Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Studio Visit: Rebekah Potter

Rebekah Potter is one motivated, crafty lady.
During a late evening stop by Rebekah's south valley studio, she introduced me to a few "works in progress" and gave us a little insight into her methods, inspiration and current projects. She works with a variety of media including painting, printing, textiles and photography with a couple of goals in mind, and as she puts it:
1) To delve into cartography of the human body, environmental landscape and alternative dimensions by way of textiles.
2) To visually communicate the connections between each of these landscapes and dimensions. Showing the history and interconnected similarities and differences, “threading” them together, in a series of visual “maps”. In doing so, it is hoped the viewer will be inspired to consider "connectivity."
I recently caught up with her and had the chance to ask her about her work:

"I guess I should probably clean up a little..."

You've lived in a lot of different places, most of them more well know for their artistic communities/art scene than Albuquerque. What made you decide to come to Albuquerque?
In 2009 I had the opportunity to visit ABQ for the Land Art Installation and at that time I felt immediately struck by the landscape, the vast open spaces and sky in particular (quite a contrast from NYC). There was something so neutral to me about ABQ that later when I knew I wanted to settle down and really get to work somewhere I choose ABQ because I felt I could make it what I needed it to be. What I felt I required was SPACE, inexpensive rent, inspiring natural landscape and blue sky. Not to mention the tradition of textiles in New Mexico was a draw. Additionally, my two creative brothers reside here and the thought of being around them was appealing.

Your work seems very methodical/deliberate yet retains painterly-like elements of spontaneity. How do you decide on a particular composition?
Some people sketch and prep a lot. They determine the piece ahead of making it. Being that I believe you WORK to find the piece, I don't compositionally decide too much ahead. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it doesn't. But it's genuine, in that I push and pull the forms, I cut out and relocate stitches etc, I decide as I go what the PAINTING is deciding IT wants. For me what makes it HUMAN and REAL is the history of that process which you can so often see in the sutures and remnants of relocated forms. There is something about "getting to know" each piece that matters a lot to me. In my book it's a conversation not a lecture.

Kimonos from Memoirs of a Geisha, worn on the movie set, no big deal. Soon to be chopped and sewn.

How long have you been an artist? What medium did you begin working with?
Born an artist I think. However, I didn't start pursuing visual art until my senior year of high school. At that time I began with pencil and paper and soon after oils. Before that I was more inclined toward writing and acting.

Recycled jeans ready for a new life. Ever wonder what to do with your blown out pants? Give 'em to Rebekah.

How would you describe the art community/art market here?
I'm not sure I can give a fair assessment yet. In New Mexico communities and people appear slowly. Nothing comes knocking or slamming into you in an obvious way. Have I met some very talented people making art here in a genuine and inspiring fashion? YES. Do people buy art in New Mexico? YES. Is there room for growth, education and more art centers? YES.

A few large pieces she's working on, cutting, sewing, painting.

Explain a little about your artistic evolution; what made you decide to incorporate sewing?
In college at ASU I used oils at first and later moved into acrylics. Acrylics allowed me to more easily incorporate paper and other mediums thus my work outside of school took a mixed media turn. I was very turned on by the work of Rauschenberg. So I was drawing and painting, then photocopying and photographing and transferring these images and painting into them. At some point something inside me just kept screaming to sew paper together. So I got a machine and started...took awhile but eventually I realized textiles and their inherent nature were what I felt I had always been looking for. In a sense I felt I could jump away from narratives and imagery and make work from a new visual frame of reference.

Detail of a larger piece, collaged and sewn fabric. Rebekah said she started sewing work because she had no idea how to do it. Several years later BLAM! Total pro. She does almost all of it on a sewing machine. Crazy.

How easy is it to change your mind after you've sewn things together?
It's easy to change my mind but it often really stinks to change the work. Some pieces come on and off a stretcher numerous times, which can be a lot of work for one small but seemingly important alteration. What I appreciate about the textiles is due to how labor intensive sewing can be it slows down my impulsive reaction time. I really have to THINK about WHY I am doing what I am doing. It's not uncommon that i spend a full week sewing an area by hand on a large piece only to decide that area isn't working...ripping that all out at first use to really feel like a waste but now it makes me realize how much I must love doing this!

Another detail, really like this one.

Big piece in progress.

Do you ever feel intimidated/overwhelmed working on such a large scale?
No. In fact I love large more so than small. The longer I work on a piece the more attached I get to it. The more I KNOW it. It's like having shoes you have worn for a decade, you create a relationship with them, an affinity. The more you break them in, polish them, have life experience in them..the more you love them. I imagine in my near future I'll be working on rather large scale pieces for years at a time. Thus hopefully developing a sort of intimacy with the work and processes.
What about accessibility? Even though your work deals with abstraction, do you feel your approach helps navigate those issues better than, say, a painting?
I would like to think this is the case but I don't. Imagery and narrative seem to be more accessible for most people. It gives a point of reference for the viewer to feel they understand something.

Shelving unit.

Are there any advantages/disadvantages to your approaches?My intention is to hopefully connect on a subliminal level. For example, perhaps that shape reminds you of something, or that suture makes you feel a certain emotion. Also textiles by nature I hope are accessible. My more recent work with denim hopefully draws the viewer in by default, we have all touched and worn denim after all. I do think of the viewer obviously, it's about connecting with people, BUT I don't overly concern myself with advantages or disadvantages. What I do concern myself with is how authentic I am being with my own developed language and medium.

Waiting to be painted.

What about your bloKs and Etsy store? Has that been a successful avenue for you to make and sell work?
I see the bloKs as an experiment and exercise that has brought about all sorts of connections and discoveries. Also they are more accessible for people. The intention in creating bloKs was to make a product that would open people up to the idea that they could, one, understand something "art"- like and two, they could also afford it. My hope was that people would then consider buying larger pieces of art from their local artists for their homes rather that mass-made art from Cost Plus, etc. Instead of spending $300 on another pair of shoes, why not buy a print from Jen Beckman Projects? I think the bloKs could morph even more so in the future and move into the realms of urban street art and such..if I plan to take them there is another question.

The design stage.

What do you do when you're not making art?
Usually I am at a pay-the-bills job. Whenever possible I go to yoga and walk a lot or ride my bike. I love to read, play with video and editing, speak with other artists and get out in nature. Not really too original with my "play time"...I kind of stink about relaxing..I tend to be at a job or in the studio.

The finished, hand-painted bloKs! She even does custom pet portraits! Check out her Etsy store to order one!

How do you maintain your inspiration/motivation?
My greatest motivators tend to be my favorite pieces of art and artists. How can you look at Philip Guston's "for M" and not get your bum out to the studio? Or I will be hiking and see Richard Tuttle's "New Mexico, New York" in the landscape...and again want to get to work. My main motivator is the quest to communicate cross sensory experiences, for example how does sound look? How would I explain that visually? Additionally I am ever curious about textiles as a medium, I feel there is so much left to explore.

Ready for world-wide distribution!

Any favorite local artists?
Local as in NM? Love Tuttle. Otherwise I feel too new to the scene to say yet.

Favorite thing about Albuquerque?
Duh, green chili. Plus blue sky, the Rio Grande and road runners.

Examine Rebekah's stitching up close! Piecing It Back Together is on display in New Mexico Showcase at 516 ARTS through April.

1 comment:

  1. whoa! totally awesome work. what a great way to highlight artists from the exhibition! more. please.


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