Deirdre Sullivan-Beeman shows us why egg tempera is still a viable medium.
Fox Boy, 2016, oil and egg tempera on wood, 12"x9” All images courtesy of the artist.
In the late 19th century, Southern California attracted misfits, idealists, and entrepreneurs with few ties to anyone or anything. Swamis, spiritualists, and other self-proclaimed religious authorities quickly made their way out West to forge new faiths. Independent book publishers, motivational speakers, and metaphysical-minded artists and writers then became part of the Los Angeles landscape. From yogis, to psychics, to witches, City of the Seekers examines how creative freedom enables LA-based artists to make spiritual work as part of their practices.
Egg tempera was the medium of choice for Old Masters like Michelangelo, but once oil paint replaced it in the early 16th century, the once-omnipresent art technique became quickly antiquated. Now, Deirdre Sullivan-Beeman is resurrecting the use of egg tempera in her dreamlike paintings, while also reminding audiences of the archaic medium's characteristically mysterious sense of illumination.
Egg tempera gets its name from the way egg yolks were used in Europe during the Middle Ages and the Early Renaissance to bind colors in paint, and as it's a fast-drying method, it left little room for error. Sullivan-Beeman credits a friend of Salvador Dali, Viennese artist Ernst Fuchs, for reviving the method in the 20th century, and just like Fuchs, Sullivan-Beeman has expanded the technique into one that's all her own.
"With a base of the whitest white egg tempera, I aim to make the pieces appear backlit, to 'glow' from within. Above the egg tempera, layer upon layer of colored oil glaze are added—which slowly enriches the subjects," the artist says. "This extremely slow process and necessary attention to detail, I believe, makes each piece more present and more full of life."
With a BFA in film from the University of Southern California, Sullivan-Beeman describes herself as a "self-taught figurative painter" who applies a narrative style to her artworks. But not unlike those of one of her inspirations, Carl Jung, her themes are accessed from her own dreams which are steadfastly recorded in dream journals.
"I feel dreams are the best reservoirs of ideas that I have. I try my best to seize them before they slip away," she says. "I try not to control or judge images as they come to me. I just combine the chaotic dream realm with the reality of pen and paper in the here and now. I love this process. Often I find I’ve developed a painting and assume it is of the moment. And only later, when referring back to my dream journal, do I realize that it had originated in my subconscious years before, and had been percolating."
Sullivan-Beeman says she's severely dyslexic, which is one of the reasons visual expression has always been so appealing to her. Fortunately, her mother—an artist herself—encouraged her daughter to further develop her own visual language, which Sullivan-Beeman describes as "an amalgam of alchemy, tarot, and religious iconography."
Interestingly, the artist was also raised by a father who intended to be a Catholic priest before leaving the seminary. "The sacraments, symbols, and meanings had sunk in," Sullivan-Beeman explains. "Religion, mythology and irreverence merge as the central theme that unites all of my paintings." The subjects in her paintings are usually young girls who the artist says mirror her own personal experiences, and she is "always investigating the role of the feminine as it stands in conflict with modern society."
Sullivan-Beeman has strong interests in feng shui, kundalini yoga, and regularly attends the biggest Buddhist temple in the West, the Fo Guang Shan Hsi Lai Temple. She believes her own creative and spiritual philosophies are deeply intertwined. Sullivan-Beeman is a big proponent of meditation, and through the practice, she says she has become acutely aware of triangulation. "I believe there is triangulation in everything: mother-father-child, solid-liquid-gas, positive-negative-neutral,” she explains. "I think the triangulation within the discipline of art is science-spirituality-art. Science posits to understand what is known. Spirituality and/or religion posits to understand what is unknown. And art unifies these seeming opposites."
The artist also believes in the Jungian idea of the collective unconscious, which is defined as the part of the unconscious mind that comes from ancestral experience and memory and is present in all humans, as opposed to the unconscious mind of the individual. "I began to use my dreams to draw out the subjects of my paintings. They are a depiction of these unconscious forces, which are both very personal to me, and, I think, also quite universal in their nature."
Originally from a conservative part of Ohio, Sullivan-Beeman came to LA for film school and quickly became immersed in LA's visual arts scene through its erstwhile Temple of Visions Gallery. "Los Angeles has long been a spiritual hub of the world. A lot of those who flock to it, do so for that reason. Yogi Bhajan came to LA because he felt 'the souls whose aspiration and longing had drawn him.' LA draws people in that way. There have been many great spiritual leaders who made their way to the City of Angels: Manly P. Hall, Paramahansa Yogananda, Paul Foster Case… the list is endless. The nature of the feng shui energy in Los Angeles is transformative, which makes it a natural spiritual center.”
She continues: "Even if some who come to LA wouldn’t describe their motivations as spiritual, I believe many are seeking transformation—a better world, a better life and some do seek enlightenment. Lots of people have 'gone west' to seek their dreams. Visionary art and Los Angeles feel like a natural fit. All art reflects its environment. LA’s culture melds many religions, many different energies, and all art mirrors its environment."
To learn more about the artist click here.