Interview: Syd Bee Discusses Her Latest Dreamlike Figurative Paintings for “In My Bones”

by Nathan SpoorPosted on

Syd Bee is a Seattle-based painter that creates figurative paintings that often appear to exist in a dreamlike state. Working in oils, the artist employs a technique of creating a pastel-hued glow around her subjects. Bee enjoys the way the soft outer edges of the paintings feel optically; which enhances the mysterious effect produced by her oil paintings.

Bee began her artistic career path attending Cornish College for the Arts in Seattle, Washington. Her experiences in art school demonstrated that she was but one creative talent amidst a larger group of artists, a realization that pushed her to build a stronger voice. In order to create her optimal universe, Bee chooses her colors carefully to best capture the mood, as well as imagery that is often relatable. Bee considers the scale of her works, not merely for the amount of studio space she must use, but for the accessibility of the viewer as well. Bee invites us into her studio to discuss her new body of works – oil paintings carefully infused with cotton-candy sentimentality for her first solo exhibition titled “In My Bones”, which debuts at Antler Gallery in Portland, OR, on June 25, 2015.

HF: Where is your studio and where are you from?

SB: I live and work in Seattle. The Pacific Northwest is such a dream with its gray rainy skies and all that greenery. Right now I’m a 10-minute walk from the Puget Sound and fish market. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

 HF: Tell us a little about your artistic background – What were your first inclinations that you had a strong creative instinct?

SB: My interests in art began like I’m sure it does for most- with crayons, comics, and cartoons. My Mom’s encouragement with my weird little projects was an essential key. When I was very young, I made dolls and comics, and put on puppet shows. As a teen, I painted my bedroom Pepto-Bismol Pink and then painted things right on the walls or on doors. I think she was just glad I was making something and not moping around or getting rowdy. At some point I got a clue to paint on canvas and because I wasn’t a very social kid, I enjoyed staying home making things.

HF: Your paintings have a soft, almost ethereal glow to them. Would you agree that your work beckons the viewer into a certain comfort zone by displaying a state of longing or vulnerability?

SB: I enjoy the way soft edges feel, optically. Others might find that or the colors comforting in a way. Most of my figures look lost in thought or dream, so in that way there’s not often uncomfortable confrontation with the viewer – although a title or maybe a facial expression will allude to a more intense emotional state. For me, building my ideal universe means using the colors that best capture the mood I’m going for, and softness is the texture I most often prefer. It’s also the result of going over the same spot with a brush over and over again- so there’s a repetitive, trance-inducing process I enjoy that is needed to achieve that softness.

 HF: Do you work in series, or is each painting a moment strictly unto itself?

SB: Until recently, my work has been fragmented into individual moments rather than a larger story. My newest works explore a more focused narrative, with each piece and each character and element playing an important role.

 HF: Is your upcoming show at Antler in Portland your first solo exhibition? Did preparing a body of work for a solo show challenge you creatively in unexpected ways?

SB: Yes, yes it is! “In My Bones” at Antler Gallery is my fist solo and I couldn’t be more excited! They’ve been absolutely wonderful to work with! There were some areas I was a little unfamiliar navigating, wrapping my head around the themes and story for a whole show, explaining my decisions in sensible, coherent ways…you know! Ultimately, it’s been awesome and I’m so grateful for it.

 HF: Did you attend an art school or university and what was its impact on your style? What were your biggest influences along the way?

SB: A few years after high school, I committed to attending Cornish College of the Arts and it was there that I realized you’re just one person in a big, beautiful city full of talented, hard-working people. That, and also nobody cares that you’re a painter, because you’re not that special. Those experiences made me want to develop a stronger voice, work ethic, and strategy to make Art a career.

 HF: What is life like in your studio? Do you set aside a specific time to create or is your muse on full-time? Do you listen to music or podcasts, or prefer silence as you create?

SB: I’ve always been more active at night, and it’s my ideal time to work on projects. To get settled in, I’ll put on a playlist of the same songs and listen to them over and over. Those nighttime hours are precious, so anything I can do to reduce the sense of time helps. I’ve tried podcasts and audiobooks, but lately, if it’s not actually raining, I’ll put on playlists of rain sounds. The effect is incredibly soothing.

 HF: Do you think in terms of scale, the size of the work, when you start a new painting? How do you feel that the dimensions of a finished work affect the idea itself?

SB: I think it’s useful to know how you want the work to command a space, or not. But there are other variables, like workspace and storage. In college, I worked on very large pieces, which was great, but then I had no place for them when the show was over and transporting them anywhere was really difficult. So I often consider those factors. My studio is a small corner of a room, so I keep that in mind when planning out pieces.

 HF: What is it that you truly want out of your work? For instance, do you feel that painting is borne of a need to create moments that affects viewers – or is this more of a personal need to provide an imprint of yourself, one that travels into other areas and evolves alongside other interactions?

SB: Up to this point, my work has been mostly about personal moments that overwhelm me if they don’t get out. Because these experiences aren’t unique to just me, I choose imagery that’s relatable, even if the core feeling is blanketed with soft, cotton-candy colored sentiment.

 HF: Tell us about what you have coming up.

SB: For the remainder of the year, I’ll be participating in group shows around the States and Australia. But not before I catch some serious zzz’s with my two fat cats after the Antler show!

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