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Syd Bee is a Seattle-based painter whose work seems plucked directly from the dream world. Bee uses rich, rosy tones in much of her art while exploring somber themes and emotions, and the marriage of these opposing elements gives her pieces a surreal, otherworldly quality. This dichotomy invites the viewer to dive deep into her beautifully eerie art, exploring the story told in each piece.

I’ve taken the time to sit down with Bee to have a glimpse at her process, inspiration, and upcoming solo show at Haven Gallery.

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What is your biggest source of inspiration?

I really enjoy reading…art history, medical science history, psychology, comic books, and fairy tales. I take notes on the books I read, lots of notes. Recently, I finished “Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present” and “Kore: On Sickness, the Sick, and the Search for the Soul of Medicine”, both of which I highly recommend. And for comics, “Paper Girls” by Brian K. Vaughan & Cliff Chiang and “Through the Woods” by Emily Carroll are simply amazing. 

I’ll watch movies and shows over and over again. Off the top of my head, I’ll play “King of Hearts” by Philippe de Broca and “Stranger Things” by the Duffer Brothers on repeat just to keep myself surrounded by the environment they create for me.

Painting is your primary medium, but do you work in other mediums or explore other crafts?

I learned a bit of sculpture in college and loved it! But you really need a decent space to create with all those materials, so I’ve been using painting as the main outlet to get across what I need to. When the idea demands building a thing, I will find a way to do that. I also make little autobio comics for fun, and maybe that’ll go somewhere someday.

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Is there any particular music you tend to listen to while working?

I’m especially drawn to music that tells a story or builds a moody atmosphere. Movie soundtracks are so great for this. I’ll often get a bit obsessed and create long playlists, and listen to them over and over…It becomes repetitive in a good way, and trance inducing (which is great to paint to).

Can you tell us a bit about your process, from concept to creation?

I spend lots of time researching, collecting notes and images, and laying about daydreaming. Ideas often come to me when I’m nearing sleep, and usually then as only amorphous shapes & colors. Then I’ll spend the next day chasing after it. It’s almost always just a deep sense or tone I’m trying to recapture, the effect it had on me when I first saw it. Gleaning through my notes and collections help pin down which imagery to use, and if something doesn’t seem to fit then it’s benched until another time.

You have a very unique aesthetic and palette you tend to work with—did this evolve organically for you?

Whenever I face a color chart (or wall of paint swatches at the paint store, for example), it’s that bright, rosy spectrum that I’m drawn to. It’s always been that way. In general, I love candy colors and bright pop stuff. I don’t fight the impulse. Plus I get a kick out of pairing happy colors with somber content.

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What’s one of your deepest values or most important topics to you, and how do you communicate that with your art?

The work that matters to me is the kind that maintains my fascination, and addresses certain feelings. Immediately, I think of sweetness and melancholy, which are important to me. Mainly they act as devices that keep me going. It feels right for me to make work that veers into gloomy territory because I naturally gravitate towards that shadowy side. I’m a big fan of stories about lost love, loneliness, death, ghosts… I love cheerful stories too, but I’m afraid I’m not very good at telling them.

You’re preparing for your second solo, which will be held at Haven Gallery in New York this spring. Can you share anything about that show with us?

My first solo was at the fantastic Antler Gallery last year titled “In My Bones”, which was a wonderful chance for me to get out some things that had been on my mind. Similarly, my upcoming show at Haven next May is something I’m really looking forward to sharing.

During this last year or so (which I’m sad to say has been difficult on a personal level), fragments of thoughts, feelings, and particular imagery has been persistently popping up. And although I’ve been doing my best to record it all, I’ve really wanted a chance to explore this thing that I haven’t shaken loose. In part, I’ve had this recurring dream for a long time where I’m wandering through an empty old house. I feel the crushing weight of being watched by someone (or something!) unseen. And whenever I try to leave, I don’t get too far out before being pulled back to it. 

The work I’m chiseling away right now for Haven Gallery is my way of observing that feeling, the unease, and giving it a name. I’d like to think that the figures I paint are also working through some similar anxiety, trying to navigate isolation, intimacy, uncertainty, and the lingering sense that something is amiss. 

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