BY Ren Ebel in Exhibition Reviews | 31 MAY 24

Must-See: Kelly Beeman Dreams of Suburbia

In a new exhibition at Perrotin, Paris, the artist's ethereal paintings lure the viewer into a realm of nostalgic escapism

BY Ren Ebel in Exhibition Reviews | 31 MAY 24

This review is part of a new series of Must-See shows, in which a writer delivers a snapshot into a current exhibition 

The near-identical feminine subjects of Kelly Beeman’s oil and watercolour paintings pose and amble wistfully near various landmarks of residential North America: a manicured front lawn (Young Love on the Lawn Smoking, all works 2024), a neighbourhood crosswalk (Crosswalk), the mirrored facade of an office building at a business park (Under the Skyway). In ‘Distant Cities’, Beeman’s first solo exhibition in France, the artist reconstructs these familiar settings from memories of her own upbringing in Oklahoma City, where, as a bored teenager, she first taught herself to draw. Beeman further neutralizes these nondescript environments in a haze of vaporous pastel hues, adorning her scenes and figures in anachronistic mid-century clothing and decor. The resulting tableaus drift far from realism or autobiography to a dreamy, idyllic fantasy of suburbia.

Kelly Beeman, Young Love on the Lawn Smoking, 2024, watercolour on paper, 76 × 56 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Perrotin

Yet for all their delicate craft and perfumed comfortable familiarity, anxiety hums beneath the surface of these works. We’re left to consider what real unease spurs the desire for such a frictionless purgatory, while the sheer uniformity of Beeman’s duplicate figures invites an eerie, synthetic ambiance, particularly when the paintings encircle us from every wall of the gallery. Beyond the subjects’ vacant Modigliani-esque faces, windswept hair and limbs like undulating dunes, gloomier details also occasionally creep in at the edges. In Distant Melody, a large watchdog presides over a domestic scene at the family piano, rendered by Beeman as a kind of living shadow, with eyes like glowing embers glaring at the viewer.

Kelly Beema, Distant Melody, 2024, watercolour on paper, 75  × 107 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Perrotin; photograph: © Tanguy Beurdeley

Whether Beeman’s paintings are nostalgic escapes, or, as Perrotin’s press release suggests, about nostalgia and escapism, is open to interpretation. Either way, their effect is largely the same. The ethereal scenes of ‘Distant Cities’ gently cloud over, like a sweet memory or a light dose of anaesthetic, numbing the bitterness of the everyday.

Kelly Beeman's ‘Distant Cities’ is on view at Perrotin Paris until 29 June 

Main image: Kelly Beeman, Under the Skyway (detail), 2024, watercolour on paper, 45.7 × 57.8 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Perrotin

Ren Ebel is an artist and writer from Los Angeles. He is currently living in France.