We had the good fortune of connecting with Angela Bess-Neely and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Angela, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
Well I can honestly say that I always knew what I wanted to be. I never had the desire to follow any other path. Being an artist has always just been part of who I am. It’s the part of me that I identify with the most, so it was pretty natural in that regard. That’s not to say that it’s always been easy, but then what career is? I discovered early on that I derived a ton of pleasure from watching the response that someone has to one of my pieces. It makes me feel thrilled, intrigued, and curious…like I am getting a glimpse into a little bit of that person as well! I want to see if they take from my artwork the same thing I take. And make no mistake, I TAKE just as much as I give from one of my pieces….it’s such an intimate thing. What a rush! I want MORE! Artwork has always been something that runs through me in a million different ways. At times I feel a bit like Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo, firing in all directions at once creatively and at others it’s something entirely zen. Either way, I’m always surprised when I finish a piece and step back. I always think “WOW, I just did that??”
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My art covers a really wide range of mediums from painting in acrylics and watercolors to life drawing, graphic design, resin and even fiber art. My work (especially when painting) also tends to be about the process as much as the result, often feeling like a performance and getting pretty messy. My paintings often have many layers of works underneath the visible image. These many layers of paint, never to be seen, express themselves though texture and subtle nuance in the final piece and represent many layers of emotion; snapshots of moments, captured but hidden beneath what I’ve chosen to display to the viewer. In many paintings, the full image and palette of underlying layers are lost forever, with only the topography of the paint and an occasional ghost of color leaving a hint of their existence. My professional arc started pretty naturally after college. I was lucky enough to study under some amazing instructors in Italy and graduated with a fine arts degree that focused on painting and drawing. By that time I was showing in galleries in Cleveland which lead to sales and commissions of my acrylic paintings and life drawings. Around 1998 I started getting interested in graphics, package design and the printing process so I went back to school to get my associates in graphic design. Since then I’ve split my time between freelance graphic design; working on everything from logos and branding to packaging and editorial work, and my fine art. Like almost anyone who works for themselves, especially in the art world, it definitely hasn’t been easy but I can’t see myself doing anything else. I think the most important factor in achieving some level of success is being adaptable and flexible, learning and applying new skillsets as you face new challenges or the landscape changes. I find that these challenges can often present new opportunities and push things in a direction that you might not otherwise have moved towards, as long as you are open to it. When this Covid-19 pandemic began, it closed down so many businesses, and the warehouse where I have my working art studio was temporarily closed by state mandate. When this happened, I was forced (as so many people were), into re-inventing myself and finding new creative outlets. That’s when I dove back into macrame and fiber art. It was a way for me to decompress and relax, while still teaching myself techniques and patterns, and remaining creative. It was something I could do in my home studio. It might sound crazy, but macrame has actually kept me sane during quarantine, and as it turns out, there is a huge market for this type of artwork! I started making wall hangings and dream catchers just to keep my hands moving and although I never expected it, the response has been overwhelming. With so many people struggling, I think everyone is looking for a little zen and positivity and they also want to support small businesses, so I haven’t been able to keep up with the demand. Dream catchers have so much meaning and no two are ever the same, so I am able to offer them custom to order, with each one incorporating elements, colors or materials that are meaningful to each person. As for my brand, because my work is so varied in terms of style and medium, it might be hard for someone to immediately see how it all fits together but the common thread is that each one is a pretty direct expression of one part of my personalty. We have so many facets to us as people, often really different facets and my work definitely represents that. When you look at one collection or medium next to another it might seem like an entirely different artist at first, but when you step way back and look at everything as a whole, it really lays out who I am. That’s the common element in all of my work and I’m hoping that through pouring myself into my work, I can touch people in a unique way.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
