When Sarah Becktel was 3, she was no different from other young girls who loved to play dress up, except rather than dress like a princess or a movie star, Becktel would dress up as an artist, complete with a smock and beret. And while, back then, she wasn’t quite sure what being an artist truly meant, somehow she knew she was destined to become one.
By the age of 10, she started “drawing from life” with instructor Rebecca Tait.
“It got to a point where we thought, OK, this (art) is definitely happening. My mom knew kids who were going to Rebecca, who is classically trained, (and) really enjoys working with children,” says Becktel, who studied with Tait on a weekly basis up until college. “I just had a lot of luck that there was someone that was so good at teaching kids near where I lived (Gloucester Township). Everything fell into the right place at the right time.”
Despite eventually moving in different directions, the friendship between Becktel and Tait has remained throughout the years, so much so that the two women are presently in a joint exhibit titled “A Certain Time and Place,” running through July 28, at Beacon Art Shortwave Gallery in Stone Harbor.
With an interest in nature, Becktel primarily paints animals, people and landscapes.
“I’m really interested in contemporary nature (and) how the world has been influenced by man,” says Becktel, who holds a BFA from Tyler School of Art and has also studied at Studio Incamminati in Philadelphia and the Art Students League in New York City. “I’m drawn to subject matter of nature, but nature that’s been influenced by humans.”
This “influence by nature” is what drew Becktel to the “Swimming Pigs.”
“The Swimming Pigs live on an island in the Bahamas — they live on the beach. They’ve become a tourist attraction,” she says. “It’s become a thing.”
While the real origin of the swimming pigs is somewhat unknown, what Becktel has learned is that to prevent towns from the pigs’ odor during the hot months, local Bahamians would move them out to an uninhabited island, where they had to forage for themselves before being returned to the town for slaughter. Tourists riding by in boats would see the pigs and feed them. As one of the smarter animals, the pigs started to associate the sound of a boat motor with food and began swimming out to meet the boats.
“Now people go there specifically to see the pigs,” says Becktel, who unfortunately hasn’t had the opportunity to visit them in person yet. “What started out as just livestock animals, has grown to be a tourist attraction.
“What I also like is, by putting the pigs in a tropical landscape, it gives people an appreciation of them as smart, funny animals — not just a traditional food source.”
Becktel admits that when dealing with the inner workings of people and nature, things could tend to get dark, like in a taxidermy series she created. But the pig paintings are “happier and lighter.”
“It’s all about how animals sort of find their way through the world with all of this human manipulation. I go back and forth between that (light and dark subjects),” Becktel says. “But the pig paintings are just really charming. They’re happy paintings.”
The pig series is her second showing at Beacon, having had her first exhibit there last summer. It is, however, the very first time that she and Tait have exhibited together, which, Becktel states, “is really cool,” especially since getting into galleries can be tough for artists to achieve.
“Getting into galleries can be difficult for artists because there are so many great artists around. This (Beacon) was very organic,” she says. “People can be intimidated by art galleries. Gary (Jacketti, Beacon’s owner) is so easy-going. He makes it a comfortable atmosphere for people coming in.”