The Bold, Abstract Portraits of Messy Beck in SF

Alex Mak, Broke-Ass Stuart, February 18, 2021
Exploring the human figure, sexuality and identity, with a bold, earthy palette and a cubist touch, Messy Beck does portraiture that is thought provoking, memorable and unique.  There’s always something both pleasant and troubling in the eyes her subjects, the way she composes the human form allows the viewer to see humanity through abstraction, and wonder what the small compositional details, might reveal about us, or her.  So meet Messy Beck, as she toys with abstraction and realism in San Francisco…

I’m a sophisticated graduate with a BFA or FUCK art school!
Sophisticated graduate with a BFA in criminology?? But also fuck art school.

What was your first job in the Bay Area?
Preschool Art Teacher

What’s your most recent favorite project?
The Good Vibrations mural was pretty awesome. It was on 5th and market so there was a lot of foot traffic, mostly from the house-less community. Everyone wanted to chat. Whether to comment on the mural, ask questions or talk about their life stories. When you’re used to painting in the isolation of your studio, you forget about the impact art can have on others. It was such a powerful reminder of how art still has the potential to bring people together in a really organic way.

How big are your paintings? Anywhere from 2 to 4 ft. 4 ft being the limit because it’s the biggest canvas that fits in my car and quite frankly, stretching canvas is not my strong suit.

What is a messy b pussy t? When Trump was elected I painted 25 t-shirts the day before the Women’s March and sold them to my friends to raise money for Planned Parenthood. Since then, we’ve (me and friends along the way) raised thousands for Planned Parenthood through these sales. I’m currently moving away from this design as I’m discovering the gender binary is so… last decade! That’s living and learning in art and activism though.

Tell us about his beautiful mural you did for paint the void
It’s actually inspired by my friend Pepper. For me it represents the people that have breathed life into a year full of breathlessness. 

Is there a name for your style? Seems to have elements of cubism, and maybe some Matisse/impressionism sprinkled in.  Your use of light in portraiture is pretty special.

Not that I know of? I began learning portraiture from replicating photographs, which in my opinion got boring really quickly. I have no interest in capturing the likeness of someone. I feel like it limits our reaction to a piece to feelings about the individual represented.  I like being inspired by people and extrapolating outward so those portraits become abstracted into no one and everyone simultaneously. For the past two years I’ve been toying with the line between abstraction and realism. It’s a line that seems to be constantly shifting.

Any SF artists you think are particularly outstanding right now? @orliegrams is a recent favorite of mine. Her work is beautiful, minimalist, and fun – striking a unique balance between colorful positivity and critical reflection. 

Did Good vibrations pay you with money or trade?
This was actually a piece organized through Paint the Void so..  neither. Although I’m a big fan of Good Vibrations, and a lot of my work has to do with female sexual empowerment, so being paired with them was a lovely surprise.

Favorite street art right now?
Honestly the murals for paint the void are pretty special. As someone who has been commissioned by them, I know the artists aren’t really turning a profit, so it’s an important reminder of who’s left behind investing in this city when shit hits the fan. 

How do you think the SF art scene has changed over the years? I think it has been a pretty disappointing development, honestly. I think people still move here with the notion of it being a super creative place, but the more tech and money that moved in, the less the art scene and artists have actually been invested in. Creatives have been pushed out due to soaring rent prices and creativity became much more manufactured. For example, I’ve seen so many restaurants and bars who’s attempt at “edginess” was often reduced to exposed iron beams and mason jars. The fact that there has been more color on the streets since lockdown began (and big tech fled) than in the past 10 years speaks volumes. 

What’s coming up for you?
I’m currently working as a creative producer for a big virtual show. It has taken me away from painting for the past month, but this year has been all about striking a balance between desperately creating for my well-being, activism and money and finding other streams of income that allow that creativity to flourish. This balance constantly ebbs and flows and requires many negotiations with myself about what it means to be an “artist”. But at the end of the day, whether it’s your side job, full-time gig, weekend jam or nightly wind-down, if you’re making, you’re an artist, and there’s no “right way” to pursue that.