There’s nothing subtle about the photographs of Robyn Beeche. They’re brilliant, expressive shots of painted faces, lurid colors, and exuberant style. They feature faces adorned in Piet Mondrian-inspired makeup and vivid scenes from Indian religious festivals. They are extravagant explorations of beauty from a photographer whose life and work form the focus of the documentary, A Life Exposed: Robyn Beeche, which screens at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art on Dec. 15.
Directed by Lesley Branagan, A Life Exposed follows Beeche from her upbringing in Australia to her time as a high fashion photographer in London and subsequent relocation to India. In the ’80s, Beeche became involved in the underground, avant-garde scene in London. Along with Andrew Logan (dubbed the “Andy Warhol of London”), Divine (drag queen extraordinaire and staple of John Waters’ films), and a cohort of similarly ambitious and experimental artists, Beeche exhibited a flair for eccentric and over-the-top imagery. Influenced by the Surrealists and the Bauhaus’ modernist aesthetic, her photographs melded grandiose design and creative illusions. In one of her more iconic images, black paint covers a model’s body in carefully crafted rings. Against a black background, she looks dismembered and robot-like.
Beeche was not only an innovative artist, she was one of the few female fashion photographers in her heyday and highly influential. She worked for the likes of fashion legend Vivienne Westwood, and her aesthetic inspired the look of David Bowie’s video for “Ashes to Ashes.” However, there was something lacking for her on a personal and spiritual level in London.
In the mid-’80s, Beeche traveled to India where she became enthralled with the country’s vibrancy and cultural richness. Soon, she moved there full time and, over the past few decades, has become one of the foremost documenters of Holi—the Indian spring festival known for its carnival-esque events that feature the throwing of colored powder, water fights, dancing, and singing.
“I’m following people with my eye and looking at faces and trying to get that split second of people exploding with emotion,” Beeche says of her approach. Her works, and this documentary, pursue a similar goal—to record beauty, from the traditional and organic to the modern and manufactured.
SLOMA will screen A Life Exposed: Robyn Beeche on Dec. 15, at 7 p.m. For museum members, the cost is $5 and $7 for the general public. For more information, visit sloma.org.