By MEGAN ABRAHAMS, NOV. 2017
Deirdre Sullivan-Beeman dips her brush into an anomalous matrix of artistic genres and techniques: Her imagery synthesizes a touch of surrealism, a hint of art nouveau, a soupçon of magical realism – all burnished with an old world golden glow. In her recent series of figurative paintings “Girls, Girls, Girls,” the artist might have been channeling the imagination of Lewis Carroll. In these works, Sullivan-Beeman combines a curious mix of surreal enchantment with an array of dark and macabre themes and motifs – death being among them. In one painting, “Suicide Girl,” a female subject is portrayed pointing a gun to her head, as if captured just before committing the final act.
The principal subjects of these paintings are sole female figures – sometimes with animal companions displaying varying degrees of anthropomorphism – in fairy tale like settings. Fairy tales have always had a dark side, and similarly, these fantasy vignettes delve deeply into darkness. Sullivan-Beeman’s girls might be depicted holding skulls, with background imagery that could have been conjured from dreams, or at times, even nightmares – as in the piece “Giant Girl,” in which dismembered organs are suspended among the diminutive creatures and figures in the background. In fact, dreams are a major source of inspiration for the artist, who borrows from Jungian theory, often deriving her subjects from subconscious memories she records in a personal dream journal. Most prominently in these scenes, the girls, posed alone in strange worlds, resist being characterized as innocent. Instead, they convey an air more sophisticated than purely naïve; more timeless than contemporary.
Enigmatic, twisted and odd, yet whimsical too, Sullivan-Beeman’s paintings evade customary categories of period or style. The sense of timelessness they embody is partly attributable to that old world golden glow that pervades them. The self-taught artist employs the Mische technique, which involves a combination of oil paint and egg tempera – a 14th century medium she has adapted to her own process and vision. Her palette is largely monochromatic, built up in layers of subtle oil glazes predominated by a raw umber underlay and the rich veneer characteristic of egg tempera painting. Often festooned with decorative motifs, the backgrounds may feature patterns of flowers, leaves, shells and flourishes somewhat reminiscent of Victorian wallpaper. Ornate frames contribute to contextualizing these works in the past.
The paintings are steeped in allegorical narrative allusion which likely flows from the artist’s diverse interests and influences – many of which have ancient roots – including mythology, the tarot, feng shui, alchemy, religious iconography, spiritual practices, meditation and kundalini yoga. It’s possible that her background in film – the artist has a BFA in cinema and television production – has informed her powerful sense of story. There is evident drama and intrigue embedded here, but the narratives suggested in “Girls, Girls, Girls,” like the subjects themselves, are eternally inscrutable. Sullivan-Beeman’s paintings, and the stories within them, are full of mystery, and as elusive as dreams. WM
Megan Abrahams is a Los Angeles-based writer and artist. The managing editor of Fabrik Magazine, she is also a contributing art critic for Art Ltd., Fabrik, ArtPulse and Whitehot magazines. Megan attended art school in Canada and France. She is currently writing her first novel and working on a new series of paintings.
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