We had the good fortune of connecting with Beth Waldman and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Beth, other than deciding to work for yourself, what was the single most important decision you made that contributed to your success?
I have been a self declared artist since the age of 15. I double majored in studio art and art history in my undergraduate studies at Wellesley College knowing all along I wanted to pursue the path of being an artist, but the art history major was out of love and for job safety as much as one could call it that. I landed my first job as an art consultant at the age of 23 in San Francisco. It did not take long to sell my first Rembrandt, my first Picasso, my first M.C. Escher lithograph to eager new collectors from the tech industry. My job was to read catalogs about art all day to then share my passion and knowledge with gallery visitors with the aim to sell works from $5000 to $110,000. I continued this path for a few more years while keeping a lost wax sculpture studio set up in the second bedroom of my Victorian apartment in Lower Haight as I was immersed in the bronze casting process with my practice as a sculptor. While the arts generally weren’t part of the start up industry, I did leave a dramatic gallery situation to be a part of the excitement of the dot.com boom with an art consulting job at NextMonet.com. Three months later, I have the pleasure of getting laid off with the dot.com bust! It gave me the opportunity to refocus on my own studio work landing me in the sculpture program at the San Francisco Art Institute. This decision was indeed a game changer for my career as an artist. Walking onto that campus every day while earning my second degree in sculpture truly cemented my artist identity. I had landed myself in a magical world where asking someone how is your day going meant you were truly going hear about the project ideas they had floating in their heads. When you sat down for lunch, you were going to share your excitement and struggles over a meal. It was where the stairwells I walked to and from class were full of fellow artists reading, smoking and thinking. Those precious two years created a foundation that I have carried through today to overcome the many challenges of being a professional artist. That time firmly instilled a strong sense of self-belief and pride in all an artist can embrace content wise and contribute via various platforms as a result of the amazing Graduate Lecture Series we attended every Friday at 4:30pm. Building upon my classical art education from Wellesley with an extremely conceptual and experimental one from SFAI has provided accessible entry points and a rich context for a wide plethora of art for my eyes to digest in and out of studio. Still today, 16 years later, I find an expanding local and international arts community stemming from my time at SFAI. I am proud of have been part of the first years of the newly developed non-profit SF Artist Alumni (SFAA) which continues to connect me with current and former alumni, staff and professors growing my network and exposure to archival and the latest work of fellow alumni. I strongly believe that as an artist, in addition to creating strong studio work, one’s community is equally important in our success. I have been lucky to have built community from several art residencies, studio buildings over the years and my Alma Maters. Staying actively connected to those communities is also an equally important other half of that pie.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I strive to bring a layered global sensibility to my art practice from the various chapters of my life considering my cultural roots from Peru to Manhattan to Houston, Texas where I was raised. My art heavily relies on the concept of moving through public space, echoing my decades long practice of walking, observing and transforming elements from landscape. While my visual language leads with the poetic and aesthetic, it is entrenched within a social framework via my photography from my international travels. My chosen materials are inspired by my own experiences traveling for spouts of time as long as 34 days straight in the Appalachians as a backpacker using tarp as a material for shelter. They are also equally informed by the temporary tarp walls seen during my travels to countries like my maternal homeland of Peru, in developing cities as far and wide as Hong Kong and Nha Trang in Vietnam, as well as in the ever growing tent cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Last August 2020, I spent a month essentially in lock-down as a visiting artist in residence at 18th Arts Center in Santa Monica where I pushed my work even further in scale and the intertwined relationship of material, photography and the senses with movement and an appreciation for the visual language of gravity. I am most proud of my most recent works resulting from this residency that now can be seen at my DTLA based studio. This series entitled “Divisions” are works on tarp constructed out of tarp, canvas, acrylic paint and archival pigment from a gel photo transfer process. There is a certain degradation of the documentary style initial source photography, recording the economic and social scars left on the city of Los Angeles in 2020 highlighted by the creases and folds of the tarp material as well as the flat planes of the paint. These works are suspended off the wall, from the ceiling, with grommets at the top of the sandwiched work with exposed canvas at the top. I feel that these works are directly addressing formal elements of painting and photography alike in a unique way. The view from the front and black tarp back are equally important, as is the 3D experience and slight swinging movement of the work. In a way, these works are re-entering the familiar sculptural arena which led my artistic creations for many years while retaining the elements of photographic and painterly practices I have embraced along the way.
