Interview with Alan Beckstead

Interview with Alan Beckstead

Could you please introduce yourself and tell us how you started in the arts? and your first experience in art making?

I have been painting all my life as a hobby while I made a career as an electrical engineer with an MBA. Painting gave me an avenue to expand my imagination and I truly believed it helped inspire innovation at work. 

My partner and I have been avid collectors of contemporary art since the late 1980s. As work took me to various cities across the US, I supported the local artists. Our collection encompasses a large swath of the regional artists and styles.    

While living in San Antonio, Texas I was on several art boards: Artist Foundation of San Antonio, McNay Contemporary Collectors Forum, San Antonio Museum of Art Contemporary Advisory Board, and San Antonio Area Foundation Cultural Committee. Working closely with artists has provided me a tremendous learning opportunity and helped my artwork evolve.   

My first experience in making art would have been in the 2 nd grade in Little Rock Arkansas. My teacher; Mrs. Abercrombe, let me create works of art for two large bulletin boards each month. I created the designs and other students helped fill in the color. I bring this example up because it was my first training to think out of the box with colors. In doing the nativity scene for Christmas one of the kids helping me colored Mary’s face green.  I was at first very upset but realized why not and we colored all the people and animal’s bright primary colors. My first contemporary piece.

How would you describe yourself and your artwork?   

Coming out as a gay man in the 80’s was very exciting and scary. I finally felt accepted and safe being part of the  LGBTQ community.  I was living in Houston and the Houston Pride Parade was my first realization I was not alone.  There were thousands of people who were like me. I could be me. This was a big deal, being raised in a strict Southern Baptist family.   

My art work is bright, colorful, and dense. There is a lot going on in my work. 

I shifted from oil to acrylics when I was creating large scale themed decorations for the San Antonio AIDS Foundation annual WEBB party fundraiser. The event was outdoors so I was painting on colorplast (a plastic cardboard).  I loved how the solid colors came through the acrylic. With the Pride Series, I paint the canvas a solid color usually representing one of the colors of the rainbow flag.  Like the colorplast the color sets a tone for the work.   

Where do you get your inspiration from? 

My love in going and participating in the Pride Parades has never wavered. The parades are a forum to make our voices heard in the fight for equality. My current work attempts to capture the emotions, freedom, joy, anger, and struggle for the LGBTQ community in the San Francisco Pride Parade. With the Orlando Pulse shooting followed by the 2016 elections there is a renewed sense of purpose for the parades. Equality is a long-term fight.

When I first started the Pride series I was struggling on how to capture the sense of movement. I was visiting Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts and fell in love with several paintings by Reginald Marsh. He was painting characters in Coney Island, Burlesque performances and the streets of NYC during the 30s-40s. Looking at Marsh’s paintings, I realized my series could help document a snapshot in time of the LGBTQ community.

When I showed my work to Thomasina DeMaio at ArtSavesLives in San Francisco she was the first person to connect my work to Reginal Marsh.   She commented that the work captured the Castro neighborhood. Since then I have had several other artists and curators bring up the connection to Reginal Marsh’s work.  I am proud to have made that connection.

What emotions do you hope the viewers experience when looking at your art?

I would like the viewers can see themselves not only at the parade but in the parade. Whether gay or straight, I hope they see a friend or colleague in the work and realize we have more in common than differences. Most of all I hope they see the joy, feel the movement, and want to see more. People are moving both onto and off the canvas. I want the viewer wonder what is happening beyond the canvas..

When do you know that an artwork is finished ?

When I first block the colors in for a piece I am always tempted to stop there. No details just colors. I keep going because I want to capture the feelings emanating from the individuals. I usually pass over the painting 3-4 times.  I reach a point that I say to myself “that’s it”. I wait for a couple of days to see if something nags at me and then I put the sealer on. That is my way of saying no more!

What has been the most exciting moment in your art career so far?

Getting to show my work in the Castro District in San Francisco last year during June Pride month.  I could not have asked for a better location and time. Thank-you ArtSavesLives!

How long does it take to produce one work?

I have gotten faster over the past couple of years. My earlier work would take me months to complete. Lately I can finish a painting in 4-6 weeks. I try to paint every day after work for a few hours and on weekends. When I don’t paint for a while I get moody. Painting brings me joy. The only exception was painting the Orlando Pulse tribute and the RESIST paintings. I wept the whole time.

What exciting projects are you working on right now? Can you share some of the future plans for your artworks? 

My partner Danny kept asking me when I was going to do something besides the Pride Parade I think he wanted me to do portraits of his family. A few months ago, I started a new series of painting male nude selfie portraits titled “Mirror-Mirror”. I first painted a portrait a friend and sent me taken from his parent’s bathroom over Christmas.  I became interested in the enormous number of selfies posted in public forums and selfies friends have sent to me. I was interested in what stories the viewer might come up with. I am hoping to put a collage together of paintings in a future show. This is not exactly what my partner was hoping for, but I told him if his family would send me nude selfies I would consider including them in the series. LOL

Do you have any upcoming events or exhibitions we should know about?

I am going to be in several groups shows at ArtSavesLives on Castro in San Francisco this year. April 2018 will focus on my work from the Russian River, June 2018 will be the Pride Parade series, and September 2018 I hope to show paintings depicting Castro Halloween from the 1990s. I also have a show in Sebastopol, CA in July that will feature a large part of my work at Lauri Luck’s Studio.

Where do you see your art going in five years?

I will stay focused on the LGBTQ community.  A good friend told me I was capturing a point in history that years from now will take on new relevance. I hope that is true, I am perfectly fine with being a historian of sorts. In five years it would be great to show my work in other cities.   Most likely in cities with a large LGBTQ population. Real success would be to show the art work in the rural south or other areas with a low acceptance of people that don’t fit their perceived definition of normal. Looking for an invite from Jeff Sessions.

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