By Janelle Zara
“My art influences are varied and change a lot,” says fashion illustrator Kelly Beeman, citing the 1930s Neue Sachlichkeit portraits of German painters Christian Schad and Otto Dix as favorite influences. And in her new book “Window Shopping,” which is being released by Edition Patrick Frey during New York Fashion Week in February, the protagonists of her watercolors, mostly women, bear the beguiling almond-shaped features of a Modigliani, and inhabit the pattern-saturated world of a Matisse.
“The narratives are usually about everyday life, and mundane things happening in vaguely familiar places,” says New York-based Beeman—although, as in the pages of a magazine, they’ve been exquisitely styled in the clothing often featured in her titles: At the Piano in Dior, for instance, or Katie and Her Japanese Fighting Fish, In Saint Laurent Party Dress. A self-taught painter, Beeman had initially painted nudes before more recently using her work to explore what we wear as a cultural touchstone. It was only 2015 when she came across London-based designer J.W. Anderson online, he proved to be one of her early fashion muses.
After dressing a nude in a striped piece from the J.W. Anderson Resort collection, she caught the label’s eye on Instagram. The result: commissioned illustrations for Anderson at both his own label and at Loewe, where he serves as creative director; followed by a handful of fashion brands as well as The New York Times and Vogue Korea.
“I am more inspired by the way that people use fashion than fashion itself,” says Beeman, who studied sociology before becoming an artist. “Clothing can be very expressive and has the potential to emphasize certain qualities in my subjects: It can also be celebratory or ceremonious, it can mark an occasion, it can give a sense of empowerment.” Unfettered by the male gaze, they exude an unmistakable air of sophistication and knowing worldliness, an autonomous point of view.
Having said in the past that she’s not one to wait for inspiration, Beeman actively mines the public library for books on art and art history, and the results frequently appear in her work: the floral motifs of Georgia O’Keeffe or the abstract shapes of Alexander Calder, the cold hue of Picasso’s Blue Period or the stateliness iconicity of Byzantine religious figures. (The piano, too, is a recurring figure. Beeman keeps an upright piano in her studio, “and I play (and sing) for at least a couple hours every day when I need a break from painting,” she says.)
As for the protagonists themselves, “Most of the time they are not anyone in particular,” Beeman adds, “but they’re often inspired people I know or have known in the past. I try to create multi-layered subjects determined by context—the surface details, objects, places, backgrounds and clothes—and then there’s a layer beneath all of that, which is much harder to describe.”