Beau Dunn Turns LA’s Plastic Culture into Art
While most of us are over the idea of “having it all,” there are more and more women who seem to be “doing it all.”
Take it from Beau Dunn, who works as a model, actress, and an artist – a.k.a. three of your dream jobs all at once. We talked to Beau about her amazing art, which features some of our fave things like Barbie dolls and Hello Kitty, how growing up in LA has influenced her work, and why her alma mater almost kicked her out over her controversial senior art show.
Let’s start by talking about plastic. You use Barbies in a lot of your designs. What made you choose this medium?
I was a tomboy growing up. So its pretty ironic, but then as the years went on I got girlier and girlier. My dad owns a toy company so I was always immersed with children’s toys and products. He would come home with really cool toys and ideas and we’d be like, making models and prototypes on the kitchen table with hot glue. He always worked with Mattel or Sanrio so I was always immersed in that world.
So, I kinda just had a merger of everything. I was like, I think it’s such a great iconic doll, its so controversial on different levels, especially coming from Beverly Hills. I think there are so many avenues of plastic. Obviously when you live in LA it’s the city of glitz, glam, Hollywood, it’s kind of the perfect fit to explain where I’m coming from. Kind of a play on the world that I live in. I also make what I want to have in my house. I have a hard time because I hang the Barbie pieces up in my house and when I had to send them to my gallery I was so devastated.
I’m in my 20s, and we’re starting to learn about the art world that has changed so drastically from my parents’ generation because we have the internet now. Before, you would go to a gallery and that was the only way to purchase art. It’s very old school, but my dad still has galleries. Nowadays everything is so accessible with Instagram and email and all this stuff. I could just look up an artist online or on Instagram and email them directly.
Do you see your designs as a direct reaction to growing up in LA? Or do you think they apply to many parts of the world?
It’s worldwide…any major city. It’s not even just talking about the cities that I’ve lived in, it started off as a series just for fun because it’s little girls holding signs saying “need money for boob job, need money for botox, need money for Birkin” and then I had some boys, but I think they got taken down. So it started as a photography series, but then it went into neon.
It’s an issue worldwide with kids getting whatever they want. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, what kids are seeing through the TV and the internet and all this stuff, any young celebrity can post something and kids want it. It’s more kind of directed towards generation now and the access that kids are getting whether it’s through the parents or social media.
It’s funny because you just touched on how social media can be a good thing in terms of exposure but can also be a bad thing in the case of influencing children.
Yeah, there are no filters anymore. Sure parents can put filters on kids’ computers, but back in the day when I was younger you were blocked from everything and now everything is so accessible. Where is the line drawn? I have friends whose little brothers or sisters have Instagram and they’re seven or eight [years old]. Obviously they’re private, but they can see whatever they want. You have an iPhone or a computer then it’s accessible, it doesn’t matter where you are.
You can idolize the LA lifestyle no matter where you are.
Exactly, you can fake it really well too.
So, can you talk about Size Does Matter?
[Laughing] Ah, yes! So obviously, I’m a contemporary artist and there’s a fine line between fine art and pop art, I think down the road I’m definitely not a pop artist, but this specific series…I needed something for the boys. All my stuff is so girly, I needed something to counterbalance it.
When I did a show at Pepperdine, I studied Studio Art. I did a series of Ken holding Magnum condoms. It was a sculptural piece. It was Barbies holding syringes and Kens holding condoms. Pepperdine is a Christian University, they’re sex-free and a dry campus, and they weren’t too happy with me. It was a senior show so it was a big thing and families were coming and I got in a lot of trouble for it. I almost got kicked out. I was kind of blown away, I’m not putting anything gross or nasty, it’s fun and playful. I understand it’s a Christian university and I had a great time there, but I wanted to do a spin-off of the series and get a different demographic for my collectors.
It was kind of an F U to that situation. Girls love it and young male art collectors love the series as well so it’s really interesting to see. So that was kind of a joke that turned into the series. Obviously I talk about social pressures of being a woman, but there are social pressures of men. Is it wallet size? Penis size? It got me out of my world of women and beauty and being a model into actually talking to young men and asking what are the pressures?
How has your work as a model influenced your artwork?
I have fun working. The lines are very blurred nowadays with multi-dimensional careers. From day one, I knew I wanted to do many things and now it’s more accepted. But back then it was like “if you want to model, model” or “if you want to do art, do art” and I was like “why can’t I do them all?”
I think that’s where modeling has influenced me, because I have so much fun doing it. I’ve met so many amazing people, great friends who are models, artists, makeup artists, photographers, around the world. Opening my eyes to new experiences and also seeing the dark side of that. I’m not a size zero by any stretch of the imagination and there would be times where I’d go into castings and not fit the sample. I’ve always been very secure with who I am so it never bothered me, but it’s a very warped reality. I think it’s really cool that I can continue to do all this and it’s cool because I’ve worked with brands like Louis Vuitton since I was little and they work with artists and do collaborations so it’s cool because fashion, acting, all these worlds are blending now. With social media on top of it, you can really do whatever you set your mind to.
What advice do you have for someone who has similar goals and would like to pursue different careers in the creative industry? Because I definitely get what you’re saying in that people will say you have to go “all in” on one thing rather than spreading yourself thin among many avenues.
If you want me to brutally honest, I don’t sleep [laughing]. I think it’s that I have so much drive, and what all my friends will tell you is that I’m not scared of rejection and I’m not scared of people saying no because until you ask you don’t know the answer. I think that would be my biggest advice to people. If you are interested, do your homework and research and send stuff right in. I have so much fun doing so many different things. All my friends think I’m crazy, but I set lists and I get stuff done. I always try and finish what I’ve started, but I think it’s good to have your eyes open and explore different mediums.
I was going to ask you how you make time for social life, but it sounds like you enjoy what you’re doing so you don’t really need a “break” like some people would from their corporate lives.
When I’m tapped out, I take a break. After Pepperdine I was a little burnt out from art, so I focused on modeling and acting. I had health issues for a few years so the acting was too much and I had to move to Atlanta when I got diagnosed with Lyme Disease. I’m fine now, but I was physically tapped out at that point, I couldn’t shlep to auditions or go around, so I really had to take a step back. I was going 110 miles an hour and I had to slow down. There is a fine line, but if you slow down it also makes you concentrate on what you want to do and gives you fresh eyes to come back to the project.