There has to be an empty wall in your world for a piece of modern art from Beth Winterburn. I’ve been admiring Beth’s energetic work on Instagram for a while now, so I’m super-thrilled to be able to bring you an extensive interview with this Memphis, Tennessee-based artist extraordinaire.
Beth used bold strokes and dashed of color in ways that defy the imagination. Her work is elegant and full of passion. I’m particularly drawn to this descriptive statement about her art: “Beth’s work is an exploration of contrast, tension and resolve. Methodical by nature, she challenges her own ideas of control by experimenting with materials, allowing them to behave as they naturally would, with subtle direction.” It’s the perfect way to describe what you are about to experience both here, and more extensively, in her online shop.
Enjoy this comprehensive glimpse into Beth’s world and work. Afterward, spend some time in Beth’s online shop. You will not regret it. (Find photographer’s credits at the end of the post.)
What inspired you to begin your modern art collection?
I’m a researcher by nature, so the process of discovering materials and how they work fascinates me and keeps me coming back for more. When I discovered ink, I was hooked. It has a mind of its own, but, over time, I’ve learned certain things about it that are repeatable. I’ve found certain acrylics that behave similarly, so that’s a world that I’m constantly exploring in my canvas work. When I finally took a step back to analyze my body of work, I realized that in its simplest form, it was an experiment in control. There’s a tangible meaning there in the process itself, but there’s a larger meaning that I find myself wrestling with as a human being.
I’m honestly relieved to not have total control over every aspect of my life – or of others’ lives. There’s a freedom in letting go and a beauty that can sometimes only be revealed when we loosen our deadlock grip. There’s an exploration in nature vs. nurture there as well, all related to/going back to what it is that controls each of those. After taking so much time to study my materials, I revel in allowing the materials that I use to behave as they naturally would for the most part, then I add in subtle details that guide the work and provide balance, contrast, tension and/or resolve.
Describe your creative process. Where do you start?
I start with color. Colors embody such meaning intrinsically: red is intense, blue is calming, and so on.. I naturally gravitate towards blues and greens, but I try to challenge myself to incorporate other colors to convey whatever energy I’m interested in exploring at the moment. I start with the darkest color/value/shade first, then work my way backwards towards a lighter scheme.
I like to play with the “push and pull” of elements – laying a background, then pulling it forward, then pushing it back again. My work takes time to dry between layers, so I’m always working on several pieces at a time – either adding details to washes that have dried or laying down new washes. There’s always a rotation of work, which creates a really nice rhythm to my practice. I’m never doing the same things consecutively, so it keeps the work fresh and new.
How do you maintain your creative drive?
I’ve been listening to a podcast by the Jealous Curator (“Art for Your Ear”). If you haven’t listened yet, I highly recommend it! There have been so many quotable moments coming from various artists all over the world. She said about herself (and I’m not going to quote this perfectly..but the idea is the same) that she gets “art cranky” when she doesn’t create. I completely identify with that! It’s so much a part of me that the drive to create is always there. It’s impossible to turn it off. The more difficult “problem” that I face is finding as much time to create as I’d like!
What materials do you love to use?
Ink, acrylic, acrylic markers, acrylic pens.. Those are my go-tos. I love working on paper, especially Yupo (synthetic paper). I’m determined to come to a happy place with canvas, and I’m definitely getting closer.
Every product has a story. Is there a story behind one of your modern art pieces that stands out to you?
I guess my favorite “story” so far is the one that got me into this whole abstract world in the first place. I have a degree in Fine Arts, but my focus was in photography. I never really planned to paint. I worked alongside a photographer for several years during college and after for a little while, but then I moved to a new city and basically stopped creating at all. I had other things going on in my life that required my full attention. During that time, friends who knew me from college would ask me to do this or that, and many of the requests required me to paint. The work itself was somewhat mindless, but the process of painting was really enjoyable.
One particular friend asked me to paint an abstract piece for her, which I’d never done, but I thought, “Sure! How hard can it be?” Little did I know.. During the process of figuring that out, I found myself reaching inwards and outwards in ways that I’d never done before, and experiencing all sorts of feelings and emotions that I’d never felt in any of my work in other mediums. I was hooked. The piece that I created isn’t anything spectacular, but it was a rebirth for me.
Beth’s work is characterized by bold, gestural brush strokes and minimalist detail. As a nod to her analytical roots in photography and architecture, she approaches each piece with a mathematical mindset – counting evens and odds, balancing lights and darks, visually “slicing” the composition into thirds and fifths. She approaches her work as if it’s a problem to solve: combining and contrasting elements with and against one another to create a cohesive yet dynamic piece.
About The Artist, Beth Winterburn
Do you have a dream collaborator?
Oh, man. What a question. I’ve met a lot of incredibly talented artists through Instagram. There are several who I imagine would be really incredible to collaborate with – some of whom create work that is so vastly different than mine. I could leave a fairly long list here, but as I sit here and really think about it, I think a collaboration with a photographer or video artist would be amazing. I’d love to see how my roots in photography could tie in with what I’m doing now. I actually follow as many photographers as I do painters. I also have a massive love for ceramics. I took as many ceramics courses as my degree would allow, so collaborating with a ceramicist in some way would be great as well.
What are some of the challenges that you face as a maker?
The highs and the lows. I wish I could handle my emotions a little better and be more even keel about it all. Hopefully that’ll get better over time. Creative blocks are very real, and when they come, it’s hard to press on. However, I know that the other side is worth the struggle – always.
How do you use social media and blogging to promote your work?
I wouldn’t be where I am today in my practice or business if it weren’t for Instagram. The community of artists that I’ve found on Instagram is incredibly supportive. I really enjoy checking in on their progress and seeing glimpses of each journey. It motivates and inspires me and my work. It’s also nice to see that I’m not alone when things aren’t going smoothly. We all support and promote one another. I utilize Instagram for flash sales, shop announcements..basically any and everything. I have accounts in nearly every social media outlet (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.), but the visual storytelling via Instagram is what I enjoy most.
Where do you see your collection going?
Things have been moving so quickly over the past year.. I’ve been able to meet goals that I imagined would take longer, which I’m incredibly humbled by and grateful for. I’m at somewhat of a crossroads at the moment. I’ve been busting it to get myself out there – building an audience organically, gathering a subscriber list of my most faithful supporters.. I’ve had tunnel vision to just show up and do the work. I kind of hit a wall and realized that I needed to take a step back and try to work smarter, not necessarily harder, or I’d risk burnout.
For the past month, I’ve been working on plans for the future – new ways to sell, better timelines, creating a cohesive body of work across all mediums, making larger work more available to my audience, etc. I’m hoping that my audience will hang in there with me as changes are made, and that I’ll allow myself to fail miserably, if need be, in order to be honest and vulnerable in my work. I want to continue to hone in on who my audience is and get to know them better. I’d like for the work that I produce to be consistent, yet intriguing, and always challenging.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a new series of larger paper pieces as well as large canvas work. I’ve been giving myself days of “play” – just seeing what happens rather than meeting any inventory goals. I’d really never meant to for this to be a business at all..but with my drive to create, the work began taking up my space. Selling it made sense so that other people could enjoy it as well. I’m constantly forcing myself back into that head space where all that exists is the work, the process, the experimentation. If I stay focused on that, the work remains real and becomes, for the viewer/purchaser/client, just a tangible memento of a bigger story.