|Festival Loretta Bebeau
W: How did you get started on your current body of work in the exhibit "We the People?"
The paintings for "W
e the People" evolved from earlier work that I've done with text, but also came naturally by way of how I choose topics to explore in my work. I start my projects by assessing where I am in my life and what I need to say at the time I begin a new project.
I grew up in a small town in western North Dakota where there's not much diversity. I started to think about how I wanted to show my appreciation for the rich experiences I have had while living in the Twin Cities. I've had the good fortune to make friends with many different types of people here.
KW: You are a second-generation immigrant. What personal experiences or circumstances have most influenced your work?
While teaching art at an alternative school I met many immigrant teenagers who learned English in foreign refugee camps. They didn't remember much of their original vernacular, and never learned how to write in their native
language. Their experience reminded me of my family history. I was raised in a bi-lingual household. My family spoke a language based on German, combined with Yiddish and Russian. My parents and my grandparents spoke the language, but no one taught the language to the children. It is not pure German, and therefore is unique to our family culture.
That language, like so many languages of immigrant people, will be lost as our elders pass away. I began to research languages common to this area and contacted Minneapolis Public Schools as a resource. I've also
made friends in the Native American community.
|General Meeting_ Loretta Bebeau
My series of paintings include two Native languages and nine languages from Africa, along with several European languages. This spectrum corresponds to the settlement of Minnesota and to the heritage of the United States. Swahili, Somali, and Oromo were the first African languages I included, t
hen I researched early colonial days to discover Yoruba and Zulu.
KW: You focus on local immigrant people's experience. What is the reason for choosing the word "health?"
LB: I chose the word "health" because it is a positive word, a word that we can unite around. I wanted the celebration of diversity that could be interpreted as a wish for the future.
Interestingly, I discovered that each culture conveys the wish for health in a different manner. Many Native American languages don't have the word "health"; they use the word "wisdom." The Hmong language uses a phrase to communicate "health" according to the situation.
This concept stymied me at first, but t
he spokesperson at the Minneapolis School District pointed out that the mix of phrases and words would convey stronger and deeper meaning.
KW: Describe your process of gathering handprints and written text.
LB: The handprints came about almost accidentally. Beginning in 2013 during Open Streets NE, and for three consecutive summers, I set up a table on Central Avenue and invited people to trace their hands. Open Streets NE seemed to be an inviting and inclusive event. At first, people were suspicious of me, but now most participants see it as an interesting project and want to contribute their written language, especially if they see it's missing from my paintings.
In 2011, I received a Minnesota State Arts Board grant to create nine paintings using 27 languages. Since then, I've continued collecting and researching languages. Currently I have worked with 53 languages of Twin Cities' residents.
Two of my large paintings using the languages and hand tracings were exhibited in 2015 in "
," the store-front display project on Hennepin Avenue.
|Immersed Loretta Bebeau
KW: Talk about your choice of materials.
LB: "We the People" features paintings on canvas and photo documentary of my working process.
KW: I like what you say in your artist statement about working with Sheetrock :
"Sheetrock is a marginal material. It has value and it has no value, it's important for building shelter but not as home decoration. It offers duplicity, of attraction and repulsion, amazement and distrust, and it allows me to play with that tension in my art."
LB: I work between projects, using Sheetrock that is reclaimed.
I prime it, paint it, then stencil or draw on it. It allows me to experiment freely without the mental restrictions that arrive with clean canvas or clean paper. The experimentation often leads to new and interesting discoveries. Sheetrock is a material with magic properties. It sets off the rejection modality, creating
a tension within the viewer.
KW: You moved your studio out of the Warehouse District in 2003. What brought you to Northeast?
My studio building on Washington Avenue North was sold and the new owners wanted the artists out. Fortunately, I met someone who knew about a space available in Northrup King Building. I'd gone to the early Art-A-Whirl events, so I was familiar with the area. Initially I moved my work
into a storage space in NKB. A few years later I bought a house and planted roots in NE. I've moved three times within the NKB and finally have my own studio.
Loretta Bebeau is former President and Board Member of NEMAA. She exhibits her work locally and nationally, notably The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and The Armory Show in New York, NY. Bebeau participates in open studios on First Thursdays and Art-A-Whirl. Visit her at the Northrup King Building #343 and at: