I've been following this lovely lady's work for a while now. She shows at one of my favorite galleries in NY and I'm thrilled she agreed to answer a few questions this week. Check out Rebecca's work while you're in Miami this week at Untitled Art Fair.
Where do you live, where is your studio? Who makes up your day to day world? friends? partners? pets? kids?
I currently live in my hometown of Clearfield Pennsylvania. Central Pa, in the Appalachian/Allegehny Mountains. It is a very quiet, very rural, remote and conservative place, but it is exceptionally beautiful, genuine, slow and picturesque. My day to day world consists of my Mother and my family who live in town- my two aunts and grandparents. I go to New York as often as I can for openings and errands- pretty much twice a month. (I live four hours away) I am in an intermediary zone of living- a transitional time, planning where my next move will be. This is the first “studio” I have paid rent for- it is a tiny room above the community theatre building. I have only been working here for about two months, so It is starting to feel like “my own space” which is really important to me. It has bright blue walls that I keep meaning to paint white!
What’s an average studio day like?
I usually get into my studio at around 10am. It is essential to have the internet where I can talk to others, take periodic breaks to read or look at images. I will work for short bursts, maybe an hour or two at a time and then “rest my eyes” on the internet. A lot of time is spent looking for source material on the internet and books- recently I have been looking at Greek sculpture, which provide me great figurative stand-ins. Music has always been difficult for me when I’m working- it has to be very specific high energy; It can get me too emotional and melodramatic in the studio. I love pop music/top 40 and have unabashedly been listening to T.Swift album, Run the Jewels, Kanye, Exmag, Jack White and Drake. Sam Smith has been really big for me this year; I’m even making a painting of him as a cherubic rural field nymph. If it is not music or silent in the studio, I am listening to comedians/interviews or talk radio like Joe Rogan and Opie and Jimmy. Comedy is very important to me- it lifts my mood, as working in the studio is really cerebrally and physically taxing for me. I like to spend the whole day here, sometimes achieving a lot and other days maybe next to nothing. I usually leave anywhere from 9pm to 12, but if a deadline or show is coming up, it can be much, much later. I usually work on wood panels when I paint (sanded smooth, gessoed surface where I usually do a very thourough under drawing and build color up with layers of glaze) or drawings on very large paper. I have a lot of scrap paper on hand for smaller cartoon work. I like to work on a few different paintings at once- it breaks up the energy. If something is drying, I mess around with something else. I like to leave at a good stopping point- when I am waiting for glaze or paint to dry or if I feel particularly accomplished about a certain area, or if I am making too many mistakes or creating more problems for myself- it is time to go!
What are you working on now? (what are you most excited about/ confounded by/ obsessed with?)
I have been making ceramic face jugs and sculptures in relation to my two dimensional drawings, paintings and cartoons. Ceramics really excite me. I am really pumped about making three dimensional versions of my two dimensional ideas. Generally, I am making work about scenarios and archetypes of the wilderness and pastoral, virginal flower picking maids, witches and mountain men and the scenes and situations that they find themselves in—debauchery, trauma or repose. The work is being driven by a narrative, as it always is, but I hope to make them more ambiguous, more interpretive, maybe more mysterious and ominous. I have titles like “Pie Eater” “Love Stump” “Passed Out” “ Sleeping Maid with Creeper,” “Terror Elope,” “Smoker,” “Judith,” “Bride and Groom” that are general concepts for a painting or drawing that I will then expound upon. The image and narrative always come first. I am trying to get back to formal experimentation, as I feel like I have been somewhat formulaic in my approach to art making. I want to respond more innately and be more formally loose and take more risks outside of my comfort zone, which is very difficult for me, as my hand naturally wants to tighten things up and make things very specific. I am trying to find a good balance between all of this. I work in three modes of representation; cartooning (looser, crude, more rudimentary, less fussy) traditional cross hatched drawing and more naturalistic representation and somewhere in between, a cross between cartoonish and naturalistic representation.
I am obsessed with my smartphone/the Internet and social media—I think it is a very important tool on so many levels. Right now, it is how I stay connected to the art world and my friends, as I often feel pretty far removed, geographically. I can be in the middle of nowhere and still see studio shots of my favorite artists and people on Instagram and feel in the loop and informed. I use it as a diaristic catalogue and I like revisiting images, like a personal archive. I am constantly inspired by the images I see on social media; peers from the country posting unintentional source material, portraits, anything can trigger an idea.
What do you do when things aren’t going “right” or you’re having a fallow period in making/ thinking?
