Beth Consetta Rubel
Beth digs deep into her personal journey as a child of two cultures to present artwork that is political and striking. Her pieces explore and boldly face up to the attitudes in the deep south on race and stereotypes. No medium is beyond her reach. Acrylic, chalk, fabric, and paper bags are all instruments in her artist expression that seeks to shed a light on some dark history (as well as America's ugly contemporary culture), and in essence educating her audience on a topic most would shy away from. We interviewed Beth about her upcoming exhibition and more.
For those who are not aware of you, please briefly introduce yourself and your work
I am Beth Consetta Rubel, a biracial, queer, visual artist in Austin, Texas. My work is a reflection of my personal experiences with racism surrounding my mixed race background living in the south. It is my intent to dissect the root of racism embedded in the minds of Deep South mentality and ultimately enlighten the viewer with a sense of empathy and understanding of the pain rooted in the dark underbelly of racism.
And it seems your work goes deeper into such topics, particularly your recent work “Brown Paper Bag Series” is about to be exhibited this month, which seems to pull from issue of colorism. Can you tell us more about those pieces and the story behind the portraits
I started the “Brown Paper Bag Series” four years ago and decided to expand on this concept by including loved ones and individuals I admire and respect. Before I begin a portrait, I like to meet with the person I am going to draw, and have a conversation about their personal experiences with racism. It is important to me to understand and empathize with each individual to accurately depict them in a painting. Their stories are also something that I continuously reflect on as I am capturing their essence in a work of art.
Like the brown paper bag test, where individuals had to submit a photo of themselves where their phenotype was compared to the color of a brown bag for approval, I often feel the pressure to submit a disclaimer, which is my artist statement, for the people I have encountered who have prejudged my creative intent based on my name alone. The issue of colorism and one drop rules is one I continuously deal with personally and as an artist.
What are some of the challenges creating a series like Brown Paper Bag? What have you had to overcome to get to this point?
One of the biggest challenges I faced when creating the Brown Paper Bag series, along with the majority of my work, is that my ethnic authenticity is questioned. I am often told that I am “not black enough” to create the art that I do because I am half African American and half white.
Also, finding an outlet in Austin to display my art has been challenging. I am very grateful to have met Harold McMillan at New East Arts gallery who supports the cultural diversity in arts, where my first solo show will be exhibited.
As an artist, what has been some the biggest influence for you?
Aside from a natural pull towards creative mediums as a child, my biggest influence stems from a personal experience. I had always spent most of my free time making art when I was younger, but it wasn’t until I was 16 years old that I had an encounter that changed my art from being something I did for fun, to political and personal in content. Being a biracial child, I was used to the “What are you?” and “Where are you really from?” questions and was accustomed to politely answering “My mom is black and my dad is white.” As this familiar scenario played out with a stranger who had approached me, not even asking my name, confronted me with this question and I responded as I usually do, in which they replied, “Oh, you’re a mulatto!”. At 16 I had no idea what the word mulatto meant and through a string of research to discover the origin and definition of the word, I found nothing but prejudice embedded in a history of racism. It’s these infuriating moments that fuel me to create my works of art.
It is amazing to hear what inspires your work. It's admirable and beautiful. So what is next on the horizon for you?
I am exploring cultural identity through a new series that focuses on the mixed race experience and the isolation that surrounds it. I am making art daily to beef up my portfolio to apply to graduate school next year.
What are some of the odd jobs you’ve done so that you can do what you love as an artist?
I work as a barista part-time which allows a flexible schedule and a nice social outlet. I have met a lot of unique people, and good friends along the way and often get to be creative at work. I have taught art classes to kids through a corporate franchise for a short time, and although I enjoyed the children, the structure of the rigid lesson plans stunted any creative growth. I found myself never doing the lesson plans and encouraging my students to think outside of the box, which I noticed sparked a new interest in art for them.