5 Questions with Bethani Blake

ARTIST Bethani Blake uses her theater background to inform her painting practice.

Blake came to SCAD from Columbus, Ohio, nearly three years ago. In that time, she joined the painting program and switched theater to her minor.

A Gen Z-er with millennial siblings, Blake finds herself blending those two worlds in her aesthetic, which brings older subject matter into a current context.

We spoke with Blake last week.

1. What’s your creative process been like through your life?

I’ve always been drawing. As a kid, I drew the same pictures of Sailor Moon over and over again. My parents would be like, “Oh, another Sailor Moon!” I was constantly drawing through elementary school, and it came to fruition when I was in about eighth grade. I started taking it a little more seriously; I started carrying around a sketchbook.

I joined high school and switched from being a volleyball player to theater. For a long time, my thing was performing on stage. I actually have a minor in performing arts. I was acting for a very long time, and I switched to painting last fall.

I took my Foundations classes and learned how to do charcoal and the basic stuff, but I really came into this whole “I need to be in the arts” space last fall, and it has been the best decision of my life.

2. How did you develop your style?

I started using collage, and I think this is what started the type of work I do. I was already appropriating images from popular magazines. I was getting my inspiration from other parties and appropriating it.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was definitely inspired by the 60s pop art movement and Warhol and Lichtenstein. I manifested it because my two older brothers are millennials where I’m technically a Gen Z, so I grew up with memories of different things that they passed down.

My brain feels more like I’m stuck there, in the Paris Hilton lowrider 2000s aesthetic, but we’re in a world of TikTok and Twitter. I try to implement those aesthetics to translate this contemporary world that I’m living in.

There’s a saying that one of my performing arts professors said: “People go to the theater because they want to see things they can’t get at home.” I think that helped spark my work that I do, because it’s taking the legacy of pop art and combining it with contemporary aesthetics.

3. Has your performing art background influenced your painting?

I definitely think they are intertwined. In performing arts, you’re taught that you can’t carry any shame; you have to let go. I know a lot of my peers go through this period where they feel like they need to be painting a certain thing because that goes with their archetype they have, but I’ve never personally felt that pressure.

One thing I don’t really talk about in my work is race relations, because it’s my goal to be seen as an artist and not an archetype of a Black artist. I don’t want to pigeonhole myself. So I think that by not doing that, I’m able to read into what I’m actually experiencing and seeing, even though a lot of it deals with fringe culture and cultural phenomena.

I think that the performing arts really helped eliminate this pseudo persona, and I was able to do what comes to me naturally. I just want to be an artist.

4. What’s your creative process like?

I’m somebody who’s always thinking about the work, even when I’m doing other things. I think about it more than I actually do it, because I get in my head and I want to make sure I’m putting out stuff consistently so I can get better and use this time and privilege to be able to make work.

I call it a fleeting moment of inspiration. I’ll get an idea, and I have a grace period to start the idea, otherwise it’s dead. So I’ll think, “What do I want to use to make this?” I find reference photos—I can’t draw from my head yet, I’m working on it—and I start blocking in the basic forms. I build into it with paint, charcoal, whatever I’m using. I start getting those light and dark patterns and I pray that it turns out.

My roommates are getting on me because if something isn’t going exactly how I thought it would, I scrap the piece.

I usually work on at least three to five pieces at a time. I don’t work on one piece and finish it and then start another piece. So if I’m working on five pieces, three of them or sometimes four will turn out, and then the last one or two won’t turn out. I keep about three-fifths of my work. Even if they don’t seem like they go together, I make them all together and show them together because it’s still the same brain that’s processing the things.

5. What are your future plans?

Honestly, I just want to put on a show. My friends and I found out that galleries charge $500 for a show, and seniors at our school are required to pay for their senior shows. We were like, “We don’t have any money!” So we pit on a show the week after deFINE ART called “Undefined Art.” Our group was three biracial artists. We were like, “Let’s just make food and put up really bad art and people can come if they want.” And so many people came! We had so much fun. It was a really good way to network.

That’s where my passion lies; I loved organizing it. It wasn’t even about my art being in it, because I made sure the people who were showing all had our art in the best places possible so we could all showcase. I liked organizing it for my friends.

I think that if I’m listening to my gut and am not trying to be hardheaded, I think that’s where my passion lies, in organizing and art communications. Maybe curation—who knows?

I really want to go up north to Connecticut. I was up there and we went to a bunch of different museums and galleries. At the time, I had never seen a Van Gogh in person, and I saw Night Cafe. At the expense of sounding like a normie, I really liked Night Cafe! So I think I’m going to go up to the New Haven area so I’m close enough to New York where I could push art on the weekend, and I could be up where it’s a little cooler, because this heat is nuts.


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