Beynon’s paintings, sculptures and installations are informed by a diverse range of pictorial traditions including Western and Eastern spiritual icons, comic books, animation, graffiti, calligraphy, and fashion. Dramas unfold within her unique iconography where ancient motifs are catapulted into the present.
This new body of work, Transcultural Icons, 2010, embraces the ever increasingly ‘transcultural’ society. While Beynon’s personal history is just one influence on her practice, it can be seen as both a starting point and a metaphor for her exploration of the complexities of identity and cultures. Beynon was born in Hong Kong to a Malaysian-born Chinese mother and Welsh father, living in Singapore, Germany and England before her family immigrated to Australia when she was four. Gleaning lucky charms, magical beasts and protective talismans from her own diverse cultural histories, Beynon’s embellished canvases share “good spirits” for navigating a challenging global environment.
The larger paintings in this exhibition confront the viewer with the confident gaze and hypnotic allure of Beynon’s Guardian Goddesses. Part self-portrait, part contemporary warrior women, these non-denominational guardians present as indefinable icons reminiscent of both the Goddess Gwanyin and different versions of the Madonna in their pose and elaborate backdrops. In contrast they are adorned in contemporary designer glam fashion, and sassy street wear; they are transcultural global citizens. At once protector and defender, the guardian figures adopt different guises in their quest to tackle issues of ethnicity, immigration, displacement and the anxiety of belonging.
Both within and alongside these portraits, dragons and dogs are often present, appearing as both companions and protectors. A blue and gold Chinese dragon appears fierce yet protective, its benevolent force is a symbol of strength and resistance. Beynon, born in Kowloon, ‘the city of 9 dragons’ and granddaughter to the late Chan Kee Loong (Loong meaning ‘dragon’) shares her affinity to this mythical creature with bold intensity. The ‘fu dogs’ or ‘lucky dogs’ are more playfully depicted, marking Beynon’s birth in the Year of the Dog. Some appear as chunky green canines with pink swirly manes and fangs displaying flashy grins, resembling the artists own rescued Staffy cross. The notion of “pure origin’ is once again challenged in the faces surrounding the artist. While the cross-breed is further exaggerated, the evident humour exudes a sensibility of adoration and protection.
A frieze of smaller works are a nexus of influences, incorporating folk-art icons, Mexican ‘Day of the Dead’ ornaments, traditional Chinese botanical paintings, family heirlooms and contemporary sources such as comic book graphics fashion and pop-culture. This series feature ‘transcultural icons,’ they are lucky charms, and varied personal effects gathered on travels or gifted and displayed in the artists hallway at home; ceramic ornaments, Mexican Folk Art, wood carved objects, portraits of artists. They reference the ‘ofrenda,’ or Mexican ‘altar’ for the display of objects and images which honor past relatives and emit positivity while providing protection for the home. The relationship to Chinese shrines is also embraced in these works.
Beynon’s paintings manifest the hybrid reality of today’s multicultural global citizen. Laden with fictional characters mythological beasts and symbolic talismans, Kate Beynon’s paintings celebrate all the ambiguities and diversities of contemporary existence.
Kate Beynon’s idiosyncratic practice is rapidly accumulating the acclaim of an international audience. Since graduating from Victorian College of the Arts in 1993, Kate Beynon has held over 21 solo exhibitions, including the Art Gallery of NSW Level 2 Project Space, 2008 and Mixed Blood and Migratory Paths, The Physics Room, New Zealand, 2005. Beynon has been curated into numerous important group exhibitions at public galleries across Australia, and has also been incorporated into high profile international exhibitions, some highlights include the prestigious Global Feminisms exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, USA, 2007, and Upstream: 400 Years of the Dutch East Indies Company, Amsterdam and Hoorn, 2002. Beynon’s work is held in key public and private collections both in Australia and overseas; she has also been the recipient of grants and awards from Arts Victoria and Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council. In 2009 her work toured to Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Xiamen as part of Zhongjian: Midway, an exhibition featuring the work of 15 artists from China and Australia.Artist’s profile