(b. 1957, Philadelphia; living and working in Harlem)
Drawing inspiration from the button collection of his mother and family, Beau McCall creates wearable and visual art, applying clothing buttons onto mostly upcycled fabrics, materials, and objects. By placing his unique button combinations into collages with photographs of performing artists and historical moments, McCall taps into the emotions we invest in buttons and the markers of narrative historical experience. Commissioned by SHINE Portrait Studio @ Express Newark, McCall released his debut artists’ book titled REWIND: Memories on Repeat (2021), using collage to commemorate the legacy of deceased friends while depicting the LGBTQ+ community in New York and Philadelphia during the late 1970s to the mid-1990s. McCall has served as a teaching artist with the Newark Museum of Art, the New York Public Library, and the Harlem Arts Alliance. Recent exhibitions featuring McCall’s wearable and visual art include REWIND: History on Repeat (Stonewall National Museum, Archives, and Library, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 2023), Craft Front and Center: Exploring the Permanent Collection (Museum of Arts and Design, New York, 2023), Fresh, Fly, and Fabulous: Fifty Years of Hip-Hop Style (The Museum at FIT, New York, 2023), Dionne Warwick: Queen of Twitter—Newark Arts Festival (Hahne & Co., 2021), and Styling: Black Expression, Rebellion, and Joy Through Fashion (Nordstrom, New York, 2020). McCall’s work is held in numerous permanent collections including the Museum of Arts and Design (New York), Philadelphia Museum of Art (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), Victoria and Albert Museum (London, UK), Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (New York), and The Museum of Modern Art Library (New York).
WORK IN THE EXHIBITION
Beau McCall or "The Button Man" uses collage to celebrate his cultural connections, drawing on his formative experiences as a Black gay artist coming of age in 1970s Philadelphia and 1980s New York. His oeuvre, which combines historical photographs and his passion for clothing buttons, embodies the combination of struggle, joy, and eclectic expression present within Black and gay subcultures. Strange Beauties XIII: Antoine aka DeeDee Somemore, Tracy Monroe, and Beau McCall commemorates Strange Beauties, the punk band McCall formed to confront Philadelphia’s relatively conservative culture during the 1980s. McCall builds upon a black and white photograph of his performance cadre shot by an unidentified photographer, using a yellow highlighter to emphasize the androgynous makeup worn by the performers and incorporating images of an eclectic assortment of buttons culled from his own wearable and visual art, to convey the exuberant countercultural energy that the Strange Beauties embodied.
Moi Renee II similarly uses buttons to convey the joy of the historical drag performance scene. McCall builds his collage around a photograph he took of the underground house legend and iconic ՚90s drag performance artist Moi Renee, incorporating a ceremonial mask to place him in conversation with historical Black culture while layering buttons of different sizes, colors, and textures, to convey his effervescent flair. Renee is the singer-songwriter of the cult classic dance song Miss Honey. The song was sampled by Beyoncé for the track Pure/Honey from her Renaissance album released in 2022.
Strange Beauties demo recordings | Moi Renee