerpt from the book “You are an artist,” by curator Sarah Urist Green and published by Penguin Books.
Gina Beavers’s art changed dramatically in 2010. She had been making hard-edged abstract paintings 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 aluminium 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.
Pulling freely from the infinite landscape of images available online, Beavers has made paintings of bodybuilders ﬂexing for mirror selﬁes, dice-themed nail art, a hoodie printed with Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night,” and copious step-by-step makeup tutorials.
She uses photo collage apps to arrange her found images into multipicture compositions. For one work, Beavers Googled “creative lip art” and took screenshots of an image featuring lips with zippers. She then used photo editing software to multiply and layer the image, drew the image onto a panel, and began the work of building up the surface several inches thick with acrylic medium.
When she was happy with the relief work (and, at long last, it was dry), Beavers painted the surface to make it look as much like the collaged image as possible. Along the way, she likes to take photos of her work in process, closely observing how it appears on screen as well as in real life. About the work, Beavers has said: “It lives online and in person, in the same two ways as we do.”
“You are an artist,” by Sarah Urist Green, published by Penguin Books, is out now.