Deirdre Sullivan-Beeman is a surrealist painter who emerged during the 3rd Wave of Feminism, finding her artistic identity in the vibrant cultural landscape of Los Angeles in the 1990s, alongside movements like riot grrrl, Queercore, and DIY. As a self-taught artist, Sullivan-Beeman draws on DIY ethics and methods to create her unique works of art. Her paintings serve as a palimpsest, weaving together the rich history and lore of the "girl" to empower femininity. In her art, young women discover strength through a myriad of potentialities and sexualities.
Sullivan-Beeman's transcendental works are imbued with iconography and simulacra that emerge from the subliminal realms of her consciousness. These elements reflect her perspective on the world, offering metaphorical insights into identity, gender, otherworldly narratives, and mythical animal personas. She often draws inspiration from her dream journal, exploring the collective unconscious with a curiosity for the bizarre and esoteric, including alchemy and the tarot. Her artistic technique is rooted in a modified oil and egg tempera Renaissance tradition.
Based in Vancouver, Canada, with a studio in Los Angeles, CA, Sullivan-Beeman's artistic journey defies traditional boundaries. While she holds a BFA in Cinema from the University of Southern California, her status as a self-taught artist underscores her innovative approach. Her work has graced the walls of prestigious galleries and museums worldwide, from KP Projects in Los Angeles to Merlino Galleria d'Arte Contemporanea in Florence, Italy. Sullivan-Beeman has also been a part of various art fairs, including the Seattle Art Fair, Aqua Art Miami, and Pulse Art Fair, among others. She has had the honor of hosting three solo exhibitions at La Luz de Jesus Gallery in Los Angeles, CA, and has been recognized as a Finalist in the Imaginative Realism category by the Art Renewal Center on three occasions.
In this interview, we delve into the world of Deirdre Sullivan-Beeman, exploring her art, her journey, and the unique perspectives that fuel her creativity.
How has the 3rd Wave of Feminism and movements like Riot grrrl influenced your surrealist paintings?
In the 90s, I was living in Los Angeles alongside the rise of third-wave feminism. Having been born and come of age in the Midwest (Cincinnati, Ohio), my early adult years in LA were at first mind-boggling, then deeply validating. I was a pretty angry kid when I came to LA; it became my home and a safe space to grow. The strong female bands of the Riot Grrrl scene showed me the importance of women's voices and stories. My favorite bands and songs were Batmobile’s "Gimme Brains," Bikini Kill’s "Rebel Girl," and my friend Jessicka Addam's band Jack Off Jill. I grew to understand feminine identity as bold, powerful, and endlessly multifaceted. This world was surreal to me. Women could be and do anything; I loved painting from this place of empowerment.
**“Blown About the Sky” is one of the pieces from my 2022 solo exhibition with Bert Green Fine Art in Chicago. It explores themes related to femininity, identity, mythology, and the subconscious. I started to paint the piece during the COVID-19 pandemic. I felt I was "falling;" everything was so out of control. My subject matter surrounded the artist Ana Mendieta’s horrible death, exploring the lack of autonomy women often have to decide their own fates. Ana’s husband, fellow artist Carl Andre, is thought to have pushed her from a 34-story window in their Greenwich Village, NYC apartment. Mendieta's death elicited calls to recognize misogyny in the art world and question the glorification of toxic masculinity. In this painting, my heroine is falling. There is no way out; not even the winged pigeons that surround her can help her. One reaches out its wing as she reaches out her hand, a gesture of help and care meant to call The Creation of Adam to mind. Symbolically messengers of love and the importance of community, the pigeons exist as the outside observer, "the Greek chorus," helplessly watching our heroine fall to her departure from life.
Your paintings delve into the lore of the "girl"; can you share how this theme empowers femininity in your work?
I have been painting the lore of the "girl" since high school. Now, infused with elements of surrealism and magical realism, my work focuses on a central solid female figure, which I denote as a "heroine." My investigation into my heroine pairs her with her animal counterpoint, an antagonist or protagonist. Friend or foe, they walk my heroine down the path of their Dharma.
