Artist Bartholomew Beal is one of Britain’s brightest new talents. Here he reveals the creative ideas behind his striking work. Words: Vicky Mayer
Behind the doors of a nondescript warehouse in the London borough of Lewisham lies the studio of rising star Bartholomew Beal. Like the man himself, it’s filled with energy, and a body of work that art fans around the world are adding to their collections. Not bad for a 25-year-old who only graduated from Wimbledon College of Art three years ago. Here, he shares the secrets of his success.
Good painting needs confidence so I start my work on a small canvas then if I’m pleased with what I’ve got, I go for it. I come from a literary family (both my parents are English teachers) and find that literature helps me with a starting point. In the past I have created a series of paintings around The Wasteland and I’m currently using King Lear as inspiration. Literature always gives me an extra reason to paint and a good point to start at.
Most of my paintings feature bearded men. There’s something dramatic about them. Some of the world’s most famous men – God, Jesus, Dumbledore – all have beards and the men in my work have a sense of drama and history. By painting a man on his own, it’s up to the individual to decide what the story is and everyone has a different interpretation of my work. I love that and also the fact that starting with literature, each piece of work has an extra dimension to it.
My subjects are solitary and melancholic. Like a play, they always seem to be in the middle of the canvas. I have tried pushing them to the sides but it doesn’t seem to work. I love working with big spaces and smaller figures, so sometimes I make the figures smaller to make the painting even more dramatic.
I find my models everywhere and anywhere. Sometimes I stop people in the street and take a photo of them but I also go to the theatre a lot and often find someone with an interesting face in a play. I also use friends and family in my paintings too. I do paint women, but older men with beards seem to be my signature style.
I love big, bright colours and want people to almost step into my paintings. I think bold colours give my work real energy. They also give them individual character. My paintings have been compared to those of Francis Bacon, Peter Doig and even Rothko, which I love, as I really admire their work.
I also love Antony Micaleff, Adrian Ghenie and Nigel Cooke.
I was the youngest artist to exhibit at the Fine Arts Society with my show, A Heap of Broken Images, and I knew I had to produce a work of art that deserved the space they’d given me so I worked from early in the morning till late at night. I’m ambitious and I work hard but there’s still so much luck involved in the art world. Some of my best friends are artists and damned good ones; they just haven’t had a solo show that’s got them noticed.
When I’m not feeling inspired I go to galleries, watch rugby or throw a frisbee around but at the moment I am working really hard on new work for my forthcoming exhibitions. I have two shows coming up in London and I will also be exhibiting in New York in May. I haven’t been there since I was 16 and I can’t wait to return.