The heiress of the beasts
| Still little known a short time ago, Beya Rebaï has created an original artistic style between pastel, fauvism and explosive colors. Her work, her prolific production and her inimitable style have today reached a wide audience.
The first time we met was in 2019, in the former pharmacy in the 11th arrondissement, which has now become the Slow Galerie, an exhibition space for new illustration talents. That evening, during the opening of her Rivage exhibition, many of us have admired Brittany in large format through the hatched and vibrant lines of Beya Rebaï’s pastels.
A year and a half later, we found ourselves on the Père-Lachaise side. In this peaceful environment, Beya lends herself into the interview game. In a nearby café, she unwind herself after an intense week. The studio where she works with 5 other children’s illustrators and graphic designers is a few streets away. Beya slipped away for an exchange.
Paris, the great playground
The neighborhood is familiar. In fact, this is where Beya was born in 1995. Her parents live in République. Very early on, she soaked up the bubbling cultural atmosphere of eastern Paris. As great art lovers, her parents took her to Parisian museums and art galleries. On Saturday afternoons, family walks were taken at the Centre Pompidou. Beya were still too young to follow them. “They would give me a notebook and pencils and would ask the guard to watch me to go visit the museum. When my parents arrived, there were Chinese people around me watching and marveling at my drawings. My taste for color and art started like this”. A few years later, Beya will lead introductory drawing and color workshops. Her audience is already there, but her time has not yet come.
Her father is Tunisian. His job as a corporate travel planner offers the family the opportunity to travel easily. “We had discounts for planes and hotels. My parents were great globetrotters. They took me everywhere with them. I think that’s why I’m drawn to travel today, to discovering a new city, a new country”. From her mother’s side, she draws the light and the landscapes of the Brittain coast. Her grandparents’ house in the Morbihan Gulf was her playground during the summer holidays. It is to these memories that she pays tribute in her exhibition Rivage. Beya’s bi-nationality makes her sensitive to the impact of image on human representations. “I am not a “committed” artist. I take a stand in my personal life but I do not carry a message in my work. On the other hand, I take care to represent people with different skin colors for example. When I was little, I would have liked to see children who looked a little more like me. I remember Martine at the beach. I was fascinated by her. She had smooth hair, she dressed well, her skin was all white. I, who was a tanned little girl with curly hair, did not necessarily find myself. I believe it is important to represent all people and that every child can recognize himself in an illustration”. Currently, Beya is working on a children’s book. The dad will be black, the mother white and the child of mixed race.
The impatience of the artistic life
At school, Beya draws most of the time in the margins of her notebooks. To focus is hard for her during the classes. “The teachers were picking on me because I wasn’t listening. In middle school and high school, I didn’t feel very well. Scientific subjects did not speak to me at all. I would go back to class and fill in sketchbooks. I could have started a business because I was doing geography maps for my whole class.” In college, once the courses were over, she used to go to the Arts Déco in Paris and the Louvre carousel to take drawing, still life and live models classes. Only philosophy and literature interested her. She aspired to join an artistic baccalaureate. Her parents refused and asked her to complete her studies in literature. It was a test for Beya who struggled until her final year. At the end of high school, the time has came to present the School of Decorative Arts in Paris and Strasbourg. “I’m a rather reserved and not very demonstrative person. A lot of explanation and conceptualization of the artistic work was required. I just wanted to draw. It did not work”. It was finally in the public artistic preparation of EPSA in Ivry sur Seine that she began her career. She then discovers that the profession of illustrator can suit her. “I didn’t even know what it was. A friend told me that you can work for the press and do live drawing all the time. I said to myself, come on, let’s go do that”. With this in mind, she joined the St Luc school in Brussels. The pace is steady, academic and theoretical. Many of her comrades got discouraged and gave up. Beya was used to demanding expectations from private Catholic school. She perseveres. “After three years, I didn’t see myself getting into illustration just with my baggage in color and drawing. It wasn’t professional enough. I was missing something very concrete that isn’t necessarily found in art schools. We are told you are making art and then we are unleashed in nature without any concrete tools. I didn’t feel ready. I was not finished”. She returns to Paris.
She enrolled in the master illustration of the school of Condé. It’s a discovery. Digital techniques are very present. She became familiar with software after having only worked with hand tools. But student autonomy is very important and Beya loses her bearings. The reassuring setting to which she was accustomed has disappeared. She does not find the concrete keys she was waiting for to enter professional life. She was bubbling from the inside. “At that time, I was staying at my parents’ house, I started working like crazy, making my website, my Instagram, starting to sell a few drawings to make some money. I said to myself, if I wait for someone to professionalize myself, when I leave school in a month, I will end on the streets». But than, a happy encounter breathes new life into her and opens doors for her.
Klin d’oeil, the launch pad
For the past few months, she has followed the work of the Capman sisters at Klin d’Oeil, a designer boutique hidden in the shade of Saint Joseph Church in the 11th arrondissement. She asked to do her internship there. They got along really well. “They put me forward and encouraged me a lot. They started selling my artwork and sharing my work to their important social media community. I gained a lot of visibility thanks to them”. The end of her studies was approaching as well as the dizzying step towards professional life. The signals were positive. Beya posts very regularly on instagram. « For a year I posted an image every day, without exception, Sundays included. Today, I don’t know how I did it. I produced a lot. I used to finish at two in the morning every day. » Her Instagram account was then growing and the first orders were arriving. The Guardian has even contacted her! « I was freaking out. I was not yet affiliated with the Maison des Artistes. I had schoolwork due at the same time.” For a few weeks, she led this double life simultaneously. At the same time, O Galeria, an exhibition gallery in Porto, had offered her a solo show. “I was overwhelmed with work. My mother came with me to Portugal. I told her « Mom, I feel this is starting to take off for me, I have to stop class. A diploma, nobody is going to look at it when I will have made orders. ». I was dreading telling my dad because he was paying for all my studies. He understood that I had to devote myself completely to my work “.