My earlier work, back in the 90s and 2000s, had harsh and direct messages about the plight of women and the world. Now, I try to create a delicate balance between sometimes bleak realities and the unreal, weird, fantasy world that exists in my paintings. "Flamingo Girl," a painting from my 2021 solo exhibition at KP Projects in Los Angeles, described this balance. The elegance of the flamingo taught her heroine how to find equilibrium within the madness of the tides of life.
Feminine strength doesn't always manifest in traditional forms of power. My work explores the strength found in vulnerability, sensitivity, and emotional depth. This challenges stereotypes about women and seeks to empower them by showing that their emotions and experiences are valid and significant. In many societies throughout many epochs, the experiences and perspectives of women, especially youth, have been marginalized or trivialized. I give voice to the unique experiences, dreams, and challenges faced by women of all ages, reasserting their importance.
As someone who draws inspiration from dream journals, how do elements like alchemy and tarot shape your art's narratives?
By incorporating elements like Tarot, alchemy, and Jungian philosophy into my art, I believe I can create narratives that go beyond the surface and invite viewers to delve into the deeper layers of their experiences and emotions. I am a huge Tarot aficionado. My partner and I travel to events and take classes with all sorts of experts on the subject, as well as the Cube of Space. The images and magic of the cards are endlessly fascinating to me. When I receive a number in a dream, I refer back to which Tarot card it corresponds and seek the meaning therein. Alchemy, although often misunderstood, is an ancient branch of natural philosophy that I find very powerful. Its ability to change and shift lends powerful energy to art and the experience of viewing art.
My solo exhibition with Second Street Gallery, a nonprofit gallery in Charlottesville, Virginia, was titled "The Ceremony of Innocence." The painting "Follow the White Rabbit" combines references to Chapter 1 of Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland," which is titled "Down the Rabbit Hole," with the Grace Slick song "White Rabbit." Going “down the rabbit hole" describes the act of delving deeper into a subject or situation, especially when it leads to unexpected or surreal discoveries. In this piece, my heroine follows the White Rabbit towards the complete unknown—whatever experiences he/they wants to show her. This could be sex, drugs, or magical self- revelation.
At the bottom left of the painting, lying on the street, is the High Priestess of the Tarot. Our heroine is at the very beginning of her first journey into her inner world—and the inner world of all that exists. She is opening a door that cannot be closed. Secrets, chaos, and some danger await her, but in the end she will be alchemically reborn; she will be made into gold.
Being a self-taught artist but having a formal education in Cinema, how do these two worlds intersect in your creative process?
When exiting high school, I was admitted to Pratt but instead chose USC Cinema School. I think that if I had gone to Pratt, I would be an abstract artist today. Going to film school and learning about narrative structure, which felt easily applicable to storytelling in visual art, influenced how I construct narratives within my artwork. While there, I studied with legend Bruce Block, one of the inventors of the IMAX Theatre. He taught "visual storytelling" with concepts like deep and flat space, shape, tone, colour, and rhythm. I use these components to convey moods and emotions, create a visual style, and tap into the vital relationship between the viewer and my artwork.
In the painting "Face to Face," another artwork for the Second Street Gallery solo exhibition, a young girl and a bull stare eye-to-eye with one another. One could be reminded of the sculptures on Wall Street in NYC. Yet this is the narrative story of my own life, facing my fears and going nose to nose with what I dread. As a child, I spent summers in San Miguel de Allende and was forced to attend the town’s bullfights with my family. I hated it, and always felt sorry for the underdog, the bull. This painting tells the eternal epic story of connecting with your strength while being compelled to recognize your mortality.
With multiple exhibitions across diverse global locations, which place or event most significantly impacted your journey?
I find this question particularly powerful. Of course, all exhibitions have impacted my journey. Yet, one likely outweighs the rest. Getting my start at La Luz de Jesus Gallery in Hollywood, California set my course in a very powerful way.