Beau Stanton elevates classic iconography like few modern artists can, but the long-time PRØHBTD fave truly out did himself with his latest exhibit, Prismatic Paradigm. The SoCal-born Brooklynite wants to maintain an element of surprise, so he reveals only limited information, but he's created a kaleidoscopic installation made up of individual pieces featuring a combination of stained glass, woodwork, oil paintings, sculptures, prints and aerosol-based art. Prismatic Paradigm runs June 10 to July 8 at the Corey Helford Gallery in Los Angeles. Here's what Stanton had to say about the exhibit.
How you describe the show?
It's going to be largely light-based. There is some glass in the show, but I am taking that type of work in a different direction. I'm employing some alternative techniques but still creating a light-based take on what you might have seen in a sacred space, for instance.
When you say a sacred space, you mean like in a church?
Yeah, a church. I'm creating a large, site-specific installation in the gallery, which includes a lot of light-based pieces that riff on the visual styles of gothic rose windows and other stained glass-type ornamentation. It's going to be fun.
Are you going to have individual pieces of art or just one giant piece?
The components of the installation are individual works. There will be some two-dimensional pieces, three-dimensional pieces, and in between the pieces there's more... it's hard to describe, and I'm not sure I want to completely describe it in detail before it's completed. I want to retain an element of surprise for when people first see it. I'm using a lot of techniques—CNC routers and CNC laser beds and stuff like that—to take the designs of my past work and bring them into three dimensions. It's going to have a lot of layers. Even though it's not necessarily a traditional take on stained glass, it'll very much have that feel.
Have you ever done anything like this before?
Is it more difficult than you suspected it would be?
It's more fun, actually. My whole background is in meticulous craft, which is definitely a component of this show, but as a means to make it larger and more immersive. I'm taking this meticulous craft and trying to work smarter with more contemporary techniques and methods, which is why I'm doing a lot of drafting in vector and outputting them in the laser and on the CNC router. It's a totally different technique, a totally different direction, but it still comes from the same visual aesthetic.
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Will the exhibit have any traditional canvas paintings?
Yes, the show is multi-media, so in addition to the light-based works, there will be oil paintings. I tend to do these multi-layer, screen-printed multiples, which are like a different take on an image, but each one is unique. It's building up the full range of color with multiple screens but creating that image a few different times in different colorways a la Andy Warhol, a la Ron English. The show will include printmaking, oil paintings, stained glass-like pieces and these three-dimensional, light-based pieces.
You did a lot of amazing murals around the world, but the most impressive had to be the one you did last year with the columns.
The piece in Dubai with the angled blocks?
Yes, that must have been a nightmare.
You know, there were a couple last year that were nightmares, but that was definitely the one that took the cake. The mural had to function from three different angles because the majority of the wall was made up of these angled bricks. They were like large cinder blocks, probably one foot by a couple of feet. The only solution I could find that made sense was to create a lenticular image so that, as the viewer walked past, the wall image would change. That was a nightmare. It was definitely worth it, but it really pushed me. The end result was a lot more fun than just a regular mural would have been.
What was the first thought that went through your mind when you saw the space?
I was terrified. It was a good opportunity, and I was excited for the project, but when the organizers sent me the image of my wall, my heart sank. I thought, "Oh shit, this is my one opportunity, and I feel like I've just been sabotaged." Then it turned out to be the best opportunity that I could have gotten. It's been a regular theme for me to try out new things in the work. Pretty much every main project, I'll try to throw a curveball into the mix because it really does keep it interesting and more stimulating for me. I didn't realize it at the time, but this project turned out to be one of the funnest public works I've ever done.
What's another example of a mural that was a nightmare for you?
Another one I did last year in Eugene, Oregon was logistically difficult because I couldn't use a lift, and the wall started on the second floor. Plus, I had to use scaffold, and the thing was more than 3,500 square feet of wall. It was massive. It was by far the biggest wall I'd ever tackled, and I had to do the whole thing on about five levels of scaffolding in the summer. I couldn't use any of the traditional techniques I'd used in the past because the scaffolding was in the way. I had to come up with a whole system of relative measuring based off where the scaffolding was relative to the wall. It ended up working out fine, but it was another mural where I walked in blind and had to do some on-the-job training.
What do you see as your defining color palette and imagery preference?
The color palette changes gradually. I used to have a more old-mastery kind of subdued palette. I've moved into using more brighter colors but in limited relationships, like using split complements and things that are not too broad in the color range. One of the colors that usually pops up is that turquoise color that a lot of people probably associate with my work, but I think the imagery is what makes it most recognizable. It's generally the interaction between graphic ornamentation that's a mish-mash of historic references and iconic, archetypal, classically representational subjects. It's meant to feel like a surreal, psychological image that might exist somewhere in the back of your head.
Your past works included a lot of nautical themes.
That's definitely a big part of my visual lexicon: the ships, the tumultuous seas and these graphic wave designs. I like the metaphorical significance of the sea and these rusty vessels, and it probably rubbed off from the environment I'd been in with my Brooklyn studio. Red Hook is an old neighborhood that has a rich history as a port and shipyard, and even to this day, you get a lot of tug boats and barges going by, and there are a lot of funky old buildings. That's where I developed this whole direction for my work. I've been there since I got out of college.
As far as metaphors, do the sea monsters correlate directly to something symbolic?
For me it represents man's struggle with nature, and nature usually wins. With the sea, too, sometimes you'll see these sunken heads and other items that were overtaken by water. It's got a dreamlike feeling of the subconscious and the achievements of man being undone by natural forces.
If art was a primary creative influence growing up, what would be a secondary influence?
I was always a history nerd, but music was my secondary passion growing up. I played the violin for a lot of years and then the string bass, the guitar, the bass guitar. I was in an orchestra and then in a jazz band and then in a funk and blues band.
Music is a different creative expression, but do you feel that making music had any effect on how you express yourself visually?
I've never thought about that. I'm sure it has, but I'm not sure how I could identify it.
You once did a mural in a neighborhood in Rome that was famous for its resistance. Were you able to feel the spirit of resistance there?
Quadraro was a very, very unique place that didn't feel like your touristy part of Rome. The mural was a tree blossoming out of a skull, and it was broadly about life springing out of death. Everybody seemed to like it, but less than a week after I left, an old lady came out and defaced the skull. Maybe it reminded her of the war, but she couldn't stand to stare at it. I guess that sort of defiance still exists in the neighborhood today because an old lady is not going to stand for something she doesn't want to see. She left the rest of the mural, but she got rid of the teeth and the parts of the image that made up the skull.
I'm going back to the East Coast after this. I've got a mural coming up in Jersey City, and then I've got a residency in Jordan for the month of July. I'll be exploring a lot of the archeological sites and cool old ruins and then creating some small works there. I'll be doing an exhibition and then creating a mural in a small village outside of Amman.
Art has taken you around the world. Did a particular place have a profound impact on you?
Everywhere I go, I'm always looking around and trying to collect visual [references], interesting ornamentation, and add them to the alphabet of what I'd put into these complex [pieces]. All the ornamentation that you see [in my art] is a mix of the stuff I've found when traveling. That has definitely influenced the work, for sure, because it keeps it evolving and fresh.