Kate Beynon’s new paintings feature female characters surrounded and supported by owls, dragons, bats, orchids, flags and emblems – charms and talismans that draw out aspects of the figures’ identities and have the power to influence their futures. Her paintings carefully incorporate Swarovski crystals grouped into clusters revealing her ongoing interest into how symbols can relate to people. The central figure in Auspicious charms 2008 has a tattoo on her arm of a Taoist talisman depicting a shaman dancing over a fire wheel – a symbol which offers protection and cure from diseases.
Beynon’s practice includes installation, wall-based sculptures, digital animation, drawing and printmaking. Her works are informed by a variety of sources such as calligraphy, graffiti, comic book graphics, and traditional Chinese textile design, which continues her exploration in the creative possibilities of language – its translation, mistranslation, and distillation into symbols.
Beynon was born in Hong Kong to a Malaysian-born Chinese mother and Welsh father before her family immigrated to Australia when she was four. While Beynon’s personal history is just one influence on her practice, it can be seen as both a starting point and a metaphor for her exploration of the complexities of identity and culture. The artist says her works explore “. . . the multi-layered experiences of people negotiating ‘hybrid’ or ‘mixed’ identities produced by a nexus of cultural influences such as heritage, family histories, travel, language, paths of migration and a sense of belonging”.
In 1995, when studying Mandarin, Beynon found the traditional Chinese story of the female warrior character Li Ji in a Chinese/ English textbook. In the story, Li Ji goes against tradition and her family’s wishes by volunteering to be the next female sacrifice to a python that has been terrorising her village. Li Ji uses her ingenuity and fighting skills to trap and kill the python. For Beynon, Li Ji has become symbolic of the potential for powerful cultural change through rebellion and the celebration of hybridity, and has travelled through her work in numerous tellings and re-tellings, as though fighting on the artist’s behalf. The female characters in Beynon’s recent paintings, while not specifically representing Li Ji, continue to draw power from and articulate hybrid identities.