Artist & Penn State Alum Joe Beam Adding Color To State College Art Scene

Joe Beam is not your average Joe. He’s a brilliant creator who has been bringing his imaginative works of art to Penn State and the State College community since he started his undergraduate years in the School of Visual Arts.

Raised in Altoona, Penn State’s proximity made sense for Beam, who graduated in 2021 with a bachelor’s in fine arts with a drawing and painting concentration.

As a high schooler, his passion for art fell into a lull, but nearing the end of those years, Beam realized he wanted to pursue a career in some sort of art or design-related area. Landscape architecture had called his name, and he spent two years in the major at Penn State before eventually making the switch to the BFA program.

Beam doesn’t regret his time in landscape architecture, though. He made close friends, learned how to do perspective imagery, and gained some more technical skills to put to use in his creative process.

“All of it has informed my work in a way, like all my experiences as well,” Beam said.

But his fine arts degree really brought him out of his artistic shell and allowed him to freely explore what he wanted to create.

“My whole life I just drew,” said Beam. “I didn’t paint until I got to college actually, but I fell in love with it.”

The first large piece that Beam ever made is titled High Noon, a western-themed oil painting that was made as a way for Beam to expand his creativity. He talked to Paul Chidester, a professor of studio art, about how Beam could get more ambitious with his work. Chidester suggested making a seven-foot-by-five-foot painting to just see where it went.

It was Beam’s first year of painting, so a project this large was daunting. He stalled and stalled, putting off ways to really go for it. Then Beam met Robert Yarber, another art professor at Penn State and one of Beam’s biggest influences, among the likes of M.C. Escher and Jean-Pierre Roy.

“He kind of helped me unlock the process and how not to lose my mind essentially,” Beam said about Yarber.

Courtesy of Joe Beam

Although this piece was hard for Beam to complete, High Noon became one of his favorites and was part of the first show that he did at Penn State.

“I just view that as almost like a page turned for me. It was a new chapter of my work and it just really influenced everything else I’ve done since then because of the perspective I used.”

Since his undergraduate years, Beam has been doing commissions and has completed two murals at local businesses. The first was for Greenbean Coffee House in his hometown of Altoona, where his brothers used to work.

“[The Greenbean mural] just was so rewarding and kind of lit a love for the mural as a medium for me because I was doing a lot of huge paintings in college and kind of had to stop because huge paintings, just the canvas itself, is like $100,” he said.

Luckily, Beam found another opportunity to share his art with the community through Carter’s Table, a recently opened taco joint in downtown State College. Beam started a conversation with Shawn Carter, the owner, at his stand before the storefront opened up. Carter found out that Beam was an artist, and the rest is history.

“Going back to my landscape architecture days, it almost works within the architecture, like it is a piece of the architecture. It’s kind of a fun little intersection of the different paths that I’ve taken until now.”

“I really wanted to represent State College in a way that it felt like to me when I first got here in 2015. It just felt very colorful and busy and fun,” said Beam. “And then representing these huge Penn State locations, I wanted it to kind of represent my Penn State experience but also, hopefully, someone else can find their own in there.”

Beam hopes that there are plenty more murals in his future. He views these pieces as a way to get his art out to the world and a bridge between his experiences and passions with the community. He even relates these murals back to his days of landscape architecture. The murals become part of the architecture of a building, and Beam loves that about the medium.

On top of the murals, Beam has been doing plenty of commission pieces as well as personal projects using mainly oil paint, but also ink and watercolor. His process for creating these pieces is to just let whatever flows, flow. He doesn’t draw out grids to sketch out his paintings or drawings. He just plans enough to know what he wants to accomplish and lets the creativity come to him.

“With a little bit of planning, the wall or the paper, whatever it is, will tell you what it needs,” said Beam. “There’s a lot of improvisation. In my process, it’s become almost like just trusting my instincts for a majority of what I do.”

His practice throughout undergrad on top of what he learned from landscape architecture has provided more than enough foundation for his art to come to him organically. Even with his commission work, his style of art really shines through. Bright colors, warped perspective, and funky subject matter is his specialty.

Courtesy of Joe Beam

“I like to describe my work as kind of like a fine art and animation mix, if you will. Like, it’s living in that fine art world, but at the same time, it’s kind of cartoony,” said Beam.

Influences from his childhood and music are heavy in his art, too, with nods to bands such as the Grateful Dead and King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard. Beam pays close attention to detail in his work, and he hopes that it brings out the love for color and details in viewers and helps them find themselves and a love for art.

“As long as the audience comes away from it with something that is positive, then I think I’ve done my job,” Beam said.

Down the line, Beam is thinking about going to grad school so that he can teach at a university level. Beam says he has always had an affinity for teaching; his peers always would ask him questions and ask for his input. The way he puts it, teaching can be a way to pay the bills with something he loves doing, while still having opportunities to travel the world, bring his art to those places through murals and larger paintings, and meet new people who share his love.

“I would love to meet more people and make more friends through art because I always find that they’re the most fulfilling when it’s like such a fun, passionate interest and there are others who share that.”

To keep up with Beam’s art, follow his Instagram, check out his Etsy, or go visit one of his murals at Carter’s Table in State College or the Greenbean Coffee House in Altoona.

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About the Author

Mackenna Yount

Mackenna is a junior food science major from Manitou Springs, Colorado, and is one of Onward State's associate editors. She loves food, is addicted to coffee, and can give you random facts or bad jokes that you didn't ask for. Ask her to bake gluten-free goodies so she has an excuse to try out new cupcake flavors. Mackenna can be contacted via Twitter @mackennayount (especially if you want to show off your best dad jokes) or you can shoot her an email at [email protected].

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