Breakout artist Bekky Beukes's Pieces come together at Gulfport's Portspace Gallery

Non-insular, idealistic and on the forefront, Bekky Beukes is a burgeoning icon in the local art scene.

click to enlarge "The Sinner" by Beukes. - DANIEL VEINTIMILLA
"The Sinner" by Beukes.

Bekky Beukes: Pieces
Gulfport Art Walk receptions on Fri., Jan. 1, and Sat., Jan. 16, 6-9 p.m., and closing reception on Fri., Feb. 5, 6-9 p.m. Other times available by appointment at Portspace Gallery, 3007 Beach Blvd. S., Gulfport,

It's a fleetingly chilly Saturday evening before Christmas, and a group of 20-somethings are palling around at Gulfport's Portspace Gallery, mugging for cellphone pics in front of fellow artist Bekky Beukes' vivid, colorful portraits.

click to enlarge Exterior shot at Portspace during Beukes' opening. - daniel veintimilla
daniel veintimilla
Exterior shot at Portspace during Beukes' opening.

As the crowd shuffles outside on the porch, the subjects of Beukkes' evocative, otherworldly women beckon with a gaze that's an intriguing mix of vulnerability and power. They resemble what Margaret Keane's big-eyed girls would look like in the hands of St. Pete's Pale Horse or Aliens artist H. R. Giger. The richly hued portraits are part of Pieces, a collection so illustratively rendered that they seem digital at first glance. 

Beukes's friends and MF Arts Gallery/The Art Asylum cohorts — Cam Parker, Deidra Leigh of Relic Imagery, Shannon Adams, Whitney Holbourn and Jo Nicole, owner of MF — drove from Tampa to kick off her first solo show. Beukes, a board member of MF Arts and founding member of The Art Asylum collective, says she's enthusiastic about building up Tampa's visual art scene, which up until the past few years, has been insular and dominated by academics.

click to enlarge Artist Cam Parker and Beukes. - DANIEL VEINTIMILLA
Artist Cam Parker and Beukes.

Beukes shows no interest in becoming part of some lofty elite. Relocated to Tampa two years ago from South Africa, Beukes came into prominence during the past decade as a fashion designer, who received some acclaim for her Chimera line. She has since shifted her focus from designing clothing to fine art that combine the fashion industry's aesthetic fine lines with personal exploration to mine discoveries about growth and female identity. Beukes's portraits suggest statements on the oppressive facets of beauty in our culture without sacrificing a glimmer of power in its subjects.

"I'm an emotional painter, so I paint from emotion," says Beukes. "Most of my work is based on personal experience, so it's my way of telling my story. I do everything intentionally and I paint according to what I've been through as a woman — the end of a marriage, moved countries. So, there is a lot of sadness but there is also a lot of power that comes with making decisions you're resolute about. That comes through in the art."

Portspace Gallery Curator Christina Poindexter isn't ruling out more collaborations with artists in various pockets of the scene outside Gulfport.

"I look forward to continuing a dialogue and building a relationship, whatever that may be, with our fellow creatives across the bay," Poindexter says. "They seem to have a really good energy and genuinely support each other as well as the art scene in general, which was evident in them coming out to Portspace and supporting Bekky."

Cheers to more Tampa-Pinellas cross-pollinations to come in 2016. Next up at Portspace: murals and street-inspired art by Art Asylum artist Mason Schwacke.