We had the good fortune of connecting with Beverly Siu and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Beverly, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
I used to think the “life” in work-life balance was a nuisance, a weakness of being human. I admired those with the discipline to suspend their own living standards whenever such needs interfered with their work. Take Taylor Swift, who as a child practiced guitar such long hours that her fingers would bleed. Or Marie Curie, who was so engrossed by her studies at university that she frequently forgot to eat. I idolized that combination of bodily neglect and overwork as a rite of passage for the financially successful—and it did matter to me that the people I mimicked were rich (or got the chance to be) because I’ve always been very anxious about falling through society’s cracks. I joke with my friends that we are only as valuable as our bank accounts. While cynical, it’s true; we exist at the mercy of those who own the means to survive, insulated from painful, premature death only by the thickness of our wallets. I had money–for now. But every rent payment, every grocery bill was a reminder of the fate waiting for me on the day I ran out. It was so much anxiety, and a big reason why I desperately wanted the financial security of my idols. But with no instruction beyond the vague truism that hard work begets success, I just worked myself until my quality of life rivalled my heroes’ worst points in the hopes that it’d bring me closer to their highs as well. Unfortunately, the very work-life imbalance I needed to achieve financial stability as an artist was (unsurprisingly) destroying me as well. I could give up on trying to make money as an artist and work menial labor just to pay the bills–but experience has taught me that such jobs destroy me even faster by draining my sanity. And of course, no income meant certain death. I had to figure something out and I was running out of time–fast. It took a combination of events to ease the panic. David Graeber’s book “Bullshit Jobs” and magazine The New Republic’s series “Work Sucks” taught me that America’s obsession with work has not made us more productive, just more punitive. An animation professor who had felt the same way I did about overwork until it caused her injuries so extreme they defied common sense convinced me to stop treating my health with recklessness. UBI showed me that there were other ways to do what I enjoyed without desperately trying to duplicate the exorbitant financial success of the one-percent. The irony is, none of them denied my anxieties about contemporary servitude and human expendability. Rather, it was in critiquing society for creating such anxious situations that they reassured me I belonged; that financial security wasn’t supposed to be an ascetic arms-race; that it wasn’t my willingness to suspend my humanity but precisely the opposite that made me a creature of value. Like many others, my 2020 was record unproductive. I’m talking quadruple-digit hours in video games; I’m talking “Youtube-ran-out-of-recommendations-again” unproductive. But I did make progress in one thing that I’ve been failing for nearly a decade: I started taking care of myself–and in doing so caught my first glimpse of a sustainable future. I’m still a very, very long way from unlearning all my self-destructive tendencies and achieving a healthy work-life balance. But at least now I’m (no pun intended) working on it.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I’m a painter! I’ll paint from anything that I think is interesting, generally focusing more on my thoughts or the conceptual aspects of what’s involved. It’s often quite amusing because there’s a juxtaposition of very dramatic experiences being drawn from comically underwhelming muses. I’ve always gravitated towards low-class subject matter because I enjoy being able to pull something special out of the mundane. I’d say that the way I weave my stories into final paintings are also what set them apart from other abstract painters by turning the act of “reading” the painting into a performative experience. The paintings are designed not to give away all their secrets at once but reward viewers who delve deeper by revealing bits of backstory that affect what the work seems to be saying. The more people learn, the more their understandings change. And yet there is no “final” understanding; rather, the experience is made from the intersection of all the viewer’s different impressions coming together. More than anything, I think finding a place as an artist just takes time (and consistently making work). Creativity isn’t something you can rush, which is weird for me because I’m used to being able to shortcut learning curves with brute force. Still, it’s very rewarding to make something that you’re proud of. At the end of the day that’s all that really matters in art anyway—that you like what you make.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I’m very easily amused, so my favorite things to do are kind of lame—but I love taking the bus to a different part of town just to walk around and go window shopping. The entire Beverly Hills downtown area (especially the Public Library) is breathtaking, and the design district in West Hollywood also makes for a lovely walk. There’s one shop there that sells only doorknobs and it makes me laugh everytime I pass it. Grand Central Market’s my favorite go-to for food, with all their crowded stalls and neon signs and the aromas wafting through the air. Unfortunately, I just found out my favorite GCM stall closed! RIP Kismet Falafel. Of the places I haven’t been but want to visit, Griffith Observatory and The Hotel Cafe are the top. The Hotel Cafe’s a coffee shop-slash-live music venue similar to Nashville’s Bluebird cafe. God, I’m such a fangirl. I don’t think I could contain the excitement if I recognized an artist there. Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Firstly—I would still be running up the walls working myself to death if not for Miranda, David Graeber, and the good people at The New Republic. I owe you one. More personally, I’d never get anything done if not for the countless people (and dogs) who’ve supported me throughout the years. To Darica and Nick; to Michelle, Rena, Brij, Emmett, Wallace, Stephanie, Erika, Adam, Gladys, and Sam; to Mr. Russo, Mrs. Harris, and Mrs. Fackrell; to Sophie and Red; to Mike and Danielle and everyone else I can’t mention because there’s just too many of you to name: you remind me that it’s a good life cause I met you.
Julio Cesar Sanchez