Mesa and Cloud, NM

Artist: Carol Beesley

Personal experience fuses with imagination in the vibrant landscapes of artist Carol Beesley. Growing up, Beesley immersed herself in the novels of Zane Grey. Those western settings captured her imagination and have never let go.

Beesley was awarded a master’s degree in English at the University of Kentucky. She taught English for several years before pursuing another path. She enrolled in the graduate program in studio art at the University of Dallas where she received a M.A. and later at the University of California at Los Angeles, where she earned her master of fine arts in 1973, the same year she joined the art faculty at the University of Oklahoma.

During her studies at UCLA, a photography class ignited a passion that would become an essential element in both her collecting of photographs and in her creative process. Beesley’s paintings begin as photographs. “I go to a place many, many times before I ever presume to paint it.” Such was the case with the subject of Mesa and Cloud, a sandstone formation near Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. She visited repeatedly and took many photos of the mesa before she felt she understood the essence of it.

Her practice is to divide the picture into a grid and carefully reproduce the image from each section onto the canvas in pencil. Beesley uses great care to maintain the true proportions of the natural elements of the landscape. She wants anyone who has visited the location featured in the painting to look at her work and say, “I’ve been there!”

While she fiercely guards the geological reality presented, the atmosphere is another story. “I emphasize and re-interpret the color,” Beesley said. “My paintings are meant to give the sense of the place beyond the mere physical presence.” Like the hues of vintage postcards, impossibly blue skies dwarf towering mesas and evoke a journey to an idealized destination. “I love shadows and glazing” reports Beesley, “I use them to accentuate everything, especially when I want to emphasize the dramatic light at the beginnings and endings of days.”

Beesley’s paintings have been exhibited widely, including two solo exhibits in France during the 1990s. For the Catlett Music Center she completed a large four-piece mural based on the Arbuckle Mountains. The paintings were dedicated to her late husband, OU professor and composer Michael Hennagin in 1998. Her work was featured at Oklahoma’s State Capitol East Gallery in 2012. And in the spring of 2013 she was selected for two important exhibits: The first National Weather Center Biennale opened on Earth Day, and a retrospective of her 40 years life’s work opened at the Goddard Center in Ardmore.

Her scholarship has also been recognized. Beesley was awarded a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities to complete a project on the experimental artist Richard Kostelanetz and to study art history at Columbia University in New York City. The year she spent there fed her artistic spirit and provided many important insights into her own work .

From 1973 to 1997, Beesley taught studio classes and history of photography at the University of Oklahoma, before moving to Santa Fe, New Mexico where she lived for a dozen years. In 2008 a commission to create a series of paintings based on Oklahoma’s Quartz Mountain for the Schusterman Learning Center on the University of Oklahoma campus in Tulsa brought her back to Oklahoma and she decided to stay. Though she was born in Texas, her Oklahoma roots run deep. Her father Bruce H. Beesley, of Bokoshe spent most of his life in Tulsa where his father Walker W. Beesley, M.D. practiced medicine. Bruce Beesley graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1934.

Today his daughter, Carol Beesley, continues to teach selected courses in the University of Oklahoma school of art, and to share her beloved Oklahoma landscapes with the world. Mesa and Cloud was purchased for the Oklahoma Judicial Center collection.