I am powerfully drawn to the work of Baltimore-born, RISD-schooled, currently California-living painter Whitney Bedford. Her paintings are both formally seductive and enigmatically narrative, depicting sea/landscapes, shipwrecks, and even a Harry Houdini series!
Although Ms. Bedford is quite the jet-setter, Ben Woodward snagged this traveler/artist extraordinaire for some Q & A on her nomadic adventures and upcoming work…
Ben Woodward: Who are you and where do you come from?
Whitney Bedford: I am a 32 year old artist living mostly in Santa Monica and Los Angeles, CA. My family is from Baltimore, MD, but I have lived in Providence, RI; Berlin, Germany; and part- time in Paris and Biot/Antibes, France; and Rio de Janiero, Brazil.
How did you get in to painting and general arty-farty-ness?
Loved it. My parents both liked art and travelling, so we travelled a lot and saw things. I think I loved color and design and eventually making things to record and remember all these experiences.
Did you get to travel a lot as a kid because your mom worked for the airlines?
Yes. My mom was a flight attendant for United Airlines for 37 years, and both my brother and I flew free until we were out of college. We both love the thrill of new places and unforeseen adventures, so traveling became sort of an addiction. My brother Evan is now a photographer and travels around the world documenting places.
What was high school like for you?
I went to an all-girls school that was great for academics and sports, but not so much for art. I took most of my art classes at the Maryland Institute College of Art.
Tell me about Germany.
My best friend from childhood sleep-away camp was a Berliner. After camp in North Carolina, I would go to the south of France to see family friends and she would go to her family house on the Italian Riviera. The summer of 1994 I drove back to Berlin with them, and the love affair with that city started. I went regularly to visit, and was entranced by the city’s metamorphosis. I had never been in a city that was living and disposing of history like that. After college, I moved there for 2 and half years with the aid of a Fulbright grant. I had a project to study monuments and architecture, but mostly I rode my bike everywhere, saw a lot of sunrises, and discovered that everything I learned in college was intangible to a German accent. I used the time to make some bad and some okay work, recording all sorts of colors and old wave European paintings, and dreaming in three languages.
How did you end up in California? How are you influenced by LA?
Somehow amidst this nomading, I got it together to get my acceptance to grad school. I came to UCLA and realized how much I missed pop music and culture. Los Angeles was amazing to me for its mental and geographical dichotomy, its connection to old world Europe, and its way of re-writing the influence in the name of Hollywood Americana. We had Schindler and Neutra here building modernist masterpieces around the same time Walt Disney was constructing his empire and theme park. We have beaches and snow covered mountains with deserts in between. Anything is possible!
And what is your connection with Brazil?
In grad school, I had a boyfriend who did a residency in Rio de Janiero, so we went together. Shortly thereafter this French boyfriend got deported, and Rio turned out to be a good half way point for us to meet – neutral, cheap, colorful, drunk, and crazy. Brazil is like the wild west. There aren’t many Americans, but many American references that are integrated to become tribal and wild. I love the emotion and color they put into everything from fruit drinks to music to politics. It was incredible to know the country when it was very optimistic, the moment that Lula de Silva was just elected (Lula literally raised himself from a dirt floor to the political arena), and it seemed like the South American soap opera of corruption was ending. In Brazil it was something to feel hopeful. So Brazil was and continues to be another place of big contrast and illuminations that dazzle and re-charge me.
What is a typical day like for you?
I get up, walk or ride my bike to coffee by the beach and then studio. Hang out, play about 50 games of solitaire, put a good dance soundtrack on, and get to painting…
What is the typical process for one of your paintings from start to finish?
I cant reveal those secrets.
What materials do you use?
Mostly painting on wood panels that have been primed with gesso and sanded to a glass finish. Maybe then sprayed with spray paint. Then drawn with ink sometimes and painted/undone with oil paint.
Where is your next show? And what is the new work about?
My next solo show is in Berlin in September at Carlier Gebauer. I usually paint conceptual pieces or votos for good luck. I paint shipwrecks for lost love and lost battles. I paint icebergs for loneliness and also as a reference to colonialism and our country’s isolation. Everything has a historical precedence or double meaning. Lately I have been painting a lot of Middle Eastern landscapes that reference the American gold rush.
Want to talk about your trip in the Middle East?
That was great. I think I had this unconscious iniative to track down civilization, or at least the memory of it, and maybe get a tan. I started out in Greece doing a residency and then went to Lebanon. I loved Beirut and how modern yet held in time it is.
The conflict there isn’t just Muslim-Christian but Syria-Israeli conflict. There is contradiction in every angle. There are factions and passions and different codes of life living side by side. Iraq is just a day’s drive. Israel and Gaza are almost touchable. I got my soy latte everyday at Starbucks amidst the vacationing Jordanese hummer convoys.
And was in a bikini at the beach having a great time under the shadow of the oil drums that I saw on CNN being blown up in the 2006 war.
There is something very beautiful and exhausting coming out of this constant stress, but it is very real and made a huge impression. I am still trying to figure it out.
Anything you want to talk about?
My artist anthem is in my favorite art piece that I own. It is a piece by my friend Marcos Chaves that says:
eu so vendo a vista
Which in Portuguese means, “I am selling this view/ this view is for sale/ I only sell one eye.”
I think that is a beautiful metaphor for what we make.