Drew Beckmeyer creates quirky paintings that fuse visuals from different times and spaces, often pairing unexpected scenes with seemingly personal and historical references. They are both charming and mysterious works that teeter between whimsical and ominous. Beautiul/Decay recently interviewed Drew regarding his process, and even took a sneak peak at his studio behind the scenes.
How did you get into art making, and what do you love about it?
It’s something I’ve always been around and through a long process of elimination, I realized its one of the few things I’m decent at. I would say that most of the members of my family are, or have been, in some sort of art field, but not so much that they don’t think my drawings are weird. So I guess that was the initial introduction…that and comic books.
As far as love goes, I don’t know, because there is a decent amount of really intense frustration involved too. I love that its a need, as well as its own outlet. I like that I can stay in on weekend nights working on stuff and not feel like I’m wasting my life. I assume this is true for most people who make things, but I like that I can poop out a bunch of overthought and underthought ideas into something that, when I’m done with it, makes me feel like I understand those ideas a little better.
What’s a typical day like for you?
I work at night, so I usually get up late. I’ll do normal living stuff until about 8 at night and then get started painting or whatever I’m working on. I’ll usually go to sleep at 4ish.
What’s your process like for creating a work, from inception of an idea to its creation?
I’ll usually get an idea. Not usually an idea for a painting, but just an idea of what a painting could be about. Then I’ll try and draw that idea, which is almost always a mess. Then I’ll get angry and let it sit while I work on something else for a few days. When I come back to it, I’ll start to go through books and draw the imagery that I think might be useful in conveying what I wanted to convey, trying to relate concepts with objects, time periods, scenarios and whatnot. That usually will manifest itself in some sort of vague composition in my mind. After I’ve figured out the concept, and start working, I kind of just let all of the preliminary work go and see what happens. Usually, by the end it has either come full circle, or become something completely different. I would say that maybe 1/4 of the things I make are utter disasters that then get recycled into newer work. It took me a long time to figure out this was my process and not just a series of mistakes.
How do you come up with ideas for titles?
The titles are something that I feel reveals a little of the initial concept of the picture, which by the end is usually somewhat obliterated. I’ve always been disappointed reading “untitled” over and over, and likewise I don’t want to have a title that makes things even more unclear. So I guess my titles are more like phrases that might act as lenses to view the work though. They are sometimes historical references meant to bring up a comparison, or kind of first person statements/ confessions. But yeah, the titles are definitely still one area that I’m a little embarrassed of.
Many of your paintings collapse myriad visual references, for example in “courthouse, saloon, church and sculpture garden were sometimes 1 and the same,” it looks like a thrift-store intergalactic scene where fountains, sculptures, buildings varying n scale, planets, totems all collide. Where do you get your source images, and why do you choose to present the images in this fashion?
With that particular painting, I had been drawing fancy gardens for a while. Like, Versailles and french chateau gardens. I was interested in the designs and stuff, but also the idea of making something as simple as a basic lawn into something so extravagant that its really beyond any actual use besides looking at it. Somehow, that lead me to the purpose and kind of weird irony of mega-churches and from there to the idea of the role of the pedestal in sculpture. I just drew most of those images out of my head, but a few were taken from books. I have an almost packrat like collection of books, but my favorites for art making are, “The Treasury of Memory Making Indian Campfires”, “New York in the 19th Century” and “The Pictoral Epic of the American West”, from which I took and rearranged the title for that piece.
Do you imagine narratives for your images? Some of them seem to include titles or situations that implicate stories.
Yeah, definitely, though only as much narrative as like a single panel marmaduke cartoon or something like that. Speaking in a narrative language is what comes most natural to me, and I think its probably the most appropriate way to paint the ideas that im interested in. I do also make completely un-narrative work that is more experiment based and abstracted as a sort of counterpoint. But even those fit into the larger narrative puzzle of the story im trying to tell.
Why do you choose to work on paper?
I started working on paper, because I was working exclusively with gouache. This was a few years ago. I work on paper now, because I work in my kitchen, and the flatness and rollability is super convenient. Also because so much of what I do is recycling,cutting through paintings, and collaging on the back, I feel like if was working on canvas or panel, those decisions would have to be thought out ahead of time, and i’ve not had that be successful yet. I am trying to figure a way to get the paper on a more sturdy ground, and I did just buy some panels, so we’ll see.
What materials do you typically use, how do you layer them or manipulate their qualities?
I usually use a mixture of acrylic paints, colored pencils, matte gel, spray paint, inks, water soluble crayons, gouache, paint markers, vellum, and transparencies. Then it all gets cut up and put back together again.
Many of your works also seem to have quasi-historical references, of duels, discovery, other cultures….what role do you think history plays in your works?
Most of my work revolves around the ideas of self-discovery and the recklessness of casting away the past in order to become something new. Often times, I’m really not trying to say anything historical or political or cultural, but I try and use those things in ways to highlight something smaller and more personal. Right now I’m working on a bunch of Boston tea party drawings, that are more about laziness than the American evolution. Its kind of ridiculous.
What are some of your influences, and how do they manifest themselves in your work?
I look at a lot of Indian art, 18th and 19th century american newspaper etchings, the arts and crafts movement, African art, Islamic patterns, Picture Box books. I cant really say how they manifest, though they definitely do. It’s not really all that thought, out, but I think the thing I’m most proud of with my work, is getting it to a point where I feel like I can almost throw anything in and it wouldn’t be out of place.
In terms of specific people, Asger Jorn is a new favorite. Umm, Tal R, Martin Kippenberger, William Blake, Tim Hawkinson, Eddie Martinez… really too many to list.
How do you stay inspired to create work? How do you cope with creative blocks?
I change the physical process of making the work almost every time I start something new. That keeps me pretty engaged and interested in new problems. Also allowing the destruction of my own work to become a regular part of the process has really opened things up.
What do you see the role of an artist today?
If I had an answer that was halfway proven, I’d say it, but I don’t.
Any events etc. coming up you’ll be involved in?
I’m doing a two person show with Mike Swaney next year, working on some collaborations with Jason Redwood, and still toying with the idea of grad school.