Briefly describe the work that you do.
I paint to discover and imagine our intimate relationship with the environment in an abstract form. My paintings are an intersection of bodily senses, memory and process. Influenced by phenomenology, my studio practice seeks to manifest physical sensations through abstract painting.
At what point in your life did you decide to become an artist?
I didn’t paint with oil until I was 20 years old. When I was growing up I did a lot of observing, drawing and writing, but I never imagined that I would become an artist. I switched my major from pre-med to art in undergrad because my first oil painting class challenged me more than any other previous course. I chose to become an artist due to the questions that art raises. I am constantly engaged by my work in the studio and by my attempts to translate and develop a visual experience for others.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I grew up in the suburbs of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Like many other Minnesotans, my summers were spent up North at my family’s lake cabin. My mom would often wake us in the middle of the night to sneak down the stairs toward the big empty mouth of the lake to swim. We would slide our feet over the worn wood of the dock and sink silently into the liquid embrace of the water. Since 2008, my research has been focused on translating this corporeal experience of swimming at night.
The heightened awareness of my senses in those dark moments helped me to recognize the intimate relationship between the interior and exterior world. The millions of stars lit overhead accentuated my smallness. Water slipping and sliding over my limbs until I no longer understood where my body began and the lake ended negated previously understood boundaries. The hum of the world reverberated quietly through the lapping of the water in my ears. In my studio, the progression of each painting draws on sensual traces and visual structures of these remembrances for imagery and color. My work speaks to a kinesthetic understanding of our body in space; it captures an awareness and connectedness to materiality, light and pressure that we all possess, but at times fail to recognize amidst the background noise.
What types of conceptual concerns are present in your work? How do those relate to the specific process(es) or media you use?
I am interested in phenomenology, as well as Lacan’s Mirror Theory. My conceptual concerns investigate the boundaries and relationships between self, other and place. Some literature that feeds my work includes Gaston Bachelardʼs The Poetics of Space, David Abram’s Spell of the Sensuous, Yi Fu Tuanʼs Space and Place, and John Deweyʼs Art as Experience. Boundaries are an essential part of the visual structure in my paintings. These boundaries include imagery that suggest horizon lines, the surface of
the water, and bodily movement through receding marks. My approach to painting is to work with layers, often wiping down and pulling away the oil and or acrylic paint to reveal the trace of the paint’s edges below. I play with color temperature and saturation to develop and negate spatial relationships. I also use tape to create hard foreground shapes that often act as “anchors” in the work for the viewer.
We once heard Chuck Close say he did not believe in being inspired, rather in working hard everyday. What motivates you in your studio practice?
What motivates me as an artist is being actively engaged in the world. Being a “maker” requires one to investigate and intentionally respond to one’s surroundings. If I am in a “slump,” reading, writing and going to look at art often helps me figure out my next move in the studio.
What artists living or non-living influence your work?
I appreciate many artists, including Claire Sherman, Tomory Dodge, Lisa Sanditz, Peter Doig, Amy Sillman, Ann Hamilton, David Schnell, Fra Angelico and Richard Diebenkorn.
When you are not making art what types of activities and interests do you engage in?
I enjoy teaching (art!), hiking, camping, drinking coffee, reading, running, yoga and eating food with friends and family.
Betsy Byers holds a Master of Fine Arts in Visual Studies with an emphasis in painting from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. She received her B.A. from St. Olaf College and her k-12 Art Education Licensure from St. Catherine University. Byers is currently an Assistant Professor at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN. Before arriving at Gustavus, she taught at MCAD, St. Catherine University and St. Cloud State University. Betsy’s work has been shown both nationally and internationally. She has exhibited at the Minnesota Museum of American Art, De Vos Art Museum, Hillstrom Museum of Art, University of Connecticut, Intermedia Arts, Guilford Art Center, The Soap Factory, Burnet Gallery in the Le Méridien Chambers Hotel, Augsburg College, and University of Minnesota Morris. Byers was awarded a 2009 Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant and a Jerome Foundation Grant for a month-long residency at the New York Mills Cultural Art Center. Byers was featured in the film Painting the Place Between, produced in 2013 by Carbon Mouse Studios. She is represented by the Kolman & Pryor Gallery and has an upcoming exhibition at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.