How to Make it in the Art World, According to Jenner-Favorite Beau Dunn
Badass Women celebrates women who show up, speak up and get things done.
Beau Dunn grew up surrounded by art. Her parents were avid collectors, and trips to local art museums in L.A. were a favored family pastime. “I think once you’re immersed in that culture at such a young age, it kind of becomes second-nature,” Dunn tells InStyle of how she got where she is. She has dabbled in acting and modeling, but it’s her tongue-in-cheek mixed-media artwork that launched her into the mega-watt spotlight.
The artist has built a following that counts A-listers like Kylie and Kris Jenner among her customers. And now her in-your-face collections, which range from “Next Generation” neon signs (like the “Need Money For Birkin” one that hangs in Kris Jenner’s closet) to “Size Does Matter” Trojan condom sculptures (recently bought by Kylie Jenner), will expand to fabric as she settles into her recently launched Beau’s Babes clothing and accessories line.
Artful beginnings: Dunn didn’t solidify her career path until college at Pepperdine, where she chose to forgo a major in theater for a major in studio art with an emphasis in sculpture. “I had always created art for fun,” she tells InStyle. “It was like a personal journey, so I never in million years thought that it would spin into a career.” But it has, and Dunn has offered up her “personal journey” to her fans in the hopes stirring up conversation. “The reason I love my art so much is because I really ask other people what their opinions are through my artwork, and everyone has a different opinion,” she says. “That’s what’s so cool about art; it allows me to talk about social issues and personal things I’m going through, too.”
One of Dunn’s most well known collections is a series called “Plastics,” in which she photographed Barbie dolls throughout their years of popularity as a commentary on the doll's role as a generational icon. “There’s so much controversy over her size and this and that,” Dunn says. “I thought she'd be such a great muse and a subject. To this day, that’s one of my biggest sellers and one of the most popular series I've done.” It was the “Neon Signs” collection that caught the eye of Kris Jenner, who commissioned Dunn to create a custom sign for one of her closets. “Kylie and Kris have a great time with their art,” Dunn says. “They know how to poke fun and have a good time with it.”
Overcoming obstacles: Being an artist on the hunt for galleries to showcase your collections often means having to negotiate, hard, which Dunn says can be a challenge. “The art world is not regulated, and when you have an unregulated industry, you have to stick to your guns, and negotiate for yourself,” she says. “I had to really get to know the business aspect of everything from contracts to working with lawyers to standing up for myself. You have to really know—and fight for—your worth.”
Aside from learning how to become a businesswoman, Dunn also noted a physical injury that changed the way she works as a major obstacle she’s had to overcome. After an accident while she was traveling in Africa about a year ago, Dunn suffered patellar dislocation, shattered cartilage, and a torn tendon in her knee. She was in a wheelchair for two months and then on crutches for six to seven months after that. “It has had a huge impact on my life because I now do physical therapy every day—and that was also the first time I’ve actually kind of paused.”
There is a silver lining, though: Dunn credits her injury for the development and success of Beau’s Babes, because she used her downtime to plan that project and lay the groundwork for a crutch company called Feel Better Bling, which she developed after receiving compliments on a pair of crutches she decorated herself. “I was faced with such a tough situation. For a while I couldn’t even get out of bed on my own. But I kind of looked at the positive of it. And I asked myself, 'What do I want to do that I would have not had the time to do?’ And that's when Beau's Babes started, too.”
Badass advice: Dunn looks up to women in her life and around it who are not afraid to be bold. “I think a badass woman is really a brave person who isn't afraid to stand up for what's right no matter what else anyone thinks,” Dunn says. “And on top of that, it's a woman who supports others and dedicates her life to never giving up on her dreams.”
Giving back the community is an important part of her life. Most recently, she helped put on a Project Runway-like fashion show for a high school group. “For me, going in and helping people and spending time with people are the most impactful things I can do for my soul,” she says. “I remember there was one specific girl, a young fashion designer [at this high school], who was so passionate and so thankful that we were there. And giving half of my day to her was literally life-changing.”
Up next: She's pulling this focus on self-expression into her new line, which will be totally customizable. “I think what's so cool about it is that you can write whatever you want on clothing and accessories,” Dunn says. “It gives you a voice. And it's for men, women, children, and pets!” Dunn adds that custom embroidery has been passed down through generations in her family, which makes the Beau’s Babes collection that much more meaningful to her. “My mom would always embroider my initials on sweaters, because her mom did that for her,” she says. “It's all about friendship, whether it’s with your husband, your mom, or even your dog.” Dunn’s line will also be collaborating with Kind Campaign, which aims to eradicate girl-against-girl bullying and Art of Elysium to bring art projects and events to hospitalized children in Los Angeles.