Interview: Zoe Beaudry on her upcoming exhibit, “And And And And”

Interview: Zoe Beaudry on her upcoming exhibit, “And And And And”

“And And And And” is a painting and light exhibition by Zoe Beaudry inspired by the metaphysical aspects of the human experience. This exhibition offers a vision of embodied human consciousness that includes aspects of the unseen energetic body such as chakras and auras.

Her series of photorealistic figurative paintings contain sculptural elements which emit light, which presents a material divergence from traditional oil painting. The exhibition will be on view from Friday, March 24th through April 29th at 2845 Gratiot Avenue.

“And And And And” Installation view. Image credit: Michael Christie Photography.

“Rejecting the male-dominated history of the classical nude and passive subject, the subjects in my paintings are agents of their own self-actualization. I see this as an important shift for figurative art and traditional oil painting and view the act of breaking the surface of the canvas as a part of this rejection as well,” explains Beaudry.

The word “and” is a metaphor for the connective forces that we rely on but don’t often notice, like gravity, the Internet, or divine forces (or the word “and”). While the world can appear to be an “or” place with rigid definitions of what it means to be good or bad, the messiness of being human makes all such binaries impossible. Seeing ourselves reflected in others is essential for authentic interdependence. The light portals are meant to interrupt a sense of separateness from our environment. Noticing our own permeability is noticing the “And” – and its connective force of shared consciousness.

Zoe Beaudry, in her studio. Image credit: Michael Christie Photography

Zoe Beaudry (b. 1991) is a figurative painter living and working in Detroit, Michigan. She completed her Bachelors of Fine Art at Kalamazoo College in 2014 and obtained her Masters of Fine Art from the Glasgow School of Art in 2018.

Her work has been included in exhibitions throughout the Midwest and internationally in the UK, Israel, and Australia, at venues including The Zhou B Art Center (Chicago), Chicago City Hall, Mall Galleries (London), and The Glue Factory (Glasgow). She has traveled extensively and held workshops for youth in Tulkarem, Palestine, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and Kalamazoo, Michigan. She has been featured on Sky Portrait Artist of the Year reality show, filmed in London. 

Most recently, Zoe has undertaken residencies at Kriti Gallery in Varanasi, India and The Forge in Detroit. In 2022, Beaudry was selected as an Emerging Artist Fellow, and presented a solo exhibition in Chicago at ARC Gallery. 

Another Knife in My Back, Oil on canvas, 16 x 16 inches, 2023 by Zoe Beaudry.

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?  

I was encouraged from a young age to experiment with artistic creativity. I always enjoyed drawing and painting as a kid and that interest carried over into my high school years. As an angsty teen, making things was an indispensable coping skill for me. 

In college I began to regard fine art through a more critical lens. I learned that art can have a much greater impact than personal therapeutic potential for the artist. I saw that fine art actively participates in political, philosophical, spiritual, and scientific conversations – in a way that is less structured and has less inherent limitations than any other discipline. 

This exciting paradigm shift, plus a newfound love of oil painting, led me to consider pursuing painting professionally. 

What concept or theme and medium are you most interested in currently?  

I’m interested in finding ways to visually represent the blurry boundaries between people and their environments. The light paintings use actual light to highlight energy centers in the “subtle body” – the energetic system of the human body, which extends beyond the physical body. This system is also sometimes referred to as the “body of light.”

In contrast with the individualism associated with conventional mind-body dualism, viewing the individual as nebulous and changing rather than as a fixed entity allows us to see ourselves more as a part of the world around us, which can help us act from a more compassionate place. 

What is it about using bold or contrasting color is of most interest to you?

Color is very powerful to me and I tend to use it very intuitively. The biggest challenge that comes with intuitive color choices is that with no pre-planning, sometimes clashes happen. But I’d rather live with the clash than abandon the intuitive process. 

Image credit: Michael Christie Photography

How does the process begin, and how long do your large canvases take to create from concept to execution? 

Usually my paintings will begin when I think of a simple visual concept to represent an idea or a feeling. I’ll find a way to capture a photo or two of the idea, then draw inspiration from the photo references for composition and color. Sometimes I also draw from traditional religious or spiritual imagery.

It will typically take me at least a month to complete a large painting from start to finish. 

What inspires you?

I think ultimately, I’m always inspired more by feelings than thoughts. And the things I feel most deeply about are the existential aspects of the human experience. 

Questions about existence or consciousness always bring me back to the body, particularly the places where the body becomes an imperfect container for the self, such as; sex, conception, birth, energetic aspects of the body, transcendent experiences, digital avatars, or interruptions to the body‘s surface like injury or surgery. These are moments that interrupt the idea that you are one being in one body, separate from your environment. 

I’m often inspired by words, usually from fiction, poetry, and music with lyrics. Often I will hear a sentence, phrase, or single word that I feel a strong resonance with. I’ll write it down and let it live in my head for a while, where it will hopefully germinate into something that can become a painting.

Bubblegum Nebula, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 24 x 24 inches, 2022.

Has the theme of your work revolve or evolved over time?

While my central fascinations remain the same, the function of my practice has evolved over time. I began making art as a way to escape and provide comfort myself. Later, it became a way to understand myself and the rest of the world. These days the communication feels more two-way, as if by making art I’m communicating with life and it’s communicating back. 

Do you have a favorite technique?  

I love making tiny dots using a paint dotting tool. I love this technique because it doesn’t require a lot of planning or thinking, and allows me to zone out while working. The action feels singular and repetitive but the result is cumulative, and ends up looking like a network of little nodes. I also love this technique because I learned it from my mom. 

What about your creative process have you found to be the most successful for you?

The most successful aspect of my creative process has got to be simply showing up. Most of the time, my studio practice just feels like hard work. I’m an incredibly slow painter and it takes me hours and hours to make what can feel like very little “progress.”

While I love feeling inspired, I take the famous Chuck Close quote to heart: “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.”

What inspired the concept behind the show you are installing?  

The concept for And And And And was actually inspired by a dream. Three or four years ago I dreamed I had created a painting show where there was light emanating from the canvases. Based on my interests, it made sense to me to try to work this light into the body in my figurative work.

Image credit: Michael Christie Photography

What else are you working on or looking forward to in the near future?

I’m looking forward to participating in a group show at the Annex Gallery at 333 Midland in July and a solo show at the Lansing Art Gallery in September. I’m not sure if I will continue to add light elements into my work, but excited to brainstorm how else that could work.

How long have you lived in Detroit? What drew you to the city living and working in the city? 

I’ve lived in Detroit for about two and half years. Growing up in Michigan and living on and off in the Midwest as an adult meant I heard a lot of discussion about Detroit prior to moving here. While I heard a full range of five star and one star reviews, I never heard anyone describe it as a boring or typical city. Detroit is undeniably unique, and yet also quintessentially American. It was sheer curiosity, combined with interest in Detroit’s role in art and music history, that drew me here. 

To Be Safe, 2023, Oil, acrylic, and light on canvas, board, resin, light board, USB wall charger, battery pack.

View “And And And And” and artwork by Zoe Beaudry on Artsy. The exhibition is on view through April 29, 2023.

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