I have worked hard to stay in the game with many changes to my studios and schedule along the way. There seemed to always be a re-evaluation of how I was going to make the puzzle work as a mother of two amazingly spirited daughters now ages 9 and 14, and now also of two frisky dogs and two noisy birds. I suppose, the only thing I can say is to share a silly and simple quote from my husband’s high school wrestling coach, Coach Singleton. He said, “You’ve got to want it.” And indeed – I always have. I think the biggest lesson I have learned along the way is a mixture of self-belief, self-determination, and giving back to your community has created a rich world for me as an artist with new doors opening along the way. Everyone has to make it work best based on their own circumstances. Definitely the balance of finances, time and people commitments are unique and can be our greatest challenges and supports alike. I have worked hard to stay in the arts on various levels during my career during slow studio times and busy ones. At times such as the past two years, my studio work has been able to be a priority, but along the way, the roles I have held – as an art consultant, curator, artist coach and arts educator to kids and adults like – have all contributed to my role as an artist and created opportunities for me to make new relationships at all levels. My advice? Stay connected, stay engaged and and most importantly stay true to yourself.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
In my nomadic ways these days, I have to share my love for my favorite places in Marin, CA and Los Angeles alike! As a resident of Mill Valley for 11 years, my favorite lunch spot is Le Garage in Sausalito where the mussels and fries are a must, and the view of the water can make anyone feel like they are on vacation. My favorite hiking trails are right outside my front door in Mill Valley with the Miwok Trail leading one all the way to Muir Beach or Rhubarb Trail taking you on a magical loop under tree canopies and to mountain tops in Tamalpais Valley. For a little bit of an urban feel in Mill Valley, I recommend Gravity Tavern for great cocktails and appetizers; their duck entree and sausage biscuits are to die for. Head north for a day of wine tasting in Sonoma, Napa or Lake County and be sure to stop by Healdsburg for lunch at Campo Fina. Don’t forget to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge for the unfolding scenery before you, head to the Do Re Mi District in San Francisco. First check out Catharine Clark Gallery and Hosfelt just doors aways from each other on Utah Street. Then head over to Minnesota Street Projects just a few minutes away to check out the gallery building filled with some San Francisco strongholds like Rena Bransten Gallery and Anglim Trimble to newer cutting edge galleries like Casemore Kirkeby and Bass & Reiner. Fill your cup with terrific sangria at the waterside restaurant Coqueta and polish things off with endless Ceviche at the Peruvian restaurant La Mar.
While working hard in studio in LA, DTLA has an amazing assortment of places to refuel. Run by my fellow Peruvians, my favorite lunch spot right outside my studio door is Mex Perú Gipsy where you can get an great spicy Chili Rellano, Aji de Gallina or a Peruvian Salad as a lighter fair. For a view and fancy cocktail, I recommend Yamashiro in the Hollywood Hills. My favorite is the pisco based Koan Collection cocktail. To get your art on, I would take you to the DTLA Building hosting Wilding Crane, Gavlak, Nicodim and Vielmetter to start then to Commonwealth & Council in Koreatown then over to M+B and of course the never to miss Regen Projects and David Kordandsky Gallery. Truly, there is an endless amount of terrific art sites to spend days at in the LA area. In my own studio building, don’t forget to check out Track 16 Gallery, a long time player in the LA arts scene. Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
In October of 2019, artist, professor of photography at SFAI, and founder of PhotoAlliance Linda Connor called me on a Thursday morning with an invitation to speak about my photo-based work at the 18th Annual PhotoAlliance Lecture Series at the Osher Lecture Hall at the San Francisco Art Institute. We met the summer before when I registered for a weekend of Portfolio Reviews organized by PhotoAlliance and hosted by SFAI. I selected her to review my work that weekend and a couple month later, she kindly invited me to her studio and home in Marin, CA. I remember first hearing this feisty lady at the opening reception for an annual exhibition “Bay Area Currently” which took place at Smith Anderson North Gallery. I knew right away that she was a bad ass – and of course her artistic reputation and legendary professor reputation preceded her. While I did not have the fortune to study under Linda at SFAI, it has been these past couple years that she has been a source of strength and support. This invitation to speak opening up for renown David Maisel that November of 2019 was pivotal in securing a sense of forward movement in my career. Standing up there behind the podium where many amazing artists has lectured from during my student days was extremely moving for me and a moment of great pride. I owe it all to Linda for creating the opportunity to connect through her PhotoAlliance programming initially and for having the kindness to remember me and continue the connection.
All works with me in them (1-6) © Eric Mihn Swenson Two formal artwork shots by © Joshua White