Beau Stanton Talks the LoMan Art Festival
Ron English's former protégé talks conquering walls and the alchemy of his process.
Photos courtesy of Beau Stanton
There’s an aspect of time travel to Beau Stanton‘s artwork. Stitching the past with the present, his paintings and murals radiate with a familiar antiquity and a loyal sailor’s sense of tried-and-true. The California-born, Brooklyn-based artist mixes the nautical with the art historical, the corporeal with the celestial, the ornamental with the earthen.
We recently caught up with Stanton just ahead of the LoMan Art Festival, curated by the L.I.S.A Project. We discussed his participation in the city’s first-ever downtown mural festival, the alchemy of image making, and conquering walls by learning the hard way.
Mass Appeal: You’ve collaborated previously with the L.I.S.A Project. Was it an absolute no-brainer then to participate in LoMan?
Beau Stanton: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, [founder] Wayne [Rada] does great things, and when he told me that this was coming about, I was excited to be involved.
You’re actually already part of L.I.S.A Project lore, right? In 2012, you helped Ron English complete the Temper Tot mural in Little Italy only hours before Hurricane Sandy hit.
Right. Yeah. That was sort of a high-pressure situation. [Laughs] We sort of had no choice but to keep going until it was finished because we didn’t think it was going to be accessible for a while.
Wayne and company seem to have a thoughtful approach to folding in all the different creative narrative that are occurring out in the streets. They have curated street artists, graf writers, and someone like yourself, whose practice sometimes includes walls and murals.
Yeah. I think that is definitely intentional. That curation is based on different backgrounds, styles, and approaches to working publicly. Like you said, I don’t consider myself a street artist. However, I do make a regular practice out of painting murals. So, I have a foot in that world, but you know I’m not a graf writer or a street artist that does work mostly in public spaces. So yeah, they keep it interesting and it definitely makes for a more interesting outcome in general.
What’s the appeal of working in public spaces, and what have you had to learn the hard way by doing it?
The appeal is the interaction, the public interaction. So while I’m mid-process, there’s people walking by, sometimes people stop to chat with me. Some people are interested. Some people aren’t. Some people are really thrilled with what I’m doing. Some might not be. But, it’s really satisfying to have that immediate connection with people and also to do something that people see everyday. You know a lot of times, the people that cross my path while I’m working on the mural, that’s their commute home or to work, so it’s something that they are going to be seeing almost everyday. It’s good to kind of gauge the public response and also actually talk to the people that are going to be interacting with your work on a regular basis.
The learning the hard way part? For me, I think the technique was a trial-and-error thing, because I’ve worked as long as I can remember painting on a small scale and working in oil and acrylic and doing a lot of stuff really small. When it came time to expand that technique and work outdoors and work on walls, that was something that required a lot of experimentation and just practice in general. So, that was learning the hard way. And also, [before] I was talking about about how pleasant it can be interacting with people while you’re working. Sometimes, [laughs] it’s not so pleasant. I had to kinda understand how to manage those. It’s kind of like being a New Yorker. You already know how to do that.
It’s true. That’s a skill honed while taking the subway. Is your design set at this point for the Festival? Or is it still revealing itself to you?
I did create a mock-up. I usually do it digitally. I create a visual collage out of some of my existing work, plus reference and other things. That’s what I use as somewhat of a starting point. But, of course, it changes throughout the process as I approach the wall and as I have to respond to the environment, and the wall itself, and the paint that I have, and all that.
How much leeway is there within your process for that on-the-spot inspiration?
There’s actually a lot. I usually have an image in mind, so it’s not going to change too much in the overall, I guess, main theme of what the piece is. It is generally going to stick to that. However, the way that the elements within the image interact and the overall composition sometimes has to expand out or may have to be curtailed depending on what I’m doing.
Color is a totally different animal, because depending on how I start to build up layers, it can completely change. Sometimes, I’m not even totally sure what the color outcomes are going to be like until the end because of just the way transparent layers are interacting with opaque layers beneath and all that kind of stuff.
That’s the beauty of it, no? That you can still be surprised as it’s happening?
Absolutely. I think it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun if it was just handsome colors that I picked and it just materialized.
Overall, I have to say I’m super curious as to the sort of alchemy of your process.
Totally. I call it that too. I’m obsessed with the alchemy of image making and painting. I’m all about it.
So do you have a habitual way into process? Do you typically begin from the same starting point?
Yeah. I’ve been mixing it up a little lately. I used to start out by really watering down house paint and using a roller and sort of creating a texture by dripping a few different colors over each other, which will create sort of those vertical drippy lines, and then it sorta melds together a little bit. It creates a texture that is pretty random. So then when I go on top of that with the overall design line work, it has something interesting already going on beneath it. Then I start to add color, and I can push and pull it and manipulate with shading and weathering and all that. It all starts to come together. I like to start with randomness first to bring it all together. It all depends on the situation. The last few walls I did were more reigned in. It really does depend on the texture of the wall, the location of the wall, the size—all that stuff.
I know you’ll sometimes use a computer projection of your sketch on the wall while you are working. Is that always the case? Do you use it in the same way that you use screen printing as a guide for the geometric patterns of your design when in the studio?
No. Those are definitely tools that I use, but definitely not every time. Again, it depends on the situation. So, typically if it’s a really large wall and projection isn’t practical, I usually just use string and nails, which is what I use to get my circles and arcs. Then it’s all free-handed. The Little Italy mural I did for the L.I.S.A Project previously, I did use a projector on that one because it made a lot of sense. As murals get larger or if those circle elements are large enough to do with a string compass, then it just makes sense for me to just do it that way than with the other technique.
Photo courtesy of Rey Rosa Photography
A lot of people draw their line in the sand when it comes to street art versus writing. You are a person I always bring up in those conversations, because, again, you are not quite a street artist nor are you vying for what writers are after and the bulk of your work is free-hand. You exist in your own category of “other.”
I appreciate that. Yeah, and doing it by hand is just really my preferred method. I will use spraypaint from time to time for speed, but I really prefer a brush in my hand. It’s just a lot sexier—if that makes any sense—to be pulling a line with a brush than having a mask and using a spraycan. It’s just not my style. But, I’ll actually be using spraypaint on this wall for LoMan. I like to have as many techniques in my toolbox as possible. There are some things that I like to use as much as possible and then there are some things I have in reserve just in case the situation requires it.
Like a ninja.
Totally. I used to be much more of a purist about things, and now I think it’s just foolish not to use every technique and technology available to get the desired effect because it’s not easy [laughs] so you might as well not make it any harder on yourself. If there is a way of making it more efficient or you can simply make a better piece of art, then you should take advantage of it.
Would you say that you are bewitched by process?
Yeah. I think so. I’m pretty obsessed with process. I’m always trying new processes and new techniques in the studio and outdoors. You know, we were talking about alchemy: I definitely think that there is an alchemy to image making, and I’m always trying to tap into more of that secret knowledge.
Beau Stanton’s LoMan mural will be located at 3rd Street and 2nd Ave.