Beasley, Phoebe 1943–

views updated

Phoebe Beasley 1943

Radio executive, artist

At a Glance


Through hard work and perseverance, Phoebe Arlene Audrey Beasley has established herself in two disparate careers. She is a senior account executive for a radio station. She also has made a name for herself as an extraordinary artist whose work has been exhibited at various galleries around the world.

Beasley was born on June 3, 1943, in Cleveland, Ohio. Her mother died when Beasley was seven years old and her father, George Beasley, remarried Mildred Gaines, an individual whom Beasley herself names as her role model and a major influence on her life. After receiving her B.F.A. at Ohio University in 1965, Beasley pursued graduate study at Kent State University. She then spent the next few years as an employee of the Cleveland Board of Education, working as an art teacher at Glenville High School. In 1969 she opted for a career change. Beasley moved to Los Angeles, and obtained a position as an advertising account executive for KFI/KOST Radio. Now, almost twenty years later, she is senior account executive at the station, deftly handling large volumes of business with important local and national enterprises. Her contributions to broadcasting have not gone unnoticed by her peers.

In 1977 Beasley became the first black woman to be appointed president of American Women in Radio and Television, the same organization that had presented her with a merit award just two years earlier. In 1974 she received an award from the National Association of Media Women. Beasley stated in the October 1989 edition of Ebony magazine, that she cant remember a time when she didnt want to be an artist. As for her life in the business world, she confessed to the Atlanta Constitution, I could never operate in one world. I need people and conversation.

It is apparent that for Beasley the rigors of maintaining a dual career have their advantages. Logging almost one hundred miles of driving time each day turns out not to be a bane, but a source of inspiration, since for Beasley everything is fodder for art according to the Atlanta Constitution. Also, as she explained in a story appearing in the Cleveland Plain Dealer: [Painting is] such a solitary pursuit I need both jobs: I like the interaction in business. I enjoy it and its not just a job to pay for my painting. These are the words of a woman who, in a relatively short period of time, has managed an almost endless list of impressive achievements.

Beasley studied art at the Art Center of Design at Los Angeles and later at Otis Art Institute, where she studied the art of lithography for some eight years. Beasleys list of solo exhibitions is extensive and includes shows at Flavia Gallery in Huntington Beach, California (1976); the Statsinger Gallery in Venice, California (1981); the Crystal Britton Gallery in Atlanta, Georgia (1983); the Karamu Gallery in Cleveland, Ohio (1985); the Isobel Neal Gallery in Chicago, Illinois (1988); and a show at the Alex Gallery in Washington, D.C. (1989). Her works also appeared at Arizona State University, where she also delivered an informal lecture.

Beasley works not only in oils-on-canvas, but does prints and collage, a medium she discovered during her years as an art teacher. Her collages and lithographs

At a Glance

Born Phoebe Arlene Audrey Beasley on June 3, 1943 in Cleveland, OH. Education: Ohio University, BFA, 1965; Kent State University, graduate study; Art Center of Design, post-graduate study; Otis Art Institute, lithography.

Career: Glenville High School, art teacher,; KFI/KOST Radio, advertising accont executive, senior account executive, 1969-; artist Solo exhibitions since 1976; sold original art to companies, corporations as well as celebrities; paintings used as posters for various organizations including Sickle Cell Anemia National Campaign and Neighborhood of Watts Organization Twentieth Century Anniversary. Named official artist for the Los Angeles Marathon, 1987; designed the International Tennis Trophy and medal for Summer Olympics, 1984; participated in design of presidential seal, 1992.

Address: Home Los Angeles, CA.

are included in the corporate collections of the American National Can Company, Johnson Publishing Company, Hanes Hosiery, Atlanta Life Insurance Company, Savannah College of Arts & Design, Katersky Financial, and the Denver Broncos Football Team. Beasley was commissioned by television and film personality Oprah Winfrey to do a series of paintings and lithographs based on Winfreys award-winning mini-series The Women of Brewster Place. In this collection Beasley depicts all of the major characters of the series in her unusual, inimitable style: brilliant in color, meticulous in composition, and often cubist in style. Beasley was asked to do the artwork and the official poster for the 1989 presidential inauguration. Of this work, which appeared at the Alex Gallery, a critic for the Washington Times commented: This piece is one of the best in a show featuring collages dating back to the early 80s.

The beauty of Beasleys work, it seems, lies in its truth. Her paintings tell stories about the lives of real people: the frailty of old age, the plight of the underclass, moments of intimacy, love, humor. Her work was described as a visual facet of humanism, quoted in the Chicago Defender. You have to subordinate emotion to good composition, Beasley described her approach to the Atlanta Constitution. You try to put history in it but you need the composition, too.

Beasleys work is known worldwide and was showcased at the Holler Museum in Bonn, West Germany, in 1989. Her work also appeared at the Eva Dorong Gallery in West Hollywood, California (1983); the Phoenix Arts Gallery in Atlanta, Georgia (1983); Howard University (1984); Museum of African-American Art (1985); Artis Lane Gallery (1986); American Telephone and Telegraph Exhibit (1987); and the Gallery/Tanner (1987, 1988). In addition, she has an impressive list of private collectors, including Maya Angelou, Bill Russell, Winfrey, Ron and Charlayne Hunter Gault, Gordon Parks, and Maria Gibbs.

Judging from her successes as an artist, one might assume that Beasleys vivid treatments of African-American culture have always been received in a spirit of open-minded objectivity. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case. While making the rounds at various galleries, she was surprised to find that so-called established galleries did not, as a rule, showcase what they categorize as black art. Beasley speaks candidly about this in the Ebony article, stating that she was even more surprised at the comments of her contemporaries who asked Why do you always paint Black subjects? It was strange, she continued, especially when they were painting nothing but White subjects. Biased opinions aside, Beasley has managed to garner a loyal following and increased recognition and competitive prices for her work.

In addition to the sometimes all-consuming task of carving out a living, Beasley managed also to devote a portion of her efforts to those organizations whose main focus is not necessarily the bottom line. She has always been involved with the work of cultural, education, and non-profit organizations, including the design of the 1986-87 Sickle Cell Anemia National Campaign Poster and the Neighborhood of Watts Organization Twentieth Century Anniversary Poster. She has served as a grants panelist on the California Arts Council and as a member of the executive board of the state/local Arts Task Force.

Beasleys other achievements include being chosen as one of six artists honored by the Museum of African Art for her contributions to contemporary art; she was named official artist for the 1987 Los Angeles Marathon; she was selected to design the International Tennis Trophy and Medal for the 1984 Summer Olympics; and she won the Museum of Science and Industrys 1984 Black Creativity Juried Art Show for her work, Waiting Room. She also participated in the design of the presidential seal for former president Bill Clintons inaugural. Juggling two careers seems to suit Beasley. In a very short time, she has managed the kind of achievements that many people never see in a lifetime.



Notable Black American Women, Book 1. Gale Research, 1992.

St. James Guide to Black Artists, St. James Press, 1997.

Whos Who Among Black Americans, 1990/91. 6th ed. Detroit: Gale Research, 1990.


Atlanta Constitution, November 1, 1983.

Chicago Defender, February 6, 1984; October 20, 1988.

Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 5, 1985; May 15, 1985.

Ebony, October 1989, pp. 128-32.

Essence February 1989, p. 34.

Jet, June 25, 1984, p. 31.

Washington Times, June 15, 1989.

Pamela S. Deane