Interview with the Color Man: Kevin Bean

Mar 07, 2013 No Comments by

SAN RAFAEL, Calif. —Visitors to San Marco gallery in the Alemany library of Dominican University of California throughout late January and February of this year were treated to a fantastic kaleidoscope of colors and geometric compositions by abstract painter Kevin Bean. His work features no people, animals, or objects as its subjects, but instead its composed of powerful two-dimensional planes of parallel lines, hard-edged squares and cubes that pop with an illusionistic three-dimensional result. The work echoes 20th century geometric abstract artists including Russian art theorist Wassily Kandinsky and Russian art theoretician Kazimir Malevich, but Bean’s work is fresh, contemporary  and engaging.

“I like this kind of purity of color right now not using it to reference, but simply to pull the eye.”

— Kevin Bean, painter

On opening night, January 31, the university crowd of about 75-100 attendees came expecting to meet and greet the artist himself. Bean, though obviously pleased with the warmth of his reception, suffers nerve damage on his tongue which causes him to mesh and slur his words, making conversation difficult for him. Open in demeanor, he declined an interview on the spot, but generously agreed to exchange emails later. The following is Kevin Bean…for the record.

Mr. Bean on his life and art.

Bean is from the small train town of Streator, Illinois and says he starting drawing quite young. His teachers were always supportive of his art, but he turned to science first, studying biochemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. While his mind was pursuing biochemistry, his heart belonged to art.

Caught between two passions, he decided that despite the intellectual stimulation of scientific courses, he was not fond of actual scientific work. He left Illinois behind to attend Maine College of Art, Portland and the University of California, Berkeley.

Before his move towards his colorful geometric style, Bean painted works with lines and circles as well as figurative paintings of children, donkeys, and one with Jesus Christ, Abraham Lincoln and actress Julie Andrews from The Sound of Music film. He quickly became jaded of this work and moved on, “I want new questions and a new way to act in my studio. Any time my questions become academic to me, it is time to move on.”

“I am using abstraction to explore ambiguity directly.”

— Kevin Bean, painter

According to Bean, his large pieces take about three weeks to several months to execute. He begins by carefully drawing straight-edge, four-sided shapes one at a time and afterwards decides what colors he wants to use. “It’s never random” Bean said, “so not too many lights, or darks, or reds, or neutrals colors are bunched up together” as he described, “when painting these, I could repaint a color—and I usually did a bit of that, but in drawing, once it’s down, it’s there. Pressing hard, like I do, the pencil cannot be (completely) erased, I am more or less stuck with it. It’s kind of liberating. Like yesterday, you cannot change it.”

“I have no preconceived notion of the color at that point, I cannot picture the finished painting.”

— Kevin Bean, painter

Bean never waits for inspiration, it “comes hand in hand with working, from seeing what is happening on the canvas. In fact, many things that seem like great ideas when I am out walking the dog, turn out to be terrible as soon as I start painting them.” Terrible or not, he enjoys painting every day, “If for some reason I don’t go to the studio for a couple days, I start doing stupid things like organizing my T-shirts by color and alphabetize the spice drawer.”

In the studio, Bean is dedicated – concentrating, questioning, and focusing on subject matter. “I think about process. I try not to describe my work. Instead of describing my ‘style’, I might say, I am using abstraction to explore ambiguity directly.” He begins by deciding what kind of painting he will create from a choice of five sub-groups. Amazingly, he does not have the finished product in his head when working, “I have no preconceived notion of the color at that point, I cannot picture the finished painting.”

The artist’s flexible and extemporaneous style is easily exposed in his geometric compositions with dozens of paintings to prove it. The rhythm and movement of his shapes dance with color on diamonds, squares, rectangles, and triangles. “Contrast is the key to painting for me, how much each piece of paint contrasts or assimilates with its environment. In these paintings I tended to sprinkle the color around. I like this kind of purity of color right now not using it to reference, but simply to pull the eye.”

Kevin Bean’s work has earned him several prestigious awards such as the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, The Eisner Prize, and several scholarships. His work has been displayed in San Francisco, Oakland, New York City, Napa, and San Jose.

In young aspiring artists, Bean advises to focus on what really matters to themselves. “You’re supposed to be happy” said Bean cheerfully, “you need to satisfy something in yourself.” True enough, Bean arrived to where he is today by the driving force of passion towards art.

His website:
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About the author

I was born in Guadalajara, Mexico – a very Americanized city where the people are powered by Starbucks, available conveniently on every street corner. Then I moved, and grew up in the strangest place on Earth, Humboldt County. I was only three when I moved to the States, however I did come back to Guadalajara every summer up until my teen years. The two places are polar oposites – you can imagine my difficult time trying to find a personality in home influenced by Mexicans and a social life influenced by Americans. Today I live in San Rafael, California studying Communications. But enough selling out – I’m a laid back guy who loves pizza.
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