As part of our ongoing partnership with In The Make, Beautiful/Decay is sharing a studio visit with artist Rebecca Morris. See the full studio visit and interview with Rebecca and other West Coast artists at www.inthemake.com.
We drove to Rebecca’s studio on a Sunday morning, with a yellowish-grey almost dusty looking sky overhead and both Klea and I wondered how this visit, the first in our LA adventure, would go. Being in a new city had us feeling less sure about what to anticipate and we just hoped to get off to a good start. As soon as Rebecca greeted us and took us up to her studio, I knew our morning was going to turn out just fine. She instantly felt familiar and easy to talk to, and she had fresh croissants waiting for us! Rebecca paints large, open paintings in vibrant hues and utilizes a series of shapes, lines, and gestures to create a singular visual vocabulary within abstract compositions. We talked about how she finds the lack of specificity and the openness in abstraction appealing, and she likes that a viewer can come to her work with their own set of associations and leave with a very personal interpretation. Rebecca’s generosity regarding how her work is decoded and interpreted is a testament to her hard-won confidence. She’s put in enough years working at her art to figure out what’s right for her, and she doesn’t seem all that concerned with proving anything to anyone but herself. I was struck by Rebecca’s sense of self and her total commitment to her own beliefs and aesthetic choices despite what others might think. She calls it “a stubbornness.” I call it true grit. In her 2004 manifesto, Rebecca’s gutsy, no-nonsense attitude comes through in lines like: Don’t pretend you don’t work hard… Be out for blood…and, Abstraction never left, motherfuckers.She’s self-possessed, but there’s no chip on her shoulder. I guess because when confidence is real, it’s not complicated or loud— it’s just a simple, quiet thing. It’s inspiring to encounter a woman who has unapologetically taken a hold of her life, and is making choices based solely on what she truly believes in, artistically and otherwise. Visiting with Rebecca reminded me to recognize the weaknesses in the rules that were written for me, and to do something about it.
When people ask you what you “do”, how do you answer?
I say that I am an artist, that I make paintings.
What do you want your work to do?
I want my work to be a dynamic presence, to create visual and physical impact in a space. In general I’ve found that people respond to my work over time, so the highest compliment would be if someone wanted to spend lengthy and repeated time with my work.
What mediums do you work with? How would you describe your subject matter? What themes seem to occur/reoccur in your work?
I make oil paintings on canvas, sometimes using spray paint when I want metallic colors or a certain effect or sheen. I also make works on paper and collages. Over the last two years my work has gone through a more minimal phase. But that has started to revert on itself. The paintings are now filling back up with marks and shapes, but in different ways.
The issue of subject matter is tricky for me to address because I don’t want to dictate or imply what the viewer’s experience of my work should be, or should include. But I can say a few general things.
There is always a mix of intentional/ articulated moves, along side more accidental and spontaneous areas. Also, I’m obsessed with composition and think about the edges of the picture plane a lot. I use a range of pictorial strategies in effort to visually contain the elements within the painting. I like the idea of defining a world within the painting. Sometimes it’s a large shape, which then houses and organizes other smaller shapes inside of it, or it’s a more literal frame-ic edge of crusty paint applied around the perimeter of the canvas. Color of course, plays a big part in subject matter. I get ideas for paintings after seeing certain colors or color combinations and I think the experience one has with color is very loaded and interesting. Color triggers emotional responses in people that are often very personal, and I include myself here. I go through different color periods— there was a time when I used darker colors, lots of blacks, browns and grays, because I wanted the work to be devoid of any possible coded identifiers of gender and these colors seemed to escape that, to be more neutral and abstract. These days though, I’ve moved away from working exclusively in that palette and I’m really into a full range of color, especially a certain washy aqua-turquoise and this great peachy hue.
What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
Having my living space and studio space separate is a great combination for me, especially as an oil painter. Plus I appreciate the mental transition that happens on the drive here. At the studio I am removed from everything except my painting—I am faced with it. It is a place where I can freely experiment and enjoy the act of discovery in total privacy. You can file this answer under Virginia Woolf’s credo of having a room of one’s own!!
What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
I am very slowly reading the Joan Mitchell biography, Lady Painter. And even more slowly, I’m reading Minimalism: Art and Polemics in the 1960s by James Meyer. In the studio I listen to all kinds of music, lately a lot of Atlas Sound. But I also love Terry Riley’s “in C” for hardcore painting days and I can listen to Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” for weeks on end without break.What advice has influenced you?
To read the full interview and see more of Rebecca Morris’ work go to www.inthemake.com.