All Rights reserved
Dive Into the Queer Mythic Art of Salem Beiruti
Poseidon (Model Ignacio Perez)
Salem Beiruti has had a Marvel-ous year. The artist helped Ruth E. Carter, the Oscar-winning costume designer of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, in crafting the concept art for Namor, the superhuman leader of the underwater city of Talocan, which was inspired by Indigenous cultures.
Beiruti also has a fantastic origin story. Born in Lebanon, he traveled to Spain to pursue his art, which reflects his love of mythology and the male form. As Beiruti tells it, while the other boys were dreaming of a little mermaid, “I was the only kid sitting by the seashore dreaming of that merman! That little kid grew up and became an artist.”
Faun and the Flute of Secrets (Model Sebastien Selles)
What first inspired you to become an artist?
I had this dream since I was a school kid: I wanted to be an illustrator. My sister used to buy me illustrated books and read them for me. I carried this fantasy to become an artist since then.
Soulmates - Essence of Love
You’re from Lebanon. How did growing up there inform your art?
I grew up in a humble family; my parents raised me well and took care of my talent the way they understood it. I learned a lot from Middle Eastern culture and traditions. I studied graphic design and publicity, and my talent opened many doors for me to discover more about my origins. With time, I built a strong base for my personal work and kept my work somehow disciplined, following traditions and respecting the type of jobs I was offered and the people around me. Then I moved to Spain, where I was exposed to a completely different culture. And that’s what made me choose to change my style — combining it with what I learned from my origins yet focusing on what I admire the most and expressing it the best way I can.
The Enchanter (Model Jose Palacios)
What was your coming-out experience like?
It took me long time. I didn’t do it officially until my late 30s, but I was sure my close friends and some of my closest family members knew about it. They kept respecting my privacy and personal life. Some disagreed with me, of course, and others were simply happy for me making my own choices. Some got curious, but no one has negatively interfered with any part of my journey. The important part is that I didn’t change my behavior at any phase. I didn’t feel stressed to express myself. I can say that my experience was simple and peaceful.
How was art a part of that journey?
My artworks were a big part of that journey indeed; that’s what made me be visible. My friends and some of my teachers and people I worked with, they understood me through my artworks.
Cernunnos (Model Francesc Gasco)
You worked with Ruth E. Carter, the Oscar-winning costume designer of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, on designing concepts for Namor, the film’s underwater-living antagonist who is inspired by Mesoamerican cultures. Tell us about that collaboration and what it means to you.
A wonderful experience, unforgettable indeed. I’m so proud and always grateful I had the chance to take part and design concepts for Namor´s looks. My work for Ruth Carter was used in her mood boards during her presentations with Marvel. I was first contacted by her assistant, Stacy Caballero, a costume designer and fashion historian. Stacy saw my work online and she arranged my first online meeting with Ruth Carter. I remember I was breathless at first. I didn’t believe that Ruth was in front of me speaking on camera. It was my first time working with her on a big project like that, and I was very happy knowing that she liked my work. Stacy was always following up with the design process, providing me with references and arranging all the meetings with Ruth. Workflow was very professional and so smooth. The time difference between Spain and the United States wasn’t an issue in terms of finishing designs and meeting deadlines. In fact, it was rewarding and satisfying to stay overnight sometimes to finish the artworks — especially after seeing the results and knowing that Ruth was happy! Ruth is an amazing person to work with — humble, very creative. She opened my eyes and mind to learn about cultures and use history and resources from the character’s environment. That helped me a lot to create my concepts.
How does Black Panther inspire you?
As a concept artist and Marvel fan, I find Black Panther films to be rich in art, mythology, culture, tribal history, and of course, breathtaking costume designs. I was mesmerized by the characters and the way they appeared. I loved every scene in both films. After watching the second movie, I felt the strength to carry on and to believe more in myself as an artist and what I am capable of doing. I started to read more stories about ancient civilizations, cultures, and tribes. This took my imagination and creativity to another level.
Namor (Inspired by Tenoch Huerta)
Namor has found a fan base among queer folks. What do you believe is the appeal of his character?
I loved working on Namor´s designs. First of all, I have to mention that [the designs of] all characters, and not only Namor, have been upgraded and evolved 10 years from the first Black Panther to create a world based on ancient Indigenous culture. Think about all the materials in the ocean that we could use for the costumes of the [mythical underwater city of] Talocan! Namor is a sexy, charismatic superhero played by Tenoch Huerta. He’s quick-witted with a hint of a badass leader. He can swim — and also, he can fly. Sometimes, he wears the leader cape, sometimes, a massive headpiece and big, beautiful, detailed accessories. Namor has a strong personality in addition to his character and looks. I believe that’s what made him have this big fan base.
Like Black Panther, your art is influenced by mythology. What about myths inspire you creatively?
Myths make me dream and imagine the characters, according to each story. It’s like living a fantasy and finding myself in the middle of the scene, watching every character play his role. I love myths.
Is there a particular myth that resonates with you?
The mermen and Triton myths. Everyone around me was looking for the little mermaid or waving to the boats and jumping inside the water. I was the only kid sitting by the seashore dreaming of that merman! That little kid grew up and became an artist. He created an artwork telling a story about a merman who fell in love with an angel. They can only meet once a month, when the moon is full.
What do you hope is the message and impact of your art, particularly for your LGBTQ+ fans?
I see beauty and art in almost everything around me. I have a deep admiration for male forms, and I try to reflect this in the stories I tell along with my illustrations. I like people to find my art seductive, elegant, mysterious, intriguing. I want them to find my work encouraging, to follow their dreams and passion, to be creative, to do what they love to do the most and never feel afraid or hesitate to change. What’s next for you? I’m currently preparing for two exhibitions in Spain for two different dates and cities. Also, I’m working on more artworks for my Slick collection, [which includes] latex and fetish concepts. I hope I can have enough time to create my first tarot deck this year!
Salem Beiruti is a concept artist whose work has been exhibited at the Museo ABC and La Torcida in Madrid. Find his book Morphosis on Amazon. Learn more at TheArtOfSalem.com and on Instagram, @artistsalem.