For me, it is absolutely crucial to take breaks. I get on the internet, make a phone call, run an errand or get a snack. It gives me a little distance from the problem and helps me reassess how to solve it. Solutions can be hard to see when you are right on top of the work and too invested, staring and obsessing at the issue. Sometimes I have to abandon a work or drastically change it, or start over, and while that is a difficult thing, taking a break and getting “fresh eyes” helps me come to terms with it, or prepares me to do what I have to do. Regardless, the answer lies in working through it. Painting can be pretty stressful for me, so I sometimes switch formal modes and make something out of clay- It is a refreshing break and totally different approach.
I will say that art making is easier when you are committed to a daily practice as best you can, whether it is making something small and seemingly insignificant, or writing or reading or planning, it is all important and relative. This is something I’ve struggled with. Because the nature of the work I make can be so highly detail oriented (a self portrait needs to be convincing, figuration has to anatomically and spatially work, technical issues with glazing or reworking areas again and again) it was easy to want to avoid the studio and art making; it was hard to sit myself in a chair and physically make the work. For the past six months or so, (coming off of a three month residency at the Bemis Center in Omaha reinvigorated my daily studio practice) it has been easier to come in and be in a routine; once I felt like I was coming in to have fun and not take things as seriously or as preciously. For me, I had to find new ways to make work that made me excited yet also didn’t emotionally exhaust me in a way that was unhealthy to a daily studio practice. I am trying to find new ways to be less critical and hyperaware of the impact of my formal decision making and trying to respond more innately to the work. It is still a struggle to accept that everything that I make does not have to be a “masterpiece” and that is in learning to let go and not treat everything so preciously. Coming off of a show in the spring, I essentially have an empty studio, which can be a point of anxiety for me, but I feel like it is an opportunity for a fresh start, and hopefully new modes of art making outside of my comfort zone. Basically, art is hard.
How do you sustain your creative life? (how do you pay the bills or what kinds of jobs have you had in the past?)
Living in my hometown in Pennsylvania has a low cost of living, so I am able to exist on very little. I am currently living in my childhood home, so that also helps. To pay bills and school loans I am a substitute teacher, which allows me to take days off if I need to be in the studio or travel for openings or other obligations. When I lived in Brooklyn, it was obviously much more of a hustle and slog to make things work. I couldn’t get a job after graduate school, so I was doing odd jobs- I would prepare and gesso canvases, paint gallery walls, move artist studios/art handle- it seemed like I was driving a box truck a lot! I interned at four galleries at the same time (for no pay) I worked at a paint your own pottery place and a corporate art supply store and didn’t make more than 10 dollars an hour. I had a little savings that I used in conjunction with working, but it went away quickly to rent and living. It was difficult in that I wanted to be in the city for the cultural opportunities and immediacy of the art world, but also wanted the slowness of the rural. It is and was a daily struggle to determine where the right space for me is- somewhere intermediary is where I exist on a daily basis. I want and need both.
What advice would you give a young artist just starting out?
I would say that to expect a life of “hustling” is a stereotypical answer, but that has a lot to do with it. Very few times are artistic opportunities just given to you- you have to put in the time and research on your own to understand where your place in the art world is. If there is a gallery that you are interested in, attend the openings, introduce yourself, sign the guestbook, follow them on the Internet etc. etc. It is very helpful to be present and a familiar face. Put yourself out there, even if it is uncomfortable. A lot of great opportunities for me came out of interning at galleries. It was not always ideal, but I met a lot of great people that way. It is very insightful to see first hand the general energy and day to day workings of the art world. You see how things happen. It also helps you determine the kind of places that you do not want to align yourself with. You need to understand the right gallery or the right exhibition space for the type of work that you make. If there is a void, fill it yourself and take it upon yourself to make those opportunities happen. Surround yourself with the people you want to be around, not those that you think you should be, or have to be. They will not determine your success, but it is true that it is exceptionally helpful to be socially connected in the world that we exist in. Don’t get hung up on your peers success- there is not one other individual making the same work that you are; we are all running a different race. Reach out to people if you appreciate their work. You will be rejected A LOT in a myriad of different ways and you will have to learn to cope with it in a healthy way. Some of the best experiences I have ever had have been attending artist residencies; I have met extraordinary and like minded people and had the chance to make work in a new environment. They are so much fun; it is like going to adult art camp! Learn not to crumple under pressure- especially if there is a deadline or a show approaching- learn how you can use it to your advantage and work through it.