Bowing to Royalty

b royalty, 37, painter, day-care artist and self- proclaimed mediocre violinist, says she paints "to make me visible to myself." Visible to the rest of us are her enormous talents, via the oil-and-collage paintings that have brought her almost instant recognition in the fickle art world. Royalty’s texture-heavy, color-saturated paintings also have gorgeous titles, like “Bring Me the Rhinoceros,” “If You're Going By the Amount of Paint, This One,” and “What's the Big Deal with Natalie Portman?” (a question she says is “a stand-in for life’s bigger questions”), and are most often painted onto old doors and windows she rescues from demolished buildings. Lucky library-goers can own their own bit of royalty, because the artist formerly known as Beth is one of four artists featured by the City of Tempe on its new artist-designed library cards.

Why clowns are better.
I started out painting a lot of clowns, probably because I didn't have a lot of confidence painting hair and faces. And it really matters to me, whether I'm drawing or painting, that I really be honest. I'm kind of insular, I have a real thin skin, so it's important when I touch something or interact with something that I feel like everything's on the up and up. You can take a few more liberties with clowns than with people.

On pulp addiction.
I am a magazine-oholic. I subscribe to way too many, and a lot of times I'll do that "send me your first issue for free" thing just to get another magazine, and then when I get it, I cut it all up. It's hunting and gathering. There's a little collage piece in my studio that has a magazine photo stuck to a piece of glass, a beautiful photo from the first time the World Trade Center was bombed, of a woman being carried out on a stretcher. I had it for years, and then a couple months ago I saw it in my dog's mouth. I pulled it out of the dog's mouth, and that little bit that's in the collage is all that was left.

What's in a name?
I usually title a painting after it's done. I read a lot of [Pablo] Neruda, I get a lot of titles from him; I get titles from e.e. cummings' poetry, and my kids name them sometimes. This painting I'm doing now has a funny story. I did it as a trade with the guy who made the concrete wall in front of my house. He wanted a painting of everyone screwing everyone, because he said that's what's happening in the world today. I'm like, "Can I do it like how I want to do it?" and he's like, "Yeah! Knock yourself out!" So I'll probably call this one Joe's Everybody's Screwing Everybody Painting. It's very rare that I get a commission that's this specific. He wanted a GTO car; he wanted Stevie Ray Vaughan's guitar in there. I didn't even know what these things looked like. So I'm thinking, "What on Earth is this going to be?"

On the girl with the red skullcap.
She shows up a lot in my paintings, but I don't know why I started painting her. Maybe because hair is hard to paint. Or maybe I started painting her at a time in my life when there was so much going on in the world, I felt like my people needed a helmet to protect them. In one painting, she's putting a helmet on another person. And the red helmet allows me to get some color in, when I need something to bring a focal point.

How painting can make you more visible.
There are times in my life when I've felt invisible, and so as I started painting and coming out of that time, I felt more visible. It was like the paintings were saying, "I was here," like graffiti or any other territory marking. When I paint, I feel like regardless of what I do or what someone else thinks of me, there's a thing, a mark, that can have its own relationship with people. Even if they never meet me, there I am. It's a very egocentric thing: "I am here!"

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela