Thanks for doing the interview, Beau. Give the readers some background information about yourself?
I’m known as: The Button Man, Sir Buttons, Lord Buttons, and Count Buttons. I have these nicknames because in my art I work with clothing buttons. I’ve always been a creative person whether in music, fashion, or visual arts.
I’ve dabbled in the arts all my life and made pit stops here and there. I was in a punk rock band called Strange Beauties with two of my friends. I made all these crazy outfits for our performances with kool-aid as dye, shredded shirts, and collage shoes made out of paper. I had to redo the shoes every night because they’d get worn out after performances.
Creating the attire for my band got me more focused on fashion design. From there I started making wearable art using clothing buttons like denim shorts, jackets, and so forth. I did that for a period of time, got featured in Women’s Wear Daily and some other highlights before I burned out.
I took a 10-year hiatus before I reinvented myself around the middle of the 2000’s as a visual artist. And now, I just call myself a creative artist and I do whatever inspires me artistically.
- What do you think is unique about your work / style / technique / those in your genre?
First and foremost, my work is unique because of the medium. There aren’t a whole lot of visual artists who work with buttons as their primary medium. Aside from that, my process is unique. Most of my work has two layers—a base layer and a decorative layer that are simultaneously hand-sewn. It is very tedious and laborious work. Other button artists have different techniques—some use glue, some use wire and string as the primary base. We each have a unique and interesting technical process.
- What have you most recently completed and / or what are you working on now?
When I finish a project I always have leftover buttons, thread, fabric, or whatever materials I was using. So most recently, I took some leftover items and started making these wearable faces. Tribal masks from Africa inspired it. But I am not directly referencing any particular tribe. The face is created as a stream of consciousness. I just grab whatever is around and let the vibe and energy dictate what the face looks like.
I am also working on a t-shirt project called Triple-Ts. It started with my collection of my own personal t-shirts. I am a hoarder when it comes to clothing. Before I decide to donate clothes I try to repurpose it. I came up with the idea of combining two or more t-shirts into one wearable work. I make stories and narratives within the works so each one has a theme. You can wear the shirt about five different ways since it has three holes for the neck. The easy part is physically putting the shirts together. The hard put is putting the narrative together. Since each shirt has a theme I have to go hunting down shirts that will match a theme and create a story. I have sports, pop culture, social justice, art, and other themes. It’s a lot of fun and people love the shirts. I am kind of addicted to this project right now.
- How long do you spend on a work or exhibition? How do you begin?
I start with the theme of an exhibition and from there I brainstorm ideas. Most of my work relates to my life. I cannot produce anything that I have no knowledge or experience of. I have to indulge in it one hundred percent so that when I converse about the story I am factual about my piece.
The amount of time I spend on a project depends on the scale of my piece. It can go anywhere from a month to six months. The longest piece I made was the bathtub for the exhibition “i found god in myself: a celebration of Dr. Ntozake Shange’s ‘for colored girls..’” I had no idea how to sew buttons onto a cast iron bathtub that weighed about 500 pounds. It took a month of trial and error. I had to find the right drill and map out how to sew buttons onto the bathtub. Once I found the technique it became easier but it was still a lengthy process of sewing for 12 hours a day for about five months.
- What is most challenging about what you do? Most rewarding?
The most challenging part is developing the idea and sticking to the idea. Once I start there is no turning back because the work is so tedious. Everything is hand-sewn and I sew anywhere from a 1,000 to 3,000 buttons depending on what it is. I can’t stop in the middle and say I want to do something else.
The early stages of creating the work are boring. I am mostly creating my outline, getting the piece prepped, and so forth. But I get excited once I am in the middle of the process and I see the shape coming to life. It becomes rewarding as the idea physically manifests into something I can see and touch.
- What does your work mean to you?
My work is my history and my legacy. It’s the evidence that I was here, that I existed, and that I contributed something positive to this world. I don’t plan to have any children. So I consider my work my children.
- What inspired you (in general)?
I am inspired by life—walking down the street going shopping, looking up at the sky, and having conversations with random people. Music, fashion, and other visual artists inspire me too.
- What role does the artist have in society?
Our role is to tell a story and to touch people. We are to connect with what’s going on in real time. If the work an artist created doesn’t have any emotional resonance with people then there’s no point to it.
- What do you dislike about the art world?
Without the artists there wouldn’t be an art world. And too often the artist gets the short end of the stick. There is a lot of inequity artists must deal with, especially when it comes to being fairly compensated or compensated at all for one’s work and time. I know the art world is comprised of a lot of key players but artists deserve a little bit more fucking respect.
- Is there a town or place in the world you consider inspiring?
New York. It is the melting pot. You can see any and everything here. I am inspired by all of the various vultures that exist here.
- Can you give the readers your Website and Facebook addresses so they can check you out?
Facebook: Be Au
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Photo by Greg Frederick.
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