IN CONVERSATION WITH VANESSA BEECROFT
EMMA ROBERTSON IN CONVERSATION WITH ARTIST VANESSA BEECROFT,
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE TALKS.
Ms. Beecroft, when did you first become interested in the female form?
There was always this obsession of female representation in me. When I was growing up in Malcesine on Lake Garda, Italy, there was a group of girls living close by and together we would draw images of our dolls with red hair, freckles, green eyes. They were supposed to be like photographs and they even had captions... We drew several of these photo albums every single day for three or four years. That was the first time I was very conscious of the fact that I was only interested in girls and women in terms of representation. Even when I went to art school, I was fascinated by the nude models. But in Italy at that time, there was a lot of censorship towards figurativism so that made things difficult.
Is that why your early work featured mostly live models instead of hand-drawn or sculpted figures?
Yes, at the time, I was very young and I felt that if I wanted to have an impact on society and in the art world, using those skills like drawing or sculpting, I couldn’t. I wasn’t able to because of this censorship of non-conceptual art in the early nineties. If you practiced any kind of figurativism, you were deemed some sort of nihilistic and conservative artist. I did not want to do that, so I immediately constrained myself and decided not to.
Installation view at the Pio Pico, Los Angeles (2018) Photos by Federico Spadoni
But these days your work has represented the female form in clay, bronze, marble, and drawings. Are you now consciously exploring all the mediums you neglected when you were younger?
Well, to be honest, these all just happen randomly. The marble was a consequence of plaster. The plaster pieces were a consequence of a show I did in Palermo, Sicily when I was asked to leave something tangible behind after a performance I’d done; so I created these casts of women which were placed next to the real women in the performance. In Los Angeles, there was only clay, so I decided to mold them. But I think these are all the same girls, just made from different materials. And obviously it’s a Vanessa Beecroft girl because you can recognize certain traits and a certain common denominator that is autobiographical.
Jeffrey Deitch once said that you always put the girls who look a bit like you in the front row of your performances.
Yes! He said, “Vanessa, the girl in the center is not necessarily the most beautiful, the most attractive, or the tallest but it’s always the girl that has elements of you. You always put your alter ego in the center!” And I didn’t really know that. It’s all a bit unconscious. But I’ve realized that even when the women in my show are black or even if they are men, the figure, the main character is me. They all look like Beecrofts! (Laughs)
Even the expressions on your clay faces seem to match the expressions of the models in your performances. Is that on purpose?
Not on purpose. When I made the clay heads for my show at Pio Pico, I went back to certain skills that I learned at school like drawing, painting, sculpting… I put the nose, the eyes, the mouth — and all of a sudden, they all look the same. It is funny. I thought maybe since I hadn’t drawn or sculpted for so long, these faces keep coming out like a compulsive pathology. Some people even say, “Oh, they just look like you with that expression.” Maybe tomorrow I would be able to draw a tree, but at the moment I am unable to represent anything else but the human form.
Would you say that their expression is a reflection of how you feel?
It’s probably different elements. My mother and I moved from England to Italy when I was very young and I never saw my father again until I was 6 years old. I was raised in a village in Italy where I didn’t really identify much, we looked very different to the people around us and I felt like a stranger most of my life. So the Beecroft that I represent in these sculptures… I’ve never asked myself this, but maybe I’m trying to represent something I’ve missed all those years.