Natalie Bessell seems as carefree as they come. The 22-year-old bohemian artist doesn't do gallery shows. She says the high commission rates artists pay gallerists are intimidating and not something she wants to deal with—at least not yet.
"It's probably just a matter of time, though," she acknowledges. "I'm still young, but I might get there eventually."
For now, the laid-back artist says she's content with doing solo shows at places like Pannikin Coffee & Tea (7467 Girard Ave. in La Jolla), the small café where she works part-time as a barista. Bessell's currently got artwork hanging at Pannikin through the end of January. She sells both originals and prints through her periodic shows at the café, and the exposure she gets has been enough to keep a steady stream of commissioned portraiture work coming her way.
Bessell operates out of a small studio made from reclaimed wood that sits on the ridge of a canyon outside her home in La Jolla, where she was born and raised. She graduated from high school early and moved to New York for art school, but she dropped out, concluding that it cost more than it was worth.
Some of Bessell's newer art has Southwestern themes. She also has a few series, like her "Iconic Bearded Men (Not Jesus)" portraits of famed males with facial hair, which incorporate an interesting and original style that combines acrylic paint with detailed line drawings. "Higher Education," the piece featured on CityBeat's cover this week, is part of her "Mask Series," made up of embellished prints or paintings she finds at swap meets or thrift stores. The cover art started as an 1884 print of a painting by Swiss artist Albert Anker before Bessell stylized it with paint and ink.
"Can you tell she's knitting a brain?" Bessel laughs. "I originally bought that one to use the frame, and then I realized I'd rather put something interesting on there."