Local artist Tobi Beck said, several times, the epitome of her work on display at the Santa Clarita Artists Association this month was “grit.”
The product of the Old Harbour housing project in South Boston, also known as ‘Southie,” Beck likens herself as the conduit of juxtaposition between the project’s edgy east-coast atmosphere and the more posh, manicured vibe of a west-coast suburb like Santa Clarita.
“I don’t like pretty things,” said Beck in regards to what she likes to paint. “I hate to just keep using the same word but it really is just ‘grit,’ it’s the rawness of it.”
Beck’s art is abstract — using strokes and “smudges of freedom” of dark shades contrasted by a frequent use of a drab orange. It’s all inspired by stained brick, ripped stickers on light poles, graffiti and the other common sights located in the place of her origin.
She described her apartment in the Old Harbour as a fourth-floor unit in an early 20th century brick building. Clothes dried in the windows, the halls smelled of urine. Often, when Beck is painting, she’ll feel the color is too bright and mix it with dirty water.
Beck, now a Santa Clarita resident, was nervous that her work might not be well-received by local audiences, artists and critics. However, the reception, and the sales, have been quite positive, according to Beck.
“The comments I’ve been hearing are that it’s refreshing, that it’s a refreshing change,” said Beck. “I think people have even commented just on the level of honesty in the work, that it’s not just portraying beautiful things.”
Beck was impressed that audiences picked up on her textures and could see the notions she was trying to express. She’s relatively new to painting — having started in 2014 amid a cancer-scare that she said was enough to change her mindset. Beck has no formal training in art, although she did go to fashion school before dropping out and working a corporate job for years.
“I think it is rawness and it’s the freedom in it where I feel like I can go and I can ask questions to myself and I can have conversations with myself with things that don’t need answers,” said Beck. “Because sometimes the answer isn’t important. It’s just the ability to be able to explore your own thoughts and your feelings without resolving anything.”
Beck described herself as a positive person, but that life isn’t all about rainbows and beautiful Southern California sunsets. You have to embrace all sides of yourself to manifest honesty in your work and being honest with yourself is at the core of that.
“This is like breathing, it’s where I go to release,” said Beck. “And ugly can be beautiful.”