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Artist Betbeze explores innovative media

Published: November 21, 2014
Section: Arts, Etc.


Visiting artist Anna Betbeze came to talk at Brandeis on Wednesday, Nov. 19 in Goldman Smith.

Born in 1980 in Columbus, Georgia, she received her BFA from the University of Georgia and her MFA from the Yale University School of Art.

Characterized by bright colors, acid and dyes, her works stand out from most of the common pieces of artwork. One of the biggest media that Betbeze accidentally discovered was carpets when she chemically experimented with a corroded carpet out on the street. Instead of painting in between the confines of a canvas, she sprawls out her true colors and expressions onto flokati rugs.

Her carpets, soaked in intense scarlet, golden and royal blue hues, are used to call attention to the spiritual connection of comfort with the flowery texture of the paint. For instance, in her art piece “Untitled (Pillow),” the cushion is modeled as though it were a meadow of poppies, dandelions and other warm colors. The yellow sunflowers are dotted along the white landscape of what looks like dandelion fluff floating all around the fields. Dotting the edges of the canvas are lilac-turquoise blossoms. The burnt holes in the piece look like craters and edges of the muddy patches, which make the mountainous landscape more realistic.

Most of her other pieces are rugs that are stained in dark-dyed colors and charred with holes of acid dyes. “Topaz,” for example, demonstrated in different shades of blue models, another landscape. The fuzziness of the carpet threads looks similar to coral beds, with the open spaces in the shape of sponges. “Topaz” doesn’t only refer to the color of the artwork, but it also hints to the hidden topaz and other gems that are buried deep within the ocean bedrocks.

A lot of her works also seem to have been influenced by Indian garments. Her painting “Horizon” was painted with India ink and her other pieces are made out of patched quilts, decorated with swirling patterns and dark colors of supernatural Indian elements of the spiritual, airy patterns and decorations. The natural connection to the painting also speaks to her devotion to colors, patterns, the abstract and the revelation of extreme colors, which represents an extension toward heaven.

The paintings are mostly meta-paintings. Even though this technique has been used before in earlier periods of art, especially in Europe (in Velázquez’s “Las Meninas” and Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini “Wedding” Portrait, just to name a few), Betbeze’s paintings are resurged as more modern approaches of a “painting within a painting.” This may also explain her fascination with using garments, terrycloth and other media of comfort rather than simply using blank canvases to draw out color.

Also influential to Betbeze’s works seems to be Jackson Pollock’s expressionist style of drip painting. Since most of Betbeze’s works are made up of tie-dye blotches of color, this contemporary style is an interplay between the “ancient” elements of mural carvings and the more recent, unique ways in which artists experiment with new mediums and designs.

Whether it be figuratively, through symbolism of the deep-set color wash, through the natural elements or through spiritual embodiment, viewers can interpret each piece in any way that strikes them.

The shape that the colors leave behind, the cuts, gashes and burnt holes that allow critics to also open up their minds to the piece and the textures of intimacy of comfort really allow for a complete sensory experience. As Pollock stated: “It doesn’t make much difference how the paint is put on as long as something has been said. Technique is just a means of arriving at a statement.”

This is especially relevant to Betbeze’s pieces. Art serves as a means to express a certain message and not all artwork is meant to be aesthetically pleasing (or how most people subjectively think of the definition of “aesthetically pleasing,” which usually is the traditional Renaissance painting of perfect symmetry). Works of art are poetic, beautiful and interpretative in their own unique ways, no matter how they are displayed.