EXPLORING beauty through imagery is the focus for Bay Backner's latest exhibition.

Based in Saltaire, Bay's 'How to be Beautiful' features new paintings of the women who have changed the face of female beauty.

Bay's artistic creations include Audrey Hepburn; Kate Moss and Frida Kahlo alongside the lesser-known but equally influential faces such as Louise Brooks, Hedy Lamarr and Bella Hadid.

Her style is influenced by Film Noir and the Golden Age of Hollywood and her work is already attracting significant attention after recently featuring in Grazia Magazine.

Bay, who studied at the Ruskin School of Art, Oxford University, and Central Saint Martins, London, explains the development of 'How to Be Beautiful' from a conversation at her show during the Saltaire Arts Trail in May.

"I'd had a brilliant chat with Janine Sykes, course leader in MA Curation Practices at Leeds College of Art. We'd talked about the faces we see as beautiful, and this is being changed by digital media and globalised industry. So the idea came together of a show to explore female beauty and its iconic images," says Bay, who works in oil paint on stretched canvas, then creates limited-edition prints in archival ink.

Her paintings are inspired by fine-art’s ‘old masters’ as well as today’s street artists and fashion photographers.

"I'm fascinated by the culture of beauty because it shapes how many of us see ourselves. Ideals of beauty are as tied to culture and fashion as much as our popular music styles or the colour of our wallpaper, yet many of us still believe them to be unchanging 'universals.'"

Interestingly, Bay explains in the early 17th century blue veins on the face were seen as a sign of youth prompting women to paint them on!

"I find it very liberating to see beauty as a cultural fashion I can play with. So for the show, I painted the images of women I believe have changed the face of beauty today. Many of our current ideals started in the 'Golden Age of Hollywood', films from the 1930s to 1960s. In these films stage makeup had to be high-contrast to look good - first in black and white, then in the unnatural gloss of Technicolor. We look to the actresses in these films as 'fashion icons'; Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, Marilyn in Some Like It, the many actresses of Film Noir.

"So, we take an ideal of beauty especially created for film and aspire to that in our daily lives. We see this happening again with the beauty constructed for digital photography - for 'selfies' and snapchat. High contrast with contouring, and specific poses to communicate 'beauty'... many of which have been taken from the photography styles of early Hollywood," explains Bay.

"Of course my paintings are a very personal selection of faces. They're the women who have shaped my western ideal of beauty, and whose images hold in my mind as I look in the mirror every day. Interestingly, some are women unknown to me before I started research for the show - but I realised just how much their image changed how I, and many women today, see themselves. For example, Louise Brooks was the original 1920s 'It Girl'. She made short hair and a boy-like figure desirable after three centuries of corseted curves and waist-length hair. We'd look very different without her!

Bay adds painting the world's most beautiful women 'was a joy' but made her question what we see as 'beauty' and how that affects how we see ourselves.

“I hope my paintings will start some interesting conversations around beauty and self-image," she says.


For more information baybackner.com