Kaci Beeler is perhaps best known in Austin as the co-operator of The Hideout Theatre and one of the most dynamic and irresistibly watchable improv performers in town.
Fewer people know, however, that Beeler is also a prolific visual artist. Until today, that is. Beeler’s first solo exhibition in Austin, “FOOD PORN,” opens Friday at the Salvage Vanguard Theater Gallery as a part of this year's Fusebox Festival.
In addition to 16 oil paintings of her favorite foods in Austin, the exhibition will feature a large-scale mural that Beeler will paint live in one 12-hour session, culminating in a reception in conjunction with the Fusebox event Imaginary Food and the Digestible Feats event Sweet Betrayal.
When we interviewed Beeler, she was anxious about the 12-hour time constraint, but excited to be collaborating with writer David Fruchter, who will describe imaginary foods, and Foreign & Domestic pastry chef Jodi Elliot, who will actually create the desserts for Beeler to paint (and the public to eat!). We spoke further about her love of Austin, her dedication to realism, and the allure of desserts, which are the sole subjects of the exhibited paintings from 2011 onward.
CultureMap: What drove you toward desserts?
Kaci Beeler: I think it's just the textures and the colors and the softness of desserts . . . Piles of sugar in different forms. The savory stuff is beautiful, but I found the desserts even more compelling to capture. Just from a personal enjoyment standpoint, I was drawn to those images more than the savory dishes. I was going to do a cheeseburger series, but then I put that on hold.
CM: Next year.
KB: Yeah! Maybe. [Laughs.]
CM: You mention texture and colors. Those are visual aspects that you as a painter are interested in, in terms of technique. But you also said the delightfulness of the dessert. I wonder if you'd talk a little bit more about what it is thematically that speaks to you about the desserts?
KB: I want to create beautiful objects, and I think that that is the quickest pathway to that goal.
CM: Because desserts are the most beautiful objects?
KB: For me. And they're kind of cute, and I have this sort of cute aesthetic that I'm interested in. But there's something more to it, I guess. There's that idea of things being kind of sinful and feeling guilty about it. I definitely have my own set of guilt about eating, and I try not to eat a lot of sugar lately. But I always felt really drawn to that, to drawing desserts, almost so much so that I can't articulate it well . . . When I was a kid I drew little pictures of ice cream cones and pie slices and banana splits and cake and stuff like that all the time, on the edges of my papers in school. I think every artist has some kind of image or something they're obsessed with, and then they sort of use that as an inspiration. And I think this is what I'm obsessed with right now.
CM: It’s funny you bring up the word “guilt,” because the exhibit is called "FOOD PORN."
KB: I actually called it that because other people have said that my paintings were food porn to them. And it was said enough times and suggested, that I was kind of like, I can see that. I sort of love that implication. It's a little naughty.
CM: I love the realistic capture of the textures next to each other. You talked about the softness of the desserts, but they're often on a plate, or they're next to a chair, or a shiny surface, or with a strawberry—there’s so much to work with there.
KB: There’s actually a lot more texture than you would think! That's what I find really fascinating about doing representational realism. Your brain takes in a lot of information very quickly and sort of generalizes it as you go through life, and you think, that's white, that's brown, that's whatever. But then when you start looking at it, it's very subtle.
CM: Do you ever have bites taken out of the food?
KB: I thought about doing that, and then I decided not to. I wanted it to be whole. As if the viewer or someone who's looking at it felt like it was waiting for them, and not tainted by some other person in some other story.
CM: I like that, it goes along with what you were saying about the desire that you have as a viewer for the object itself. For me, desserts are so aesthetically pleasing because they're perfect. They're like a perfect little world that you're going to destroy.
KB: Especially when it's packaged in a very personal, one-single-little-serving kind of way. And I like that! That’s why so far I’ve just been painting slices of cakes and not a whole cake. . . . And it feels like it's waiting.
CM: How long has realism been your tool of choice in painting?
KB: I guess realism is something that I've always wanted to do. I've done illustrations, I've done comics and graphic novels, but the thing that gave me the most pleasure in the finished product was realism. And I think maybe that’s—I had a lot of guilt in the past about that, being not good enough for the art world, for an artist. Because it's like, “That’s commonplace,” you know, “That’s typical” . . . But then I just decided at one point, fuck it, I'm just gonna make what I want to make, because I only have this one life and I'm not gonna sit around waiting to figure out something that's not what I want to do, just because I think it's not going to be well-received. And then once I started doing just what I wanted, just purely what I wanted, then people were really overwhelmingly positive about it.
CM: You’ve now said the word "guilty" twice in reference to these paintings . . . First it was guilt over the desserts, and now you've said that in the past you had feelings of guilt about loving realism. Do you think those two are related?
KB: It’s totally related! It’s almost something I don't want to admit, because I feel like it's some form of cowardice or something. . . I had this great painting professor at St. Edward’s named Hollis Hammonds. And she was the one who told me, "Your whole goal as an artist can just be to make beautiful objects." And that was when I finally felt permission to make what I wanted. . . . I want to make pieces that really engage the viewer and give them something they can enjoy. Because I think so much in life is really unenjoyable, in some aspects. There’s a lot of terrible things out there, and I don't want to put any more tortured things in the world. I don't even want them to be too challenging for people. I think there's enough of that. I make the work that I would want to walk into a gallery and see.
CM: What about the feeling I get, when I see your paintings, of wishing that I had the object instead of the copy? And feeling almost a little bit teased?
KB: Oh yeah! I think that's another unintended side effect of the work. A lot of people have said that. They also felt teased. But then I was like, Go get it!
CM: It’s in Austin!
KB: It’s in Austin! And if you're looking at it, you're probably in Austin. And if you're not, you should come here anyway!
FOOD PORN shows at the Salvage Vanguard Theater from April 27 - June 23. Admission is free. You can read more about all of Beeler’s projects on her website, www.kacibeeler.com; she also sells prints of her work at her Etsy store, Tasty Paintings. You can also read the rest of this interview, in which Beeler discusses her conflicting creative personae and reveals her next project, at Amy Gentry’s blog, The Oeditrix.