Before leaving school, she met Marion from the O Pekelo agency who offers to sign with her. Her career as an illustrator begins. Orders were multiplying thanks to its visibility on Instagram. “The first order for the New Yorker, I was like crazy. I called my agent, it was 9:30 pm… I said: Marion I’m sorry to call you at this time but I have an order for the New Yorker! “. Beya made the choice early to write all of her posts in English to appeal to an international audience. Her creations have quickly touched the other side of the Atlantic. Its clients are now mainly foreigners, the USA, Germany, England. “I realized that overseas budgets have nothing to do with a page in a French newspaper. Budgets are tripled, quadrupled. At that point, I started making a good living.” With these early victories, Beya left her family apartment to rent her own place.
Pastels, the discovery that changed everything
At the origin of this success there is a big click. “The most important thing is when I discovered pastel and found my style. It was summer 2018. I went on vacation to Italy and Switzerland with my parents. Little anecdote… I entered a store. Everything was very expensive. I discovered the Caran d’Ache pastels Neo Color II and I stole five of them! The irony is that I have become today the French ambassador for these Caran d’Ache pastels and I work with them every day”. We are in Italy. The weather is nice. The days are getting longer. Beya takes advantage of the summer mildness and the charm of the landscapes to cover her sketchbooks. “I see mountains… and there… I fell in love with the mountains. I feel something in the middle of these mountains. Something very intimidating, very strong. I feel very small. I am very moved by it and try to transcribe what I see. From that moment on, I do not stop. I draw with pastels every day. It’s a very big crush. I finally found a medium that thrills me with intense colors, with texture. I tell myself that I found something after 6 years of study “. Until now Beya had the feeling that she couldn’t find her dough, that she changed her style regularly. The painting requires mixtures, the felt drool, the digital is smooth. She did not found herself in any of these techniques. “I needed something that spoke to me, that made me vibrate, that allowed me to work by hand and to express myself. I fall on pastel and it was love at first sight. A revelation”.
Drawing in cafes, people, vegetation, landscapes… Beya has realized that she can work on all subjects with this technique. “It was a relief. I was so happy. It was all those years of hard work looking for myself. Finally I found something that I liked! It was a relief and a great satisfaction ”. Pastel is the trademark and the tool that made her success. Yet it is not easy for an artist to be strongly identified with a technique at the risk of being locked into it. She says, “Trying other materials scares me. People know me for pastel and come and get me for it. Imagining I take more pleasure in painting or watercolor … It means that my style will completely change and people will not come to see me anymore. I don’t dare to experiment with other materials because I’m afraid of losing my style and being no longer recognized. I do this for myself but I never show it. I recently worked in charcoal and loved it. But I’m afraid to show it. I know the consistency of a book is very important. I hope someday I can show something other than pastel and get my style back ». Yet Beya is already exploring new directions, notably oil pastel, which she uses as a substitute for wax pastel. It expands her range of colors with shades of yellow that complement its duos of red and blue and its cool colors.
Managing success and staying creative
In a short amount of time, Beya found herself propelled to the fore. If she enjoyed the comfort of not having to look for her clients, she also saw the limits of this success. Between the orders for the press, the store to supply, the packages to ship and the drawing workshops to animate, there is not much time left to create. “Currently, in my week, I really draw maybe one day. The rest is emails, quotes, administration, the store, shipping… As I do everything on my own, I no longer have time to draw for myself “. This is why Beya is considering hiring a part-time person at the start of the school year to help her follow her website, her shop and her Instagram account. “It’s a huge job responding to all messages from people who contact me. I don’t want to be the girl who doesn’t answer messages. But that’s what I’m doing right now. I can’t find the time ”. Her next goal is to free up time to deepen her work and experiment with new directions. “Before, I accepted all projects. I told myself that I had to pay my rent, that I had to eat. I had this need to always being busy. Today I can afford to turn down a few projects to focus on my practice “. Thanks to this new free time, she hopes to draw more, return to her origins and explore new continents.
Among Beya’s great inspirations, we cannot fail to mention Fauvism, an art movement initiated by Henri Matisse and André Derain, which in the summer of 1905 opened up a new path for painting. Far from the capital and its influence, settled on the Mediterranean coast in the village of Collioure, they explored light and break free from the codes of realistic painting. We find this heritage in the liveliness and the fiery colors of Beya, which made named the two French painters “fauves” by Parisian critics. “They were using the color that came out of the tube. They were placing colors that weren’t real. This is what stood out to me. A meadow is not necessarily green, a sky is not necessarily blue. There is something to be imagined in the use of different colors for the elements. Making a purple tree, I think it’s awesome. It opened up huge possibilities for me. “ Furthermore, she is sensitive to Pierre Bonnard, David Hockney from whom she acknowledges having drawn great inspiration from the paintings.
“Anything that concerns bright color speaks a lot to me! I think it comes from my childhood. In museums, I did not understand the meaning of paintings. I just saw the associations of colors between them. I was not aware of it but it stuck. I am more interested in a painting that provokes emotion through the composition of the colors than a work with a concept behind it. What I’m trying to transcribe is an emotion devoid of any intellectualization, something very pure and instinctive “.
Pierre Bonnard, Sonia Delaunay, Idir Davaine, Yann Kebbi, Lorenzo Mattoti, David Hockney, Andrea Serio, Roger Mühl, Firenze Lai, André Derain, Henri Matisse
Wax pastel, oil pastel, ipad pro
Where to find her?
Many thanks to Solenn Coulon for the translation.