Picture of the Week: Aretha by Kristin Beaver

March 26, 2023

Kristin Beaver, Aretha, 2009, oil on canvas, 72 x 72 in.

Kristin Beaver is an artist and educator who currently divides her time between Italy and Illinois. She earned her BFA in Painting and Drawing in 2000 from Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois and her MFA in Painting from Wayne State University in 2004. She is most commonly known for her portraits, many of which depict women. Beaver has received many awards and honors throughout her career, including the BAU Institute Fellow in Otranto, Italy in 2013, the Kresge Artist Fellowship in 2009, and Best of Show at The Annual: All Media Exhibition at the Ann Arbor Art Center in 2003, among numerous others. Her artwork has been featured in solo and group exhibitions nationally and internationally, including the David Klein Gallery in Birmingham, MI, the Detroit Artists Market, Skidmore Contemporary in Santa Monica, CA, WIU Art Gallery in Macomb, IL, and Palazzo Muro Leccese in Italy, among many others. Moreover, her work is part of several collections, including Shelagh Sartin’s private collection in Salento, Italy, the Luciano Benetton Collection in Italy, the Howard Tullman Collection, the Wayne State University Art Collection, the Meadowbrook Art Gallery in Rochester, MI, the Western Illinois University Art Gallery in Macomb, IL, and the Chalfonte Collection in Detroit, MI. As an educator, Beaver has taught a variety of drawing and painting classes at Wayne State University, Macomb Community College, MI, and Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center in Birmingham, MI. She has also delivered presentations and lectures at Bowling Green University, OH and Eastern Michigan University. 

Beaver’s portraits are “larger-than-life,” featuring “friends in cinematic poses inspired by fashion photography (and its cyclical tendencies), album cover art and the history of painting.” Her 2009 Aretha portrait is also larger-than-life, measuring at 72 x 72 in, which in turn highlights Aretha Franklin’s larger-than-life musical influence and career. Beaver also references album cover art in this work, capturing the cover art of the late Aretha Franklin’s 1964 album Runnin’ Out of Fools. This was the Queen of Soul’s sixth studio album; Arranged and conducted by Belford C. Hendricks, the album features cover versions of “Walk on By” by Dionne Warwick, “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss)” by Betty Everett, and “My Guy” by Mary Wells, among many other songs. The cover of Runnin’ Out of Fools showcases Franklin in an elegant white dress in a white background. She rests her hand on what appears to be a table, as she turns her head to address the viewer with a soft smile. Beaver emulates the Queen of Soul’s pose and background in her portrait, but she chooses to omit the text from the original album cover, which included the album title and track list. 

Aretha Louise Franklin was born on March 25, 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee and passed away on August 16, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. As a singer and songwriter, Franklin “defined the golden age of soul music of the 1960s.” She came from a musical family; Her mother, Barbara Franklin, was a singer and pianist, and her father, C.L. Franklin, was a minister at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, MI, as well as a singer. Following her parents’ separation when she was six, Franklin stayed with her father in Detroit;her mother passed away when she was 10. She was considered a vocal prodigy, performing as a teen with her father at his gospel programs in major cities throughout the United States. Franklin’s musical influences include Clara Ward of the Ward Singers, Albertina Walker, and Jackie Verdell. With her father’s blessing, Franklin transitioned from religious to secular music at the age of 18. Franklin moved to New York City, where she signed with John Hammond at Columbia Records. Though she had experimented with different genres and had released several albums, her music career did not take off until 1966, when she switched to Atlantic Records and producer Jerry Wexler “allowed her to sculpt her own musical identity.” Franklin went on to receive numerous awards and honors; in 1987, she became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 1994 she received a Kennedy Center Honor, a National Medal of Arts in 1999, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. Despite her passing in 2018, the Queen of Soul’s legacy lives on. 

Beaver composes a very naturalistic rendering of Franklin, as her image looks nearly identical to the one on her album cover. The materiality of the oil paint is evident, but Beaver’s use of line and shading is very clean and smooth. Although Beaver’s portrait of Aretha Franklin was created in 2009, it takes on a new significance in the years following her passing. The white background lends itself to a sense of ambiguity, but also to a sense of hope and peace. We do not know exactly what space she is in, but perhaps this background can be interpreted as heaven, given Franklin’s Christian faith. She turns towards us with kind eyes and a soft smile, as though to assure us that she is happy and well in the afterlife.  

Written by Angela Athnasios

Sources: https://kristinbeaver.art/section/453826.html





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