Fran Beallor – Self at El Barrio’s Artspace

Featured Artist

The artist at work in the studio, arranging the drawings in a month grid photo courtesy of Fran Beallor, 2021

In her solo exhibition at the El Barrio’s Artspace PS109 in Harlem, NYC based artist Fran Beallor shows every one of the 366 self portraits she created in 2020. While drawing a new self portrait each day, a number of sub-series organically emerged, on themes such as the iPhone, Boxes, Gravity, and Shadows. Each brings forth a distinct angle of the pandemic experience. Fran Beallor says, “I make self-portraits to see and interpret my world.”

What is the genesis of this exhibition?

On January 1st, 2020, I began my fourth self-portrait-a-day series. Created over four decades. These four one-year long series of over 1,200 self-portraits have become an unexpected lifetime journey; an exploration of humanity and humility, body image and aging, maturing and growth. But 2020 took me in a direction I could not have predicted.

Begun in a mood of introspection, the series quickly morphed into something bigger. My original idea of a visual diary of one woman’s life in art gave way to a more universal concept, as we headed into lockdown in March and our world turned upside down. Nobody had any idea what the year held in store: global pandemic, rampant disinformation, Black Lives Matter protests, deadly worldwide wildfires fueled by climate change, an election unlike any in history, unprecedented vaccine development.

In my 2020 drawings, as self-observation gave way to reactions to dramatic current events, multiple sub-series emerged. Doing a new drawing every single day, gave me ample space to explore these themes and more: The iPhone series emerged from two opposite places. I tried to balance a feeling of “Drowning in Tech” with gratitude for a vital tool to quickly document what was going on while staying connected to the world when we had to stay distant. The Box series was a visceral reaction to being “boxed” in. Delivery boxes became our lifeline to the outside world during lockdowns, and when we had to quarantine. The Gravity series came out of my fascination with objects floating, flying or falling. When Covid hit, and everything became unmoored, feelings of falling, flying or floating became ubiquitous and personal. The Shadow series developed as I began to go out mostly at night to avoid crowds. The long shadows from street lights seemed to speak to how people were feeling – like shadow-selves. Shadows later became an important metaphor for our human impact on the planet.

This self-portrait project gave me a unique opportunity to translate personal concerns into more universal experiences. Looking at myself every day is not always easy. As I learn the vocabulary of my own features and forms, I hope to bear witness to the changes of time, and through that, a broader experience of being human.

Please guide us through the show.

All 366 drawings from SELF 2020 will be on view, hung in 12 large month blocks in the generously spaced Foyer Gallery of El Barrio’s ArtSpace PS 109. Examples from the prior years’ series from 1980, 2000 and 2010 will also be shown – over 400 drawings in all, plus some of my self-portrait paintings as well.

I started the 2020 portraits on gray and black paper, reflecting the dark of winter. As spring approached the papers lightened, and then deepened into richer colors towards the fall, circling back to dark colors at the end of the year. These gradations play across the walls of the exhibit, shown in chronological order. Most of the works are black and white, but some days called for metallic tones: silver, bronze and gold. Like the little highlights in our lives at that time, the small kindnesses that made it all bearable.

Fran Beallor, SELF 2020 detail 10 of 366 drawings, 2020, pencil and colored pencil on toned paper, each drawing is 12” x 9”, photo courtesy of Bárbara HerMor

Fran Beallor creates self portraits that are personal yet universal. She has a long history of exhibiting her paintings, drawings and prints in NYC and beyond. Solo and group shows include the Williams Center for the Arts, the Butler Art Institute and the Morris Museum. Beallor is excited about her September 2022 Solo Show at El Barrio’s ArtSpace PS 109 in East Harlem, for which she received a private funding grant. Recent traveling group shows have brought her work to audiences across Europe. Beallor is represented in corporate, public and private collections, including the 9/11 Museum and Copelouzos Museum in Athens, Greece. In 2020, she won the Morgan Museum’s online Portrait Contest with her complex self-portrait painting, Circle Dance. Beallor’s work has been featured in print and online. SELF 2010 was the subject of an in-depth review in American Arts Quarterly in 2014. She lives and works in Manhattan.

El Barrio’s Artspace PS109 is an exciting community-driven project which transformed an abandoned public school in East Harlem into an arts facility. The 1898 five story landmark-status building boasts 90 units of affordable live/work housing for artists and their families, as well as 2 art galleries, a theater, performance rehearsal spaces, meeting rooms, and green spaces, which encourage tenant engagement and community involvement. Artspace is a nonprofit organization that owns and operates over 53 similar projects across the country.

SELF 2020 hindsight / 366 portraits by NYC artist Fran Beallor
Solo Exhibition of Daily Self Portraits drawn through the leap year of the global pandemic Opening reception Friday, September 9, 6-9pm
Wednesday, September 7 – Saturday, October 1, 2022, open daily: 10am-7pm El Barrio’s Artspace PS 109, 215 E. 99th Street, New York, NY 10029

SELF 2020 is on view through Oct 1st at the gallery and a version of the exhibition will be posted online on Beallor’s website. Instagram Facebook NYAC Zoom Talk / Let’s Face It: the Psychology of Self Portraiture – Sept 12, 7pm Artist Talk / Rolinda Ramos in conversation with Fran Beallor – Sun, Sept 18, 3:30pm Special Saturday events: Sept 17 and 24 – details TBA
Closing Party: Sat Oct 1, 2022 – 2-5pm