Scaling up

kay mei ling beadman video ho wto passport photo identity duality ancestors

Reproduced on their own, you can't tell whether these paintings are any bigger than a passport photo, so I'm in this shot to give a sense of scale. I was looking at unadorned, head-on, identifying  photos - passports, ID cards and closer to home, old family photos where relatives are standing to attention and looking unsmilingly straight ahead, from a generation where a camera was a luxury and a photograph was to be taken very seriously. In the first of these paintings the face started life in colour but became black and white to emphasise the link to old photographs. A recently published article described the passport photograph as "the most universal and democratic form of portraiture" as well as the "brutality of the photo booth." I wanted to appropriate the ID format with its harsh rigour but scaled up to alter the relationship with the viewer, make it more assertive. These works are less concerned with a literal identification and more with the idea of the image challenging the viewer to ask "Who is this person? What do we know about them? What can we know about them?"

Hand Signals


Nothing entirely by itself (detail)


Everything built upon another thing (detail)

The choreographer Pina Bausch famously observed that she was “less interested in how people move than in what moves them.”  There is a sequence in her work Nelken, where a lone man stands and signs along to a sentimental recording of Gershwin's The Man I Love. The sign language is perfectly synced to the song but apart from the moving hands the man seems otherwise impassive. As the tempo increases, the gestures remain fluid but become increasingly frantic. There seems to be a disjoint between the words and what we see. Gestures have taken centre stage in these recent paintings, with obviously posed hands confined within the backdrop of the model’s clothes, and the clothes reduced to a flat unmodelled area. The hand signals have become very specific, deliberate but are they intended to communicate or obfuscate? I’m not sure this person, or any person, is truly knowable. Hand signals, semaphore, code – what are we trying to say?

My model posted a facebook photo of herself in the studio next to one of the paintings in progress. She titled her post Me visiting myself. Literal but nicely psychological too. Giving autonomy to the hands, one of her friends commented, “Your hands seem ready to do some tricks. Like a magician.” And maybe they are, and maybe she is.

Images in full here.



Equilibrium (detail)

It’s been a busy start to 2013 and there are new works in the Paintings gallery, including a few more self-portraits. Here’s a detail from Equilibrium where I’ve added another element in the clothing by defining the body through the stripes of the jersey alone rather than with any shading. Initially, the striped top was actually chosen because of its shape rather than the pattern. However, as the work developed, the stripes became a transition area between the flat picture plane background and the realism of the rest of the figure.

The downside is that after a day of focusing on stripes when I look away I can still see them for hours afterwards. Just a small step in this direction has given me a whole new level of respect for the tenacity required to do op art.

Self Portraits

Self portrait 1

Self portrait I

There was a long holiday weekend in Hong Kong recently and both of my regular models were out of town. It was a good opportunity to make a start on a series of self portraits.  I've had this project in mind for some time and the stack of same size canvases have been primed but gathering dust in a corner. Perhaps close scrutiny of oneself is not always that welcome and so becomes easy to put off.

Anyway here's the first, prosaically named Self portrait I. On the site it looks large in relation to the other work, but in fact it's quite tiny, just 25.5cm square. An introspective exchange, a mirror image, a face to the world.

New Work

Men in exile feed on dreams

Men in exile feed on dreams, 2013

acrylic on canvas, 122 x 91.5 cm

Over the summer I started a new series of paintings featuring figures without obvious narrative context. They're not intended to be portraits per se, instead I'm interested in how the physical poses evoke an emotion or suggest an otherwise unarticulated reality.

So far, I've asked people with a noticeable ease of movement to model, none of whom had done so before. Luckily for me they agreed and have turned out to be particularly versatile. As I tend to work in series, I expect (and hope) the same people will be populating my canvases for some time to come.

Press for Stepping Out


Featured in Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka), Hi!! LiFE Section, 19 April 2012.

"Kay Beadman's paintings based on the nuances of the shoe,                 Stepping Out, ... is a treat not to be missed."  

Featured in Ceylon TodayEscape Section, 16 April, 2012.

"The use of colour plays a significant role ... The leather Kohlapuri touching a deep saffron surface, the red shoe titled 'Siren' for its bold shade of scarlet and the boxed-out, bold backdrops capture the attention of the viewer."

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Featured in Sunday Island (SL), 15 April 2012.  "

"...the array of colours and shapes of our amazing country (Sri Lanka) have had an influence on her combinations and approach to colour."

Featured in Daily News (SL), Artscope Section, 11 April 2012.

"Stepping Out focuses on the mundane ... shoe. She has painted it in such a way that she challenges the viewer to examine and connect it to something in their own lives."  

Featured in Sunday Times (SL), PLUS Section, 8 April 2012

"Stepping Out is certainly good enough reason to step out of your home ... and head over to the Barefoot Gallery."


Stepping Out Opening


Here are some installation views of the show at the Barefoot Gallery as well as a few photos from the opening reception.

Many thanks to Gallery Director Nazreen Sansoni for hanging it so wonderfully and to the ever efficient Gallery Assistant, Rasika.

And thanks to everyone for coming and making it a lovely party under the stars in the courtyard.


Stepping Out, Sri Lanka, 4–29 April 2012


My solo show is now on at the Barefoot Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka, extended until 29 April.

This work takes the shoe as a motif that evokes a human presence; that may literally contain the imprint of the wearer. There are two distinct series that I worked on in parallel for the show. In both, the shoe substitutes for the absent human figure. In the still life series, the shoe is juxtaposed with objects to intentionally suggest a narrative, whereas in the single shoe series I was interested in abstracting areas of the painting to remove obvious narrative whilst allowing colour and the representation of a single object to evoke a reality without overtly defining it.

I chose shoes for both their physical variety and the associations that they provoke. Here is a man-made artifact that encompasses the mundane to the iconic, that may be workaday functional or an aspirational object of desire.

The poem The Broken Sandal, by Denise Levertov, was the starting point for both series. In it she dreams her sandal strap breaks leaving her barefoot and meditating on life’s direction: “Where am I standing, if I’m to stand still now?”