Art Beat: Briana Bedwell talks death, individuality and dreams

Sager Braudis Gallery Director Hannah Reeves: “She combines media in a really fresh-feeling and interesting way. We hadn’t seen much like her work.”

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“I am not like others.”

These words of artist Ralph Steadman’s are tattooed above artist and spray painter Briana Bedwell’s right knee. The brutal tangle of ink divulges and distorts a fanged creature that accompanies Bedwell’s colorful, personal decoration.

Joel Sager, owner of Sager Braudis Gallery, first noticed Bedwell’s captivating work via Instagram. The Sager Braudis Gallery soon made her an offer for five pieces, and her work was shown in its summer exhibit ending August 1.

“She combines media in a really fresh-feeling and interesting way,” the gallery’s Art Director Hanna Reeves said. “We hadn’t seen much like her work. Her work never seemed derivative or heavily influenced. It feels very new and uninhibited.”

“Weird Men” is the collection Sager Braudis Gallery now owns originals from, and the little men are indeed weird. Bedwell’s work pictures small figures with cartoonish and expressive faces in a portrait style. With wrinkly eyes, double chins and some whimsical party hats, each subject evokes a charming yet disturbed emotion. Bedwell uses fine point Sharpie and spray paint to capture them.

Bedwell’s been drawing since she was 16. The mastery of crucial details in her creatures came with time, which she had plenty of growing up in O’Fallon, Missouri.

“It’s literally the worst place in the entire world,” Bedwell said. “I spent eight years of my life at Waffle House. I would go to drink coffee and smoke cigarettes because there was nothing to do. In O’Fallon all you do is go to parks, smoke weed and smoke cigarettes and if someone’s parents are gone for the night there’s a party at their house.”

The boredom of a suburban town of 84,000 afforded her the leisure of acting on her creativity. Bedwell has struggled with depression and anxiety from a young age. Art became and is now an outlet for her to free herself when depression entraps her.

Though Bedwell continues to combat the illnesses today, she can recount the harsher days when death consumed her thoughts. Depression and anxiety exacerbate a person’s paranoia and general worry, often amplifying individuals’ fear of the inevitable, according to MentalHealth.gov. The mortality of her friends, mom and self plagued her mind.

Through trial and error, medication was able to end the fixation. Yet through it all, whether in a cheap diner or on her roof porch in CoMo where she resides, drawing gives Bedwell motivation to escape depression’s debilitating claws.

“When I’m really feeling it and I’m sitting in my room staring at the ceiling, I think: I could be making art right now instead of just sitting here,” Bedwell said. “And sometimes I do get up and force myself to do something. Sometimes I won’t even like it and throw it away but I least I got up and did something.”

The faces of the subjects in her drawings reveal a particular, ominous and almost foreboding perspective. Bedwell embodies a unique strength because of her previous intimate relationship with dissolution and darkness that manifests itself in her art.

“The first thing I do when I start drawing is make a face,” Bedwell said. “Always faces. Sometimes when I see people, maybe this is mean, but if they look out of the ordinary I’ll get an idea by the way that their face looks.”

The pieces from “Weird Men” are undeniably haunting, and that isn’t by mistake. The unsettling and intriguing feeling that accompanies her art stems from Bedwell’s experiences with gloom. If faces are the window to the soul, Bedwell has both a sense of humor and a boundless and bizarre imagination.

“I like haunting shit; I like weird shit; I like old shit,” Bedwell said. “I have a bunch of animal skulls I like to collect. And you know, people say, ‘Aw I don’t care what other people think about me,’ but it’s hard to not wonder.”

By sporting half blue and half purple hair and by also being a woman, Bedwell gets noticed. Mace and a taser arm her handbag as a result. Men are the subject of most of her work, and often the source of unwanted attention.

“I want to get ‘Leave me the f**** alone’ tattooed on my forehead. My dad was physically abusive towards me so men have been always scary — not scary, but …,” Bedwell said. “I’ve always been super aware of my surroundings. Thinking about that it makes me want to draw a series of men who have harassed me.”

Bedwell remains unafraid and will continue making art that proves it.

Edited by Claire Colby | ccolby@themaneater.com

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