‘Keep Them Crossed’: Portrait of Astra Beck on Lyra
I took a few classes at Skylab Studio with Astra Beck when I was in London over the holiday period last year. Astra taught me Bendy Wendy which is one of my favourite moves on the aerial silk. She made the classes fun and approachable and the main thing that stuck with me was her bright personality that matched her neon pink tights. I wanted my portrait of her to reflect that brightness and fun.
‘Keep Them Crossed’: Acrylic on black canvas board (Portrait of Astra Beck on lyra)
Last year when I had to do my visa run, I decided to go to London from San Francisco for a bit of a change from my normal trip back home to Australia. While I was in London I used ClassPass to keep learning aerial while I was travelling. I took a couple of aerial silk and lyra classes at Skylab Studio with Astra.
Incidentally, I found it was excellent taking classes over the Christmas and New Year period because often there was only a couple of other people in the classes. So my classes with Astra had a large impact because they ended up being semi-private.
When I approached the studio I saw some beautiful street art, including the amazing painting below. Skylab Studio seems to be surrounded by creativity!
Street art on the way to Skylab Studio by Bofkin Paul
While I was at the class with Astra, I learned my favourite aerial move the bendy wendy, which I featured in my self-portrait in my first blog post. It was particularly great because it was the perfect move to learn, given my fairly beginner skill level at the time, but was still exciting.
Astra’s fun and bright look seemed like a reflection of the excitement I had about learning a new move. I drew inspiration for her portrait from her short spiky blonde hair and the neon outfit that she was wearing while teaching the class.
Q&A with Astra:
What led you to start learning aerial?
I had been dancing a lot so was very in my body and liked to be physical. I was also making crazy club wear outfits. I then met a circus who saw my portfolio and asked me to design and make all their costumes. When I saw their show and in particular this act where a girl did cloud swing it was love at first sight. I just knew I wanted to do that act. So I gave up my place at Fashion School and instead went and trained at Circus School. The following year I ended up performing with the circus and from then on I never looked back.
What was your favourite thing about Aerial when you started learning?
I just love the playfulness of training and seeing what you can push your body to do. It’s a real buzz to train aerial because of the adrenaline, but it’s also just like being a kid and messing about with your mates all day, teaching each other tricks and stuff. I think it’s the childhood I never had as a kid — learning circus.
What is your favourite thing about aerial now that you run your own studio?
I love seeing how the students progress and how much joy they get from it. I also love the showcases we do where the student perform. I am always amazed at how well they do! Especially knowing that they came to Skylab Studio with no aerial skills whatsoever and to see them now performing is always a really special moment for me.
What are some of the challenges of running your own business in the aerial arts space?
I started running the studio because I wanted to develop my aerial and choreographical skills and I thought that by teaching more this would happen naturally. However I’ve ended up spending more time sat behind a computer than actually training more! It has sort of killed my enthusiasm for training rather than develop it.
What do you hope that your students take away from their classes with you?
Overall I love it when a student falls in love with doing aerial as much as I did. But otherwise if they go home having discovered that their body can do something they never thought it could, then that makes me really happy as well.
Of the images that Astra sent me as options to work from I chose one of her in an inverted position on the lyra. Her brightly coloured outfit in the image reminded me of the exuberant image that Astra portrays in real life.
I love the shape of Astra’s body in the reference image with all of her limbs crossed over each other. It reminds me of an intricate and elegant lattice pattern. I also like how the sharp angles of Astra’s body contrast with the round smooth shape of the lyra.
I also like the fact that Astra is hanging upside down by one hand, showing her strength. This is also an angle that I have not painted an aerialist from before. Given the importance of inverting in aerial practice, I think that it is a valuable addition to my repertoire.
Photographer: Ester Keate
Progress photos of ‘Keep Them Crossed’
I wanted to approach this portrait of Astra to reflect the animated and effervescent aspects of her personality that I saw in her classes. For the background, I used black canvas boart. I wanted the stark, plain base to allow her portrait to really stand out more brightly.
I chose hues of blue, purple and red because these vivid colours contrast with the black without looking out of place. For the darkest shadows on the skin, I used a very dark purple. This colour scheme makes it difficult to see where the body starts and the background ends. I think this effect adds a sense of drama. However, the highlights still stand out brightly.
Finished ‘Keep Them Crossed’ sitting on my sister’s piano next to ‘Wings’, ‘Reaching Higher’ and a beautiful framed tea-towel
I only met Astra a couple of times, but I think I was successful in capturing Astra’s vibrant personality with this portrait. I would love to take classes with her again the next time I am in London.