Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Summer School 2012 interview series: Beck Wheeler

“I think art and play should be the same thing.”

CEAC staff member Kyla Mackenzie interviews Beck Wheeler in the lead-up to her Mixed Media Summer School class in January 2012. Click here for a full description of Beck’s class & enrolment details.

KM: Beck, in 2008 you were named one of Australia’s Top Ten Creative’s by Design Quarterly, you exhibit internationally (Japan, UK, USA, Australia, Spain and New Zealand) and now back in West Auckland, New Zealand, you are offering an exciting workshop at our 2012 Summer School:  

Did you ever dream you could have a career using your imagination and immense sense of play?

BW: I always wanted to be an artist, but when I was younger I didn't know how to become an artist. I thought it might be something that just magically happened. 

I got stuck in art school for awhile. I found art school quite conservative, instead of inspired I felt very confined. At art school if you weren't doing minimalist text based paintings or conceptual installation you failed. 

It took me a few years away from art school before I started to embrace my creativity again. I looked at the things I collected and the things I loved for inspiration. I learnt to paint in every medium available, I learnt ceramics, textiles and a variety of sculptural techniques. I allowed myself to play and make mistakes. And then 10 years later I realised I was making a living full time as an artist. 

KM: Your course offers the student the creative environment in which to create visual narratives using paint and found objects:  how will you guide the class to mine their personal memories for this purpose?

BW: Our minds are a great big filing cabinet filled with our memories and experiences. Maybe you want to do an artwork about a childhood memory, or maybe you want to do an artwork about your morning walk to the dairy.

I think art is about being honest with yourself. What excites you about art/life, might not excite someone else. There are no right and wrong answers, its very personal. 

Everyone has things they have collected, things they love, colours they are drawn to. 
I think the key to keeping creativity alive is to identify the things that excite you. Then not to judge these things as being either good, bad or ugly.

KM: What should they bring?

BW: You will need to bring in the materials on the materials list, which includes acrylic paint and brushes. Additional materials to bring in will be discussed on the first day of the course. This might be reference material, family photos, paper for collage, or objects that you want to work with. We will be working predominately with acrylic paint, however we will discuss how to work in mixed media. A limited amount of inks and watercolours will be available to experiment with. If you have your own watercolours or inks you are welcome to bring them in.

KM: What are some of the sorts of found objects you yourself have found evocative in your own works?  

BW: I am drawn to domestic objects. I use old kitchen utensils, broken childrens toys and all sorts of random odds and ends. I work mainly in wood and plastic.

KM: You provide some understanding of colour theory in the workshop – what are some of the emotional resonances and perceptual effects that you find particularly compelling?

BW: In my own work I try to use the brightest colours I can find. I will use one bright colour and then I will find or make its opposite (relating to the colour wheel). I am inspired by how you can create harmony in an artwork through the use of opposing/complementary colours. Even when you are using a very colourful palette you can still create harmony and balance.

Colour also has the ability to communicate without words. I love how passionate people get about a colour, or a palette of colours.  If you want to see how passionately geeky you can get about colour palettes then head to This website is where people can go to upload their favourite colour combinations it has 1,815,625 different colour combos uploaded so far.

KM: What textures and colours from your own childhood memory have informed your own work?  

BW: I was bought up in the late 1970's and a lot of my childhood books and toys were in citrus greens and oranges with splashes of hot pink and muted shades of blues and browns. I am  definitely drawn instinctively to using a similar colour palette in my work.

The textures and patterns I use developed as I experience different cultures and environments. I use a lot of textures from the bush since moving to Piha, but when I was living in the city I tended to use more geometric forms.
KM: Childhood or references to are often delightfully universal in much of your own work:  do you think we should actively embrace ‘the child’ within?  

BW: I think childhood themes are popular because they remind us of a time when it was okay to play. In play there is no right or wrong. But as we grow older we start to analyse everything in terms of being right/wrong good/bad and we lose the freedom of play. 

I think art should embrace play. I think art and play should be the same thing.

KM: How important is play, fun and beauty for our mental health?

BW: I think play and fun are very important to our mental state.

KM: Who are some of the artists who have inspired your art and philosophy along the way?  

BW: Edward Gorey, Jon Pylypchuk, Quentin Blake, Chris Ware, Winsor McCay, Shaun Tan, William Morris, Richard Kearney, Bosch, Brian Boyd

KM: What do you look forward to most about your upcoming Summer School workshop?

BW: Sharing knowledge: I am passionate about art materials and using traditional painting techniques in a contemporary way.

Empowering creativity: I think everybody is creative, but we just get trained out of it as we grow older. I think it is important to get the creative juices flowing.

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