February is Black History Month and I thought I’d take this time to celebrate and recognize a phenomenal artist who just happens to be someone I admire and deeply respect.
Recently appointed to the California Arts Council by Governor Jerry Brown, Pheobe Beasley 71, has been an artist and the owner of Phoebe Beasley Art Studio since 1975. She was a senior account manager at KFI-AM and KOST-FM from 1970 to 1999 and was a layout artist at Sage Productions from 1969 to 1970. Beasley was a high school art teacher for the Cleveland, Ohio Board of Education from 1965 to 1969. She is a member of the Ebell of Los Angeles and the Trusteeship, a Southern California Chapter of the International Women’s Forum. Beasley is long time Los Angeles County Arts Commissioner, the United Negro College Fund Los Angeles Advisory Board and the Transportation Foundation of Los Angeles Board
I had the honor of meeting her in my mid 20’s when I organized an event for kids in the Oakwood area of Venice. Ms. Beasley was the guest speaker for the event. However she was already friends with my grandparents.
Her artwork is collected by a list of who’s who in America and throughout the world including President and Mrs. Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby and the late Maya Angelou just to name a few.
For this acclaimed yet humble and down to earth artist, Ms. Beasley art is more than pleasing to the eye and her attention to detail is incredible.
“A lot of what I do is in celebration of those who came before me. It’s almost like I need to tell a story and the best for me to do that is through my work.” She says
Her latest work of art is a bust of President Obama which is a part a national touring exhibit “Visons of our 44th President. She’s one of 44 artists commissioned to create a one of a kind bust of our President which will end as a permanent exhibit at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit Michigan.
“We had heroes and she-roes before President Obama and for me it was Shirley Chisolm. This was in 1972 Congresswoman Shirley Chisolm of New York, Unbossed and unbought ran for President. It wasn’t just Shirley Chisolm, it was also the civil rights act of 1964. It was the desegregation of the armed forces by President Truman. It was Thurgood Marshall. I wanted that to be part of my narrative that I was telling a history of how this face got to be so immortalized.” she explained
Her “Angel Virtue” sculptures are on permanent display in Downtown Los Angeles and she is the only artists in history to have the Presidential Seal on her artwork twice. She was commissioned to do the official artwork of President George H. Bush and a model print for President Bill Clinton, yet this humble woman still finds time to volunteer for youth at Hillsides in Pasadena.
“Phoebe Beasley gives substance to the phrase creative artist if indeed the phrase isn’t redundant. As a painter, her eye is sharp and quick. She sees human beings, our foibles, frailties and strengths and she cares about what she sees. I have watched her over the past twenty years use gouache, watercolor, tissue paper and oil to tell the human story of friends sitting at tables sharing jokes, of workers waiting at bus stops and musicians expressing their soulful melodies. She has shown us how we look when we have been assailed by grief. Her eye has captured and her art has revealed the grace in angular teenagers and the composure of sleeping old women.” Maya Angelo
“In order to understand where you’re going, you need to know where you’ve been. For me it was important for me to celebrate my heritage.” Beasley said “The connection is, if we don’t have art in part of our lives. If we don’t celebrate our art, our culture, we are missing such a big part of our lives.”