Most days you can find Kelly Beeman at her studio, in Brooklyn, working on striking paintings of domestic scenes done in small, elegant brushstrokes. Her typical day starts at 7 or 8 A.M. and ends at 10 P.M. If there’s a show coming up, she might stay all night.

Beeman, who recently turned 40, has worked on illustrations for brands such as Louis Vuitton, JW Anderson, and Loewe, as well as publications like Numéro and Interview. She’s also a fine artist represented by Perrotin, one of the world’s leading contemporary galleries. Last Wednesday, she unveiled her new solo show, “Summer,” at Perrotin’s Lower East Side gallery. On the ground floor, the renowned interdisciplinary artist Daniel Arsham opened his exhibition.

Beeman at work in her Brooklyn studio.

In Beeman’s large-scale canvases, elongated, Modigliani-like figures idle in the summer, dozing, sunbathing, and sipping drinks by the pool. Beneath the tranquility, a sense of nostalgia permeates.

“It’s still a little shocking sometimes,” says Beeman of her success. “But obviously in a very good way.”

Although Beeman grew up in an artistic household in Oklahoma City, she never imagined art would turn into her career. “My parents made art, but I don’t think I ever thought of it as something that people really did,” she explains.

Star Gazers, 2023.

In middle school, she studied Picasso’s Blue Period paintings, then turned to modernist works. Both “informed the paintings that I was making that were quite Expressionist,” she explains. Over the years, her work has increasingly shifted from Expressionist to figurative.

After high school, Beeman took on various odd jobs, but she never stopped painting. After stints working as a waitress, bookstore manager and retail assistant in Oregon, Colorado, and Texas, she moved to New York on a whim, in 2004. Two years later, at age 23, she enrolled in a bachelor’s program in sociology at Hunter College. “I painted every day, so I thought I would take the four or five years in school to do something completely unrelated.”

Beeman’s desk.

After graduating, in 2010, she moved to La Paz, Bolivia, for six months, where she worked on a large-scale mural with a group of 25 children for charity. Though she enjoyed the commission, she still didn’t think of art as a viable career. After meeting her husband in Bolivia, the pair moved to Buenos Aires. There, Beeman kept thinking of home. “I suddenly wanted to depict places where I had lived or people that I had known,” she explains. “I think I got really interested in constructing this little imaginary world that combined memory and fantasy.”

“My parents made art, but I don’t think I ever thought of it as something that people really did.

When her husband’s visa was approved, she moved back to New York, in 2014, and continued to draw in her free time. She found her focus drifting to her subjects’ clothes. People “became characters rather than just figures. And in order to really become characters, I needed to clothe them and put them in environments.”

In the summer of 2015, Jonathan Anderson saw one of her illustrations on Instagram. Beeman had drawn a girl wearing a silk, patterned shirt from the designer’s resort collection. Soon after, Anderson commissioned her to paint large canvases for his studios in Dalston, London. The commissions started pouring in. In 2017, she created a travel book for Louis Vuitton. Throughout its pages, a brunette protagonist navigates the unfamiliar streets of St. Petersburg, crossing the Neva River, admiring the Winter Palace and the Peter and Paul Fortress, and making her way into hidden courtyards.

Beeman’s illustration of a top from JW Anderson’s 2016 resort collection.

Fashion illustration was a gateway to the fine arts. In 2020, she was approached by Perrotin, and by February 2022 she had her first solo show, “Wish,” in Seoul, which was widely acclaimed. “It happened in a second. I could scarcely believe it,” she says.

Now that crowds are busy taking in the paintings from “Summer,” Beeman is already onto the next. “I can’t say for sure what will happen. I think your work will always carry you. But as a long-term trajectory, I definitely see my characters’ world, and mine, expanding.”

“Summer” is on at Perrotin gallery, in New York, through October 14

Check out AIR MAIL’s Arts Intel Report, our newly revamped research tool for what to do and where and when to do it

Elena Clavarino is the Senior Editor at AIR MAIL