Artist Keli-Ann Pye-Beshara stands beside her painting âPier Pressureâ at her home studio in Holyrood. The artist sometimes gets help from visitors on her Facebook page, where she posts stages of her paintings. (keli-annpye-beshara.ca) Pier Pressure was a Facebook suggestion. âThe responses are incredible and I really appreciate the feedback,â she says.
â Photo by Lillian Simmons/Special to TheâTelegram
Keli-Ann Pye-Beshara is handing out prizes on Facebook. âThereâs a contest up and everybody can submit one photo of what âHome Means to Me,â she explains.
At the end of three weeks, entrants will vote for the Top 5 photos and Pye-Beshara will paint them live-stream from her studio in Holyrood. Winners will get a large stretch canvas print of the painting.
âIâm also doing five small prints and thereâll be random draws for everybody who enters, âcause I think everybody should win prizes. I frickinâ love prizes. I always did,â the public artist says.
Back in 1994 after finishing up a four-year fine arts degree at Grenfell College, art was the last thing Pye-Beshara wanted as a profession.
Although she was the child who, when other kids were drawing stick men, drew figures in fine detail â with little eyelashes, freckles, hair, patterns and designer clothes, she didnât see it as a talent.
âIâve never made any conclusions like I could do this for a living.â
But she chose to do fine arts anyway, and hated it, fighting it all the way.
âWhen I got there they had no time for realism and thatâs all I ever did was just draw things like they looked.â
âThatâs too tight,â they told her, âloosen it up, bend it, rip it, do something.â But as a young adult she wasnât keen on being told what to do. âWhat an experience,â she recalls. âI learned a lot, but I didnât realize it. I loved all my profs and I knew what they were doing â at the end of it. But it wasnât till later that I appreciated everything they had done for me.â
âStarving artistâ wasnât a phrase she was fond of either. âSo I ran far, far away from fine arts.â
First she took a job with a photography company in Corner Brook, travelling all around Newfoundland taking glamour shots, âwhere the women got all done up in feathers and gloves.â
âIt was crazy popular. Weâd go to the tiniest little towns and photograph 300 women â where did they all come from?â
Then she did an interior design course, taking a job with a fabric company in Toronto, and later working with the same company in Vancouver. From there, she moved to Halifax to start an interior design business, (Inside Out Designs), with a friend.
Thatâs where she met her husband, Brent Beshara, a military man. When he got posted to Borden, Ont., the couple settled in Stayner and Pye-Beshara found a job at a publishing company in nearby Collingwood. It was there she found her art.
Her husband (âBeshâ) hounded her about her talents whenever he had the chance, introducing her at parties as an artist.
âIâm not an artist,â sheâd protest.
âI think he could see I could do it on my own, but I wasnât confident enough.â
When the Collingwood company went under, she felt it was an opportunity to do something she really wanted to do. But what?
View from the CafĂ©
One day the couple stopped into a French restaurant in Collingwood. They took a seat on a leather couch in the front window, sipping coffee, the smell of croissants prepared by the French chef drifting around under the 20-foot ceilings, lingering between the chartreuse walls.
âAnd I went: Wow. I could paint here,â Pye-Beshara says. âAnd Besh went: thatâs it then.â
After putting up a weak fight, she prepared a proposal and submitted it to the restaurant. She would set up and paint in front of the window, while chatting to patrons and answering their questions.
She and her husband discussed prices for her work.
âI knew if I built the price up year by year, Iâd sink before I could swim, so I knew I had to fake it till I made it.â
Her not-quite-blossoming confidence said, âYou can possibly, maybe charge $400 for a 24 by 36.â
âBesh said, âYou know you canât.â And I said to him, âBesh, Iâve never charged $1,500 for a painting. Iâm not even an artist.ââ
The restaurant loved the idea. Could she start right away?
âI had to buy paint, easels; I had to buy art-looking things so it looked like I knew what I was doing.â
Four days later she set up in front of 30 patrons.
âI get up on my stool and I was like, Oh my God, Iâve lost my mind!
âJust start painting, just stick your brush in the paint,â she guided herself, faking calmness.
âThey were asking, âAre you going to paint?â And I said, âYes, I think I am.ââ
She began to paint exactly what she saw through the window. She hadnât even finished View from the CafĂ© when a woman wanted to buy it.
âThen another woman came up and said: No, I want it. And I thought, OK, someone will buy one of my paintings for $1,500. And thatâs when I thought, perhaps I can do this.â
With a little more confidence and a love of architecture and buildings, she knew if she could get commissions for structures sheâd have a good, steady income. She just needed one person to ask for a commission.
When a friend was looking for a wedding gift but couldnât afford her commission price of $600, Pye-Beshara dropped the price to $150 and, with a promise not to tell anyone, her friend accepted it.
It was the commission she needed.
âThere are gorgeous houses in Georgian Bay, so I started getting lots of commissions.â
She continued with the commission work from 2006-08.
âI was actually making a living at art. With each painting that sells you get more confidence. I just never could have imagined that could be me. Iâm still in disbelief really.â
Sitting in the cafĂ©, Pye-Beshara found herself painting and talking all the while, sometimes to 300 people a day.
âI didnât know I had those skills. People talk to you about serious things. Itâs like therapy really. I was like a bartender, because I was there, I was pretty stationary and people could just come and chat. I knew all about peopleâs divorces. I knew everything, but didnât say anything.â
She chatted with hundreds of people and then felt terrible if she didnât recognize them when they said âHiâ at the supermarket.
One day a woman whose brother had just died walked up to her.
âApparently we used to talk. Heâd come every two or three months, specifically to sit and weâd chat.â
Before he passed away he asked his sister to tell the artist that the conversations theyâd had changed his life and affected him so greatly he wanted to say thanks.
âI didnât remember him, and I felt awful. That was my turning point. I felt so, so bad and Besh said, âListen, youâve got to listen to the positive of that story. Just know that your interaction was great because you were sincere. It doesnât mean you have to remember it.â And thatâs when I thought, itâs OK. As long as youâre doing it for real and at the time youâre there for the person and sincere.â
A couple of years went by and Pye-Beshara found herself getting anxious about the work. She moved across the street to a public art studio. Some of the artists there werenât working on commissions but painting for themselves, something she longed to do.
âIt wasnât actually until we moved back to Newfoundland (in 2009) that I finally made the big decision to stop doing commissions.
âSomething opened up when I moved back here, something unlocked for me. I was just super inspired. To be back where my favourite artists are was another thing that made me step up my game. Because Iâd think, imagine if Gerry Squires ever sees my paintings. They gotta be good.â