BEA MODISETT

Interviewed in April of 2014

bEA MODISETT

Hometown: Washington, DC / Portsmouth, RI

Current town: Beverly,  MA

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1.) Bea, tell our readers a little about where you’re from or where you grew up… and how that influences the type of art you’ve found yourself making?

I was born in Washington, DC and bounced back and forth between there and Portsmouth, RI until middle school. I spent the majority of my childhood in Portsmouth, but I relate more to the vibrancy of DC. I am not sure if the individual places had a huge impact on the work that I make but not having any one place to say I am “from” has made me question identity in relation to place and my connection to the landscape, and these are themes I explore in my paintings. Moving around a lot as a kid might have made me the roamer that I am, and travel definitely influences my work.
 
2.) Are there any specific locations here in New England that have had a profound meaning to you and your art? ie; Your schooling? A place of major inspiration or childhood memory?

The first thing that came to mind is the White Mountains up in New Hampshire. I have a painting titled The White Mountains: Remembered that I made after a gorgeous hiking/camping experience I had up there. I came home and painted my memory of a view that had blown me away. That was probably the most literal I had been up to that point in terms of experiencing a landscape and then painting my memory of that experience. I see that painting as pretty pivotal in my development.

Of course where I went to school, Montserrat College of Art in Beverly MA, had a huge impact on my work and my life as an artist. I had a really positive experience as a student and after graduation I didn’t want to sever ties with the community I was a part of, so I stayed. Since then, that community has supported me in so many ways and I have had a lot of opportunities I do not think I would have if I had left Beverly.
 
3.) With everything these days needing to be categorized and labeled, your paintings at first glance would fall under "abstraction"... yet there are organic subtleties borrowing from landscapes, rock formations or even aerial maps within your work. Have you arrived at any other way of categorizing the type of "abstractions" you create?

Not really. My paintings are definitely abstractions in that I am taking something real, landscapes I have walked through, and abstracting them. Within that, they explore the concept of exaggerated, lost and fabricated memory as well. I also see my work as a response to the Casualist movement in that I want the paintings to reveal their history. I don’t hide my process and relate the laborious creation of a painting to the creation and understanding of self.
 
4.) Talk about your process. You have a blank canvas in front of you… which one dictates how you get started: Color, Composition or Media? Or does one aspect feed into the other once you start painting?

I usually will do a number of small drawings before starting on any blank canvas to get warmed up. Once I have done enough of those that I start to crave holding a brush, I start drawing with paint on the canvas. I do not start taking advantage of the capabilities of oil paint until I have a flexible but structured framework down to use as a guide. Next I start adding in more color and layering the paint with a bit more intent. I work on multiple paintings at once and rotate the canvas while I work. I find that having a few rules or constants helps too. I work in a limited number of sizes and have a pretty somber palette. This allows me more flexibility in terms of what marks I can make while still representing the ideas I am interested in.

I am thankful to be able to see a work in progress for what it is, as well as beyond it’s current state. A lot of times my paintings are very disorganized for the majority of the creation process. It is in the final painting sessions that things come together and I can bring more clarity to the work.

5.) Your work evokes a high volume of spatial decision making and layering upon layering by an artist who isn’t afraid to paint over or wipe away a mistake or two. You carefully allow a sliver of blue or a singular drip to coexist next to wide spanning shapes and brushstrokes. How do you recognize that moment when you finally know to leave a certain area just the way it is?

My friend and fellow painter Jeremy Miranda (Chroma 3!?) used to joke about needing a government issued employee to stand behind his shoulder and yell at him to stop when a painting was done. There is not really a formula for something like this, I just feel it. There have also been times that I accept a painting may never be exactly I want it to be. I accept that it represents a moment and a feeling and that sometimes that needs to be enough. Typically I will not show a painting like this unless it is in context with the rest of the body of work it belongs to. Some paintings are more successful than others, but they all contribute to my understanding of what I am trying to do.

Over the years I have become a lot better at covering up an area that I think is beautiful but might be dragging down the rest of the painting. That is difficult, but also liberating. I try not to shape an entire painting around one successful section of the whole canvas. If I have been struggling with a painting for a long time, it almost always comes together once I get rid of the piece I was being most precious with.

6.) Oils vs. Acrylic - Knowing you’re a fancy oil painter (like myself), have you ever switched gears and worked in acrylic? Similar results? Or have you found something in the application & delicacy of oils that can’t be replicated for what you’re trying to achieve?

I actually teach an abstract acrylic painting class at Montserrat College of Art. Acrylic is capable of a lot and is a great medium for some. For what I am doing, oil paint makes sense. I like that I can move the paint around for a longer period of time and I think the color and surface is richer than acrylic paint. I have always thought of painting with acrylic as putting down sheets of plastic. This just seems to clash with the fact that I am exploring my human connection to the natural world.

