by Dilpreet BhullarJul 25, 2021
Exploration and experimentation stand at the heart of Scotland -based mixed media artist Bea Last’s body-work, where she draws in on the liminality and the inevitability or evolving nature of change. Her process-based works create and build on the nuances of a creative language that bears equal artistic significance and value as the final output itself. Each exploration, examination, and investigation provides shoots of an idea, the end of a thread that is then picked up and run with as the work itself develops, grows and morphs into its own form and format. Whether this calls for a large scale canvas, a single stand-alone piece, a series, a continuation of a tale, the process of creation is much like a journey paved through the subconscious that is far away from conscious intention but is rather a realisation of process. A space where life itself is recognised as a process. “You refer to the nuances of the creative language; yes, mark making and all the different nuances within that. It’s a language, just as music is with a range of notes and melodies. The variety of line allows for greater expression, for me, the more tool you have in your box the easier it is to express yourself, so to speak,” mentions Last, who explores drawings and art installations in her works.
One gains the impression of both the cerebral and the explorative in the contemporary artist’s practice; there is a fascinating degree of emotional heft carried within each piece which is carefully constructed in a rather rational and thought-out process. “I would describe my work as both cerebral explorative and emotional, because it is an extension of myself, my processes, thoughts and energy,” she says while adding, “It is very astute of yourself to pick up on this and I am delighted that has been communicated. It’s not a conscious thing, but I see it as a transference of my own creative energy.”
Last’s body of work boasts of a fascinating inter-materiality that delves into found objects, recycled and upcycled materials, moving from works on canvas to sculptural installations, medium in her creative practice is a space of transformation. It warrants a look at the visual tradition which inspires and finds its way as an evocative visual language in her work, often adding nuances to it, garnering a closer inspection, a deeper, more empathetic reading of the art. “I suppose, for me, found objects, recycled and upcycled materials came about through that very creative process that is reflective of moving forward with where we are currently in terms of social and political affairs,” she says. “The move away from working with oil on canvas was a personal choice in terms of contemporary issue – global warning, climate change, recycling and the health of our planet. I guess my inspiration is life itself, how we relate to each other and each nation. Belonging, placement, space and environment – these are the visual tradition that I find inspiring but more as a case of after the fact of creation,” adds Last.
In her recent series, White Bags, she raises pertinent questions of home, displacement, the intimacy and domesticity of the personal juxtaposed against universal mass migration. It considers identity as a whole and as a notion in transition. What is still a work of progress, White Bags connects and responds in varied ways with the concept of ‘site’ as the location and the environment. “This piece allows for the accidental and the unplanned. Various elemental aspects such as wind and rain are important, however, these are things we have no control over,” explains Last. “The challenge is to work with the landscape or the given environment. Socially, yes, the bags are a universal domestic product found in every household that bring to mind a spectrum of meaning. I like to create pieces that engage or evolve into a conversation or a dialogue highlighting current social affairs. In presenting an alternative perspective this is a metaphor of life’s journey.” It is impossible not to be confronted by the broader connotations and the socio-cultural aspect of the work, where the bags are additionally, very much symbolic of the large-scale migration movement of refugees who have carried their entire lives and identities in these plastic white bags. It is as much a container and vessel of people as it is a symbolic icon of a period in world history.
Last’s work as an artist has fed into her work as a mentor and educator working with the Glasgow School of Art. It places her uniquely to evaluate the potential of the communicative in art and in the process of creation. To what extent is the art education system able to prepare students to advocate and speak for their work not only through process, the creation, and the aesthetics, but also in the practicalities of presentation and the business of art. “It’s an interesting question. For the act of doing or creating is very personal to me, reflecting on my own journey. If emotion, suggestion and the shift in perspective is communicated, then thank you. As a mentor and educator, I place great importance on process and the creative journey. Process demands that you stay open, that you look to developing ideas, an openness to the experimental and the accidental, allowing yourself to work with it. This adds to your own language, your way of expression, and you take steps towards your creative identity. Now educationally, structures and the curriculum will vary across higher education between regions and countries. Different priorities and methods take precedence but process is always high on the agenda, especially here in Scotland. Living through these challenging times, I worry that in education we may focus on either the traditional or the contemporary ‘idea or concept’ with less emphasis laid on the skill of making,” the artist-educator says. It is perhaps the combination of the two that make Last’s work as deeply communicative as it is, and it is perhaps this combination which speaks to the power and the capacity to engage the audience or the viewer in a conversation that generates an introspection of the art itself.