Call it the ‘luck of my draw’, in 1956 I won Ms. Bobbitt’s 4th grade, Eastwood Elementary School art-class competition. My prize was a fieldtrip to visit Thomas Hart Benton’s Kansas City mural “Trading At Westport Landing”. The painting’s soaring scene of Red Men dealing with White traders showed me how an artist could make paint say something important.
It was at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City that I saw Benton’s work again. To my good fortune Mr. Benton was in the rotunda that day touching-up ‘Frankie’s’ red dress. The Depression era, larger-than-life mural of bootleggers, gangsters and prostitutes was so mesmerizing that I almost jumped out of my skin when Benton handed me a brush and said, “Go ahead. Fill the dress in.”
It wasn’t until much later, when I needed to use creative talents for a payday, that my artistic mentor, Josephine (Jo) Cook, sat down to critique a few of my watercolors. I was sending the samples to various commercial art departments throughout the country. But Ms. Cook said that no, I needn’t bother. She had a brother who was a cartoonist at the Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank, California.
By the time I found myself on the West Coast, Walt had gone on to that big theme-park in the sky. I was just another Ugly Beverly, a corn-fed greenhorn from the Midwest who thought she knew-it-all. I was handed a mind-numbing job nobody else wanted, filling-in Minnie’s red dress, again and again and again...
It didn’t take long to say ‘bye-bye’ to Mickey and ‘hello’ to a Summer of Love in San Francisco. When I wasn’t a pumpkin painting bumpkin on the corner, I was helping design concert posters for Big Brother and The Holding Company.
Since then, I’ve stumbled on and off stage in the world of beauty pageants, slid down Central American pyramids, sorted scarabs in Little Egypt, stroked sofas on TV, and earned an MA @ UT to teach art to thousands of all ages.
Reviewers and critics have described my work as ‘eye-popping’ and ‘Disney-fied.’ Yet, I find that my oils on canvas are more than screaming upside-down, inside-out point-of-view statements or cross-eyed observations of societal norms and women’s issues that shouldn’t be. As I age and wage an on-going battle with Parkinson’s disease, filling in another red dress comes easier and easier. Now, I know my paint is saying something.
To view more of my artwork, visit www.beverlyakemp.com.