7.) I’ve seen your studio. Let’s not mislead our readers, would you describe your studio as: A) A bit of a fire hazard? Or… B) One stray cigarette away from losing the entire building?

Since my mom might be reading, I’m going to say C) The safest place in the world to be. Ever. I think I’m actually extending my life span by spending so much time in this room.

8.) What medium or product is your secret weapon when you’re painting? Even down to the brand name. Anything unexpected you use or tend to rely on that the common viewer would never guess? Give us the goods.
 
I don’t think I have any material that is a secret weapon. I use Liquin as my main medium and then whatever I can find in the studio to make interesting marks, including just straight up trash. For the most part, I am pretty traditional in the sense that I am putting oil paint on canvas with a brush. A lot of times they are really cheap brushes too. Sorry for the bummer answer.
 
9.) In a short amount of time since graduating from Montserrat College of Art(’07) you’ve become a major contributing member of the arts community north of Boston. With a long list a titles including but not limited to; Curator, Gallery Director, Instructor, Studio Manager and even Chair for the Beverly Cultural Council. As a college student not all that long ago, did you foresee that you would play such an active role in your community after graduating?

I guess I did not really expect it, but looking back it makes sense. I played a pretty active role in the community at Montserrat so when my community expanded it made sense that my role in it expanded. I also thrive on being super busy. I love running around from place and place with a long list of things to accomplish. I also found as I became more involved that not only were people offering me opportunities but that I was able to offer opportunities to others. My favorite aspect of being a gallery director was that artists who needed space came to me and presented ideas. I met hundreds of amazing people I would not have met if I were just holed up in my studio (which is still my favorite place to be).

10.) Any music while you’re working? What are you listening to now that is pushing you or inspiring you?

I usually play the Tom Waits, Amy Winehouse, or Lily Allen stations on Pandora. I will also listen to the same albums over and over again while working on a body of work (Ukulele Songs by Eddie Vedder comes to mind). Music affects my mood and energy level and if I am trying to resolve something I don’t want to be in a different headspace every time I get into the studio.

I spend a lot of time being highly focused and critical while I am in the studio. When I need a break from this and need to feel a bit distracted I will listen to RadioLab and the Moth podcasts.

If I am looking at the work and trying to figure out what’s happening rather than actively painting I will just put on something easy that won’t distract me…something that I know already so I don’t have to give it too much energy.
 
11.) Who was/is the most important or influential person in your life guiding your direction as an artist?

Man... Ok. Well, Mr. (Dwight) Smith was my high school art teacher. He let me eat lunch in the art room and helped me photograph my portfolio to apply to schools. He was a force outside of my family telling me that going to art school is valid. Boston painter Scott Hadfield was my advisor at Montserrat and I really connected with him not just about what my individual paintings looked like or what struggles they presented, but what it meant to live your life as an artist. I have worked as an assistant for a lot of artists and the time I spent with them and the insight they gave me into their practices helped shape the way I think of my own. Also, my parents are the self proclaimed President and Vice President of the Bea Modisett fan club. They made that up, not me.

12.) Give us an artist out there right now that you think our readers should know more about & why?

I am pretty impressed with my soon to be classmates at VCU. Eric Diehl comes to mind. His paintings are beautiful and he takes a varied approach to his practice. He also spent three months in a van driving across the country and painting (Google: Auto-Paint, USA), which is an automatic one million points in my book. Lee Piechocki is a current VCU student. His work is androgynous and well crafted. Even when he branches out into three-dimensional materials, or gets off the canvas, he is still very much painting.

13.) Lastly, congratulations are in order as you head off this fall to grad school at VCUarts in Richmond, VA! You’re leaving one thriving art community north of Boston and headed right to another in Richmond. (Check out the Richmond Mural Project & Art Whino Gallery up in DC) We don’t want you to get too comfortable down there as we all hope here at Tryptic Press Headquarters you eventually come back home to our endless winters and well-earned summers of the Northeast. But tell us what kind of work VCU and the surrounding arts community can expect from a native Rhode Islander pursuing her Masters degree?

I am really looking forward to seeing what moving will do for my paintings. I’ve been in Beverly for ten years, so I have gotten pretty comfortable. Moving to a new place will fire up different parts of my brain as I try to find my bearings. I have no idea what will happen to my work or what I will even do with my Master’s but I am open to anything. I will be working with undergraduates at VCU in either a painting or printmaking class and I think being around that youthful enthusiasm and the terror that comes along with realizing what it means to be an artist and how hard it can be will guarantee I stay on my toes and stay excited. I would really like to do in Richmond what I did here. Maintain a really intense practice, explore, build community and just always be moving forward.
 
14.) Extra credit double bonus question: Hey, how does that scarecrow joke go again?

Why did the scarecrow keep getting promotions? Because he was outstanding in his field!!**