LA has SO much to offer, and in my 12 years of living here I have tried a little of everything! I love strolling through the Melrose Fairfax market because I feel like its the most eclectic and authentic market in LA. It’s full of color, interesting antiques, amazing clothing, oddities, trinkets, and so much more! The people watching is priceless too! Another spot I adore is Topanga Canyon. It’s probably the one place in LA I find to be the most magical. I like to lovingly refer to it as “the land of the Tree People”. It’s so beautiful you actually forget you’re in the city at all. It has an old school hippie vibe that is palpable and you can practically smell the history. Hidden Treasures is an absolute must-see vintage clothing shop, and I would imagine one of the most photographed buildings around. It’s an absolute ball and I have managed to score some of my all time favorite wardrobe items there for a steal! Downtown, I love checking out the Brewery Arts District. Their art walks are incredible and there is so much amazing creative talent in that community. If I have anyone coming to town during this art walk, we will no doubt be there. Also downtown, shopping in Santee Alley is a must. I feel like a visitor gets a true urban glimpse of what the garment district in LA is all about. It’s such a ball down there, so full of bargains and fashion scores. Its exciting, gritty, and cheap! There’s always Venice Beach, another of my favorite spots. Such fun people watching, the Sunday sunset drum circle gathering is so awesome, and it’s yet another place to score some really fun artistic trinkets. You can’t visit LA without taking a day in Venice. I have taken all of my out-of-town friends to Venice and its ended up being one of their favorite adventures on their vacation! I also want to name the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, and their outdoor movie screenings. That is just a total blast and such a uniquely LA thing to do. Walking through the cemetery and seeing all of the amazing people that are there is awe inspiring. Some of the best sushi in the world is here, so that is something that I always try to incorporate into a visit with out-of-towners. From famous establishments to hole in the wall spots, great sushi is always available.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My Mom: For being my best friend, for fighting tooth and nail for me, and for showing me what true unconditional love really looked like. She passed away last March, after a long battle with dementia. I cared for her the entire long road and I learned so much about myself, about the depths of my own strength, and how important every second of every day is. She will always be an immense driving force in my life and in my artwork. No matter what creative piece I may be working on, she will be there as the constant reminder to stay true to myself. Eric Racy: He is my life partner and my personal hero! He has supported me through the absolute worst of times, and he has walked along side me, cheering with me during the best of times. I would not be where I am in this world without his undying loyalty and faith in me as a person. He is my biggest fan, but he is also truly honest with me. When I struggle with anything in my artwork, he is there… to power through it with me, guiding me when at times, I feel like just throwing in the towel. He is a truly magical force, a genius, and I am one lucky girl. The Artist Ashley Longshore: She’s one of my current favorite artists. As a woman she is magnetic, powerful, hilarious, and is an explosive creative hurricane. How she has managed to build her brand and become the pop icon that she is, has been something that I have really admired and have loved following. Her artwork inspires me, and makes me laugh hysterically. She has a lust for life that shines, and I have learned sooooo much from her. She inspires me enormously as an artist, and I would absolutely love to one day have the level of success that she has so fiercely attained. She’s a total bad ass. Thomas Hilty: Tom was one of my professors in Life Drawing while I was attending University. He always pushed me so far and so hard in my artwork. As I look back, he was the driving force behind me honing in on my technique as a 2-D artist. He spotted my style and helped me really lean into it, ultimately honing my technique and finding my voice. The things I learned from him during those years really helped me to define myself as a fine artist. He had a ton of faith in my work, and was the reason I studied abroad in Florence, Italy. Had it not been for him, I don’t think that my art education would have been nearly as well rounded. He is an absolutely incredible artist, an amazing professor and I was extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to study with him. My Best Friends: I am so fortunate in that I have some of the most powerful friendships of anyone on the planet! I have surrounded myself with a handful of humans that I can honestly say, are my inner circle, each of them offering something vital to my existence. Their support, love, and our joyous memories together lift my soul, and ultimately their presence in my life is evident in all of my creative work. Most women struggle making friends like this, so I thank my lucky starts yet again that I have them! (you all know who you are…XO) Recently I read “Infinity Net – The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama”. It was astounding! Another of my favorite artists, Yayoi’s story ignited something inside of me after reading it. The way she explains and defends her artwork is truly inspiring. The struggles she has endured with mental illness, and how she relentlessly churns out artwork as a means of controlling her fears is something that I can identify with and I respect very much. I am mesmerized by her art and reading her words helped me realize how important it is to intimately attach to your work as an artist. I think of her so often while painting. She’s truly amazing.
Other: Etsy: @AngelaBessArt email@example.com