Kimberly M. Becoat is a contemporary mixed media artist whose work is a stylistic abstraction with a conceptual investigation of new materials and visual experiences with social commentary.
She uses a variety of art materials including acrylic paint, Sumi ink, and watercolor as well as less conventional items like sand, tar paper, foil, candy wrappers, and other detritus. Her most recent abstract & conceptual work is an investigation of urban environments meant to create “urban displacement”, such as in public housing – aimed to surgically remove “massive amounts of Blacks and Latinos” into designated forgotten pockets of city landscapes.
I want to say that speaking with Kimberly M. Becoat and working on this interview has brought a great amount of peace and power to what I am doing here with this magazine NEVAHBLACKDOWN. Kimberly is dedicated to changing the shape of the room and the discussions we have in them with her art. That in and of itself is what personifies an important artist. She doesn’t hide behind what society deems appropriate, she stands in front of it and defies being put into boxes and oversimplified descriptions. We as black women in this time need women like Kimberly M Becoat to hold court so we can all shine more powerfully! (KGR)
- WHAT WAS YOUR REASON FOR CHOOSING ART AS YOUR CREATIVE EXPRESSION IN LIFE? (CAREER)
Visual conversation that stands on its own without a soundtrack has always been attractive to me. I like “surveying”, studying people, things, spaces and serving as a conductor to the viewer about all of that in a cohesive visual narrative. Of course there are incredible visual artists that work in performance and sound/media that I love – but in the choosing of art as a career for me it was really about getting as much out of one piece sans anything else intruding that intimate connective act that made me choose it over the other career choices I was mulling at the time.
- SOCIAL COMMENTARY PLAYS AN IMPORTANT PART OF WHAT YOU PRODUCE AS A MIXED MEDIA ARTIST, WHY THIS PATH?
I think it’s important to investigate aspects of society – whether it is law or general popular group think that can be, flawed and yet revered and honored by some. Second, it’s an everyday experience for me as a Black person, as a Black woman, as a woman (which is different than a Black Woman), as an Artist that is Black and being a Black Woman that creates art! Those are all very different societal movements, which I have to circumvent or embrace in order to navigate – constantly in this world. There is also the third thing that will always happen when I’m working, and that is what comes out organically. I don’t ever intentionally say – “this work must have some social commentary or connection” – I’m more like a detective that’s intrigued by some cold case that hasn’t been solved. I like to look at empirical evidence and try to find various connections that haven’t been explored. That’s a path that is ALWAYS going to be wide open in terms of social commentary – and that’s what makes the conversations in my work and what others converse about looking at my work a fun and intriguing ride.
- WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE CLIMATE OF BLACK ARTISTIC EXPRESSION AT THIS PARTICULAR TIME?
Black artists continue to do what we have always done – to reflect the times as Nina Simone elegantly states – and even surpass the reflected times. Historically there is enough evidence that we’ve chosen to produce work beyond any labels or restrictions – and that’s important as well. The Black artists from the 70s and early 80s– when I look at their work- it is so very contemporary and open again ahead of its time- It set a high bar for anything produced after – I feel. So it’s exciting when I’m looking at my fellow Black artists to see how everyone has caught a bit of that era in their work unconsciously and how we are pushing to reach that level on our own terms. Whether it be a social bent or pushing aesthetics or both – it’s great to see it being done so fearlessly right now.
- DO YOU FEEL ART SUCH AS YOURS IS IMPORTANT TO STIMULATE THE MINDS AND HEARTS OF YOUNG PEOPLE OF COLOR IN AMERICA (TEACHING)
This is an interesting question – although I also teach Art to youth/teens of all colors but more Black & Brown youth in New York City demographically – I try to remove my art from the classroom setting in my lessons on purpose *laughing*- My work can be really intense to present to Black and Brown youth who already have so much weight to navigate emotionally as adolescents – However, this past summer working with my Alvin Ailey youth, was the first time I used my work in a lesson alongside other collage /abstract/ mixed medium Black artists. It was liberating! – They really connected to it – which is no easy feat as I’m mostly an abstract artist tackling all these substantial weighty issues. Teens are unforgiving (laughing) and beautifully honest and authentic in their reactions. What I learned from this summer was that they needed to know that beyond our off-book conversations (which I have a lot of with youth) about the happenings in the world – that there are also healthy ways to explore/release and stay grounded and be socially aware. One’s voice can be loud in other ways. Art does that.
