AN INTERVIEW WITH BETHANIE IRONS
Where were you born?
I was born in Missouri but I grew up in South Dakota and Wyoming, splitting my time between my parents. For the most part, I grew up in low tech, rural environments surrounded by open space, farmland, and coal mines. I think those settings gave me a unique perspective of space and culture.
Where do you currently live?
I currently live in Columbia, Missouri. Although it is a relatively small town, it is close to St. Louis and Kansas City, where I can access some great museums and galleries. Living in the Midwest can be alienating, but it has a charm all its own and there are some great art communities here if you seek them out.
Please tell us about your education.
I received my bachelor’s degree in painting from the University of South Dakota and my master’s degree in painting from the University of Missouri. After teaching college art for a couple of years, I decided to go back to school for my PhD in art education, which I am currently pursuing. It has been so interesting to see how making and teaching reflect, challenge, and inform one another. I did not set out to be a teacher at the beginning of my education, but now it is inseparable from my art making practice. I see both making and teaching as skills that are learned and that take an immense amount of time, practice, and persistence. They both have the potential to do something in the world. There’s extraordinary power in being a teacher and in being an artist. My more recent educational experiences have been focused on harnessing that power and doing good with it.
Please tell us about your career highlights.
One of the most important highlights of my career is being included in New American Paintings and featured as the Juror’s Pick. At the time, I was in the middle of a 3-year MFA program and was doubting a lot of my decisions as an artist. Inclusion in such a prestigious publication was the first time I felt like I was on the right track. However, more importantly, it was also the first time that I saw my work reach a wider audience and that really made me think more about what I was putting out there into the world and my responsibility as an artist in making work that was sentient and nuanced. Another highlight of my career is my online gallery PLEAT. The gallery has truly been a labor of love for me and has helped me develop my conceptual voice in many ways. It has given me the opportunity to connect with so many artists and more intimately get to know their work. While online communities of course have their drawbacks, I think it is important to embrace that mode of communication as it is such a great way to broaden ones scope of influence.
What inspires you?
When people are passionate about their craft, that is so inspiring. When passion manifests itself visually, powerful things happen for the maker and the viewer. We all build off what we see and are affected by it. When we are surrounded by enthusiasm and vigor, it radiates. This is one of the many reasons I love Instagram. It is a daily reminder that there are passionate, positive, persistent people out there in the world who are making things happen and that I can do that too.
Please tell us about your concept?
I’m driven, in part, by a desire to create an environment of order in my work. Stability comes in the form of predictable colors, stripes, and silhouettes and is set against the backdrop of familiar spaces. Domestic objects, games, leisure, and social environments are common motifs that are analyzed for the illusion of control they often emit as well as their inherent categorization of people relative to the space. But to fully understand the work requires an investment in concept, history, and theory. Stripes are embedded, in one form or another, because they are established in classification and deception both visually and historically. They follow a very specific color scheme used in the opponent-process theory of vision. Color perception is an attempt to make sense of our environment more objectively, but this theory describes how and why our judgement of color is an experiential construction. What looks to be only decorative and frivolous is deeply rooted in the distorted nature of how visual environments, and ultimately social structures, are navigated. By participating in a society that elevates the material to a divine status, elements of control and of illusion become one and the same. Social norms, hierarchies, and human need are reflected and refracted in my work, investigating what it means to contribute to and partake in today’s culture.
What is your current project and your next goal?
While the bulk of my practice has involved more traditional brush-to-canvas painting, for the past few years I have been working digitally. I have found it to be a tremendous challenge to work with my hands in a different way. It really shook up my practice at a time when I felt burned out and it has taken my concept to a new level. By using a different medium, I altered how the visual information would be interpreted, even to a small degree. Right now, I’m learning how to do animation, which I never thought I would do because I am so impatient. I want everything now. I am an instant gratification junkie. But practicing animation forces me to slow down. Working frame by frame, I often spend 2 hours on an image that will ultimately manifest itself out in the world for a fraction of a second. I guess I need more of that in my life. My next goal will be to slow down even more. Savor. Soak. Reflect.
What are your thoughts about THE LINE DRAWING PROJECT?
I love this project! It is such a unique way for artists to connect and learn from each other. When I was asked to take part in it, I was nervous because I wanted to make sure that I did Nina’s concept justice since my work would be a continuation of hers. It also took me out of my own head for a bit and into someone else’s process. Although that can involve a lot of anxiety, there is such a benefit to venturing outside of ones comfort zone. Deep learning and transformation can happen if we allow ourselves that feeling of unease and allow ourselves the space and time to navigate and investigate it. That is what the LINE DRAWING PROJECT encourages. The project gives artists the challenge to allow for disorientation, investigation, and ultimately problem solving. And, really, who wouldn’t benefit from a little of that in their practice?
It was a pleasure. Thank you very much, Bethanie.
Picture by Tony Irons, 2018
Digital painting on paper
12" x 12"
‘Bowling Alley’, 2018
Digital painting on paper
12" x 16"
‘Pool Ball’, 2017
Digital painting on paper
12" x 12"