Upon which side of the portraiture fence do you fall? Is the proper goal of the artist to simply record physiognomic details accurately? Or is it their duty to capture that which cannot be seen — the subtle nuances of an individual’s character that surface through fleeting poses and expressions? Or something more? Pushing the boundaries of traditional portraiture is artist Tamie Beldue, whose work suggests that reality is “fundamentally immeasurable.”
Hailing from Asheville, North Carolina, acclaimed artist Tamie Beldue works to extend the genre of portraiture beyond its traditional boundaries through the acute observation and recording of her models’ thoughts and feelings. However, Beldue doesn’t simply ask her subjects to verbalize these sentiments; rather, she has trained herself to notice the nonverbal cues expressed through their body language. Beldue writes, “The model’s independent thoughts and feelings are expressed through their body language in either fleeting or gradual changes — perhaps a transitory interruption in the rise and fall of breath, or the disappearance of a bone that was once pressing against the skin. I record these subtle nonverbal clues, instabilities, and movements over time with the intention to build an illusionary space of breathable air in which an inhale could be palpable.”

Tamie Beldue, “Portrait of a Butterfly,” 2015, graphite, watercolor, pastel, oil & encaustic, 40 x 40 in.
(c) Tamie Beldue 2015

Just as fascinating is the fact that this transaction between artist and subject is not one-sided. Beldue frequently challenges her own perceptions as each piece evolves, working organically to allow the full stream of observation and creativity to flow. “I also approach each juncture with fluctuating perceptions,” she says, “demonstrating that reality is fundamentally immeasurable; therefore, the accumulation of marks presented extends the work beyond traditional portraiture. I depict my subjects as economically as possible, leaving ambiguities in edges and areas that are underdeveloped to suggest the slight movements and gestures which typify each individual.”

Tamie Beldue, “Portrait of a Heart,” 2014, graphite, watercolor, pastel & cold wax, 40 x 40 in.
(c) Tamie Beldue 2015

The resulting works are something mysteriously — and tantalizingly — more than simply naturalistic re-creations of an individual’s appearance. Rather, Beldue’s portraiture argues that a figure can be more than just a sitter and, as she suggests, “sets the stage for a larger conversation on social discourse.” Beldue’s approach is outstanding because it makes an individual’s portrait more accessible to strangers, who can extrapolate from it something about human nature and themselves. Beldue achieves her goal with dazzling beauty, using both drawing and encaustic mediums to “compile layers of diligent perception to depict an image that demonstrates the complexities of a subject, time, and space,” she says. “In doing this, I learn something about myself while simultaneously offering a visual experience for others uniquely through my lens.”

Tamie Beldue, “ Tangible Identities, Blair I,” 2010, graphite, watercolor & encaustic, 13 x 13 in.
(c) Tamie Beldue 2015

Although they have an impressively soft appearance, the surfaces of Beldue’s pictures vibrate with life and energy. This push and pull between medium and image continues to be a tricky dynamic that challenges the artist. She writes, “Prior to 2008 and subsequently working with the encaustic medium, I had always been aware of the physicality of process; graphite & watercolor on paper, rather than the physicality of the work itself where the image supersedes the materials — this is something I continue to be challenged by. The multiple materials I work with in each piece enable me to think differently about the process, which I believe in turn, adds to the complexity of the image. For example, watercolor washes are first added as a very quick, gestural way of thinking, while the graphite is methodical and tightly rendered. Whereas the encaustic medium is added in thick layers, obscuring the entire image, allowing me to scrape and find my original drawing in a very physical way. In addition, soft pastels and oil have slowly been finding their way into the pieces for their inherent color and tactile expressive capabilities.”

Tamie Beldue, “Circular,” 2013, graphite, watercolor & encaustic, 27 x 39.5 in.
(c) Tamie Beldue 2015

Beldue will have a much deserved opportunity to explore her surfaces, and much more, uninterrupted as she begins a sabbatical from her teaching career tomorrow. “During this time I plan to devote all my energy towards uninterrupted studio time to explore quick studies, long and involved drawings of significant scale, and the move towards more ambiguous spaces and subject,” she says. “But of course, I will be watching for alternative unexpected possibilities that the work dictates along the way.” One thing is for sure: her audiences will also be eagerly awaiting to view the results — as will we.
Beldue’s website is currently under construction, but keep a close eye on http://www.tamiebeldue.com
This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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Andrew Webster is the former Editor of Fine Art Today and worked as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.


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