Even if it’s just to get “quiet” – being still and giving room for your ideas to breathe and manifest is a revolutionary act for Black and Brown youth. So much of how the Black body moves is reactive to what others are doing to us, that to see youth sitting and creating for an hour is more inspiring to me than my Art specifically being shown to them – but an honor nonetheless.
- WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF AND YOUR ART IN THE NOT SO DISTANT FUTURE?
I like working in a series – I have a few of them going on that I come back to. Right now, I’m working on some pieces called “High Cotton” that I started about 2 years ago – and have jumped back into for an upcoming exhibition this Fall/Winter – digging into the cotton industry in the North. My “Urbania” series is ongoing as there are so many things to look at regarding housing but also the memory of growing up in New York City Housing so this series will go for a while – and there’s another project I’m working on that is a secret! (laughing) that will be having its first exhibition in 2019 which I’ve been toying with for a good while too that I’m really excited about.
As for me – I look forward to putting my passport to good use next year – with some long overdue travel.
- DO YOU HAVE ANY MENTORS OR ARTISTS YOU LOOK UP TO FOR GUIDANCE AND INSPIRATION? IF SO WE’D LOVE TO KNOW THEM.
Most certainly!- I have a long list of artists that serve as mentors in my head but here’s a few that fuel me in the studio – Jack Whitten, MacArthur Binion, Howardena Pindell, Ed Clark, Alma Thomas, David Hammons, Alice Neal, Roy DeCarava, Romare Bearden, Mark Bradford, Barbara Chase- Riboud, Betye Saar, and Beverley Buchanan – these are just a few.
- HOW DID YOU FEEL PRESENTING YOUR WORK “WELCOME TO URBANIA” AT YOUR SOLO EXHIBITION EARLIER THIS YEAR! 2018
My “Welcome to Urbania” solo exhibit was such a great moment of this year for me – I am so glad that I really took the time to absorb the emotional aspect of it all. Sometimes as an artist one gets so into all the details; finishing of the work, installing, organizing back information, that when the moment comes – we don’t take pause to revel in it. Oshun Layne, the curator of the exhibit was the perfect person to partner with on this show – we took a lot of time whittling down about 20 pieces (yes there are a lot of pieces in the Welcome to Urbania series) to a solid 8 and an installation game piece called “Skelly” – a homage to the street game I used to play as a kid, very popular in Black & Brown culture. The Urbania is very dear to me in so many ways – it’s a history of me – growing up in public housing – it’s also a history of the dynamics behind housing projects architecturally and the people that dwell there in plain sight yet are seemingly more invisible especially in large cities as the years go by. It also speaks to redlining and gentrification – but also a culture created within the projects from things we used to eat too, games we used to play. If anyone wanted to get insight into who I am and how my work is created, that exhibition would be a nice intro. I look forward to many more opportunities to show solo work that strong.
- WHAT DOES THE PHRASE NEVAH BLACK DOWN STIR UP IN YOU:)?
Nevah Black Down to me stirs up a battle call to stay /stand/ authentically and unapologetically in ones own CLEAR definition of Blackness. Black people are not a monolith. We cover the spectrum – and in these times we need the totality of that spectrum to participate and Nevah Black Down!
9. KIMBERLY M. BECOAT IS: just getting started.
Kimberly has been featured in a number of exhibits including her most recent solo exhibition, Welcome to Urbania at RUSH Arts Gallery NY, and her solo exhibit, New Abstractions at Essie Green Galleries, Capital One Bank in NY, BAMart at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, MoCADA Museum, (The Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, the Deutsche Bank as well as the television shows, Netflix Original Series “Luke Cage” and the FX series, The Americans.
A few other exhibitions include: Dadaesque, 701 CCA Gallery (Columbia, South Carolina), Respond, SMACK Mellon Gallery, (Brooklyn, NY) Honoring Romare Bearden, The Corridor Gallery (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Crown Heights Gold, Skylight Gallery, Brooklyn, New York, and Dirty Sensibilities: A 21st Century Exploration of the New American Black South, at the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute, New York, NY
Kimberly is a native New Yorker, born in Harlem NY – and presently resides and works as an artist in Brooklyn, NY.
MORE INFO: KIMBERLY M. BECOAT