Justine Beech is a contemporary oil painter occasionally working in acrylic and archival ink washes focused on urban and rural landscapes as they relate to changes and development inspired by that of the Regionalists. Beech does not avoid the sordid aspects of life just like the Realists, her portraits juxtapose bright colors with dark subject matter ranging from mental health, gender roles, death and ego death, climate change, to homelessness. She gives everyday people the attention to beauty and detail normally attributed to a reclining nude woman painted by the hand of a man. After receiving her BFA from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY, her career has brought her from mural painting to visual merchandising for a sustainable company to freelance illustration including zines, printed works, public parks signage, and family portraits, which supported her in times of her growing family, and back again to oil painting, her first love since a young child. She can be found sketching people on busses, trains, and public spaces, has held workshops for at risk youth at domestic violence shelters, live drawing events, artist’s salons, or gardening with her family. After many years working in NYC, New Haven, CT, and Austin, Texas she has recently relocated to the Natural State, in the Ozarks of Arkansas.
In my work, I have been examining family, history, ego, and environment through divine moments finding balanced compositions and the use of found, family, or my own photography. I quickly and carefully render subjects and find that I’m trying to capture their energy as well. To be able to have the viewer experience empathy and break down their own walls is my goal. Whether it is in stark black ink washes or oil on panel and canvas, I explore rare moments in which I could get lost in forever, that have shown me a way to see something differently through exploring have changed my human understanding. By using my own contemporary photography (as well as those of my parents, both photographers in the 1970s at the Nikon School of Photography) I have found that I can keep my connection with my deceased father’s legacy, hobbies and memory. Just as the struggles in their lives affected my own, I am curious of what has gone into creating my subjects’ lives. What happiness, longing, lust, passions, and shortcomings have brought them here in this very moment? I do not judge, I just paint it as it is, journalistically only manipulating the composition with the emotion I’m trying to capture. From people peacefully sleeping on the street, waiting at a laundromat or pensively sitting alone, I look for an inward view point with a nod to the expansiveness around them often overlooked or just beyond the subject’s view. If the human experience is crossing paths and learning from one another, and not just accepting, but appreciating every moment for what it is, then I want to try to capture the human experience. Like the photography of Vivian Maier, I really ‘see ‘ my subjects, and by taking my knowledge and ideals of photography building them in layers of oil paint I explore the small shapes, colors, and light we are all made up of. I use painting as a therapy and to put my own walls down, inspire, and connect with others.
Being a mother of two, my work explores family structures and gender roles, constantly questioning history, and how environmental differences can create drastically different outcomes in our lives and dreams. I gravitate to painting the things I see around me, and have worked for the last decade in the American South, Texas and urban Austin landscapes. I utilize everyday spaces to set a stage, where inanimate objects are wrought with symbolism, quiet contemplations of a sole figure leave space for the viewer to relate and imply their own thoughts, narrative or relationship with the subject. Influenced by the works of Edward Hopper in which quiet moments frozen in time unfold in blocks of color, layers of symbolism about family and heritage, to Henry Darger’s outsider work of bright cheery imagery contrasted with dark epic tales of oppression and nightmares collaged with abuses of power and adverts or children saving the world. In my work I have covered struggles in nature and human nature and there is much more to explore there.
Attention to detail in lighting and structure within my paintings and drawings help reinforce a realistic, but surreal, dream-like, and vaguely familiar scene transcending time while acknowledging the connection we have beyond time, race, and class. My work attempts to bring awareness back to the present moment while paying tribute to our own histories, ghosts, fears, and discouragements.
’Fabric of my Life’ 2019
An autobiographical painting portrait series of early memories, in which Beech captures family, friends, soul mates, peers, and guides with relationship to texture and time through an empathic lens. Influenced by realism like that of Hopper, regionalism like Thomas Hart Benton, feminism like Sylvia Sleigh and music literature as well, photography like that of Sally Mann, Francesca Woodman, MapleThorpe, Gordon Parks, and Gregory Crewdson. Using the method of her creation to process each individual’s importance, role, personality, and impression on her understanding of life.
‘Street Dreams’ 2018
A series of oil paintings Beech began in the hot summer after a decade working in downtown Austin. The expansion and growing pains endured by the city increased the presence of transients being shuffled from cleared lots to empty doorways making way for new buildings. Each painting captures a moment of a quietly sleeping figure away from their own harsh realities. Reminiscent of a stage with a story unfolding or a still life with their minimal belongings, bathed in intense summer light, asking what had brought them to this moment in time… that very distinct moment in time. Thick layers of paint depict intense dappled light radiating heat balanced with the reprieve of cool shadows that engulf the emotive figures who often feel trapped in their environments, compositions, and situations in these urban landscapes. Observing how the morning, afternoon, and evening light graced their sun exposed skin, Beech invites the viewer in for closer observation using a painterly realism with sculpting brush strokes. Their shoes, bare feet, or worn through socks invite the viewer to literally walk a mile their shoes or to feel the hot ground and rough sidewalks under their heavy weight. Through the creation of this series, Beech chiseled away traumatic feelings of guilt and detachment surrounding a father figure she often had to remove from her family home who had entered a coma the last time he was removed and homeless. Rather than a superficial reclining nude, Beech forces to take a deep detailed look in homelessness, alcoholism, addiction, and mental health issues, while creating a contemporary tableau series that is a nod to Realism and Impressionism, recording the often overlooked corners of our daily lives, assumptions, and fears.
’Daughter Universes’ 2017
An exploration of the divine feminine and masculine and the unbalance in the universe triggered by current political issues, mass shootings, racism, violence, climate change, subconscious forces, and an exploration of the larger picture from a macro viewpoint of how the protectors of our Earth would be angry, disappointed, or powerful enough to restore balance. In these surreal travels through astral planes, other dimensions, and multiverses, these paintings explore what it means to be a woman in this age by showing the power of Mother Nature, goddesses, and following divine intuition as we enter a new age of femininity and creativity as a retaliation to the years of inequality and the destruction mankind can has on it’s brother and Mother Earth. Like all death and destruction, this series paved the way for emotional and professional growth with a death of the old ways and a rebirth into new beginnings.
’Hauntings HIStory and HERitage’ 2015
This series was created as an early morning daily ritual to process the death of her father. Using archival ink washes they acquired a ghostly feel through images ranging from local Austin spaces, bats, ghosts, found photographs from the travels of a mysterious philosopher/professor from the mid fifties to the story of and portraits of the victims of the local Servant Girl Annihilator Murders in Austin, Texas in the late 1800’s complete with a haunted tour and artist salon in the graveyard where some of the victims lie and the case remains unsolved. History, story, and the power men have over women played a big part in the imagery, subliminal messaging, and dark undercurrent of this series which allowed the artist an escape from reality and the first chance to explore the power of meditation in her daily process of drawing and exploring subconscious patterns.