For six years, Rebecca George painted rabbits. In those six years, monoprints, screen prints, works on panel, oil paint and mixed media inhaled vitality and animation to the nose-twitching rabbits in Rebecca's work. The pilous pets of the artist are depicted with dense brushstrokes and realistic texture. Due to the medium of monoprinting, a method of printmaking, Rebecca's intimacy with her animals as well as the inherent connection to the medium, can be interpreted as an examination of the natural world in comparison to the human world. Emotional attachment, the Self, and immediacy can be concluded and observed whilst painting subjects that are incredibly familiar to the artist and the viewer. Rebecca states that caring for her "...companion animals comprises my household drama".
Ever since her 2014 solo show: How Many Rabbit, Rebecca isn't painting rabbits anymore. Following the completion of her 2013 oil painting, "Progeny Portrait", the artist has returned to painting the figure, focusing on the subject of impermanence, the limitations of the body, identity and the temporary nature of form. Similar to her rabbit series, Rebecca's current work is concentrated on light source, movement, and the layering of subject matter.
"Where Do we Come From? What are We? Where are We Going?" created by Paul Gauguin clots my mind when admiring Rebecca's recent works. Gauguin gave us yellow blinding light, cobalt blue shadows, and figures who danced around the canvas. Gauguin worked with a mythology which represented human life and the eroticism within a culture, specifically Tahitian. In Rebecca's piece, Imprint of Loss (2014), she works with Oil on Belgium Linen, creating a texture that encompasses deep crimson and phthalo green which are adjacent to pastel hues of blue, pink, and yellow. The figures within this piece rely on the importance of a light source, accuracy in form, and the understanding and knowledge of color. Moreover, the push and pull effect, originally developed by the pioneering artist Hans Hofmann, is incorporated in several of Rebecca's pieces where subjects disappear and reappear in the frame of the work. Specifically in Imprint of Loss and State of Being (Hard on Myself) (2015), Rebecca utilizes dark oil paints to further challenge the concept of layering, a reliable light source, and overall detail.
Rebecca George is creating ghostly and illuminated subjects--they are neither here nor there. Her interest in gestural pieces, the conversation between various figures and the movement which is depicted through a light source creates a conceptual narrative of identity, yet the ever-constant presence of disconnect. As seen in her 2014 piece, "Se Iudicem" (2014), translated into "Judges", Rebecca is investigation the burdens that a body can withstand--what our epidermis is concealing and how we cope with the wreckage that is stored inside.
The subject of light is continuously effervescent in Rebecca's body of work. "The work reveals the decisions of adding multiples of one figure to communicate a dialogue of gestures: twisting, bending, disconnected, uneasy--the body hit with an unforgiving light, broken into incomplete shapes, wrapped in cloth and shadow", states Rebecca about her recent works and the conversation that is implied through her process.
Beginning with portraiture of rabbits and other animals, such as her cat, Rebecca George's work studied the relationship between animals and humans, herself and the animal progeny. Currently, she is examining the implications of aging, mortality, body image, and the relationship between the form of her own body and the formless sense of the Self, and the vessel which stores, connects and disconnects the various experiences and evolving understanding related to form and environment.
Let's begin. Can you explain when and how you began drawing and painting?
I can't remember a time when I was not drawing. It really became supported when my father took me to an audition at The Chicago Academy of the Arts and I was accepted into their visual arts program my junior year of high school. That change in my educational environment led to an enriched exploration into painting, drawing, and printmaking, which has continued without interruption ever since.
Can you expand on your choice of working with neutral hues in your pieces?
Neutrality in a palette interests me greatly because it opens up a realm of color relationships that rely heavily on context; for example: although the 'red' in a primary color painting may actually be a neutral red-violet when viewed in isolation, in the context of the rest of the palette in the painting, it "reads" as a red. This means for me that I can play with the variables of temperature and value in color in a realm of subtlety that pushes me deeper into my own use of color as language.
The subject of light is incredibly important in recent pieces from your body of work. The light source connects and illuminates each subject differently and various vantage points. Can you discuss your technique with light and shadow?
In the overall emphasis of examining the form of the body as shapes, I do imply light and shadow as support in suggesting volume and adding contrast within position/negative space--the goal in many of these figural pieces is to imply movement and 'push' the assumed parameters of a static, still body.
Pentimento is utilized in several of your paintings of animals, as well as your recent pieces of figurative subjects. Can you discuss the decision to continue with this technique?
I feel this technique supports my examination of an array of underlying issues pertaining to the body: impermanence, the imprint of loss, the evolution of identity and the temporary nature of form. The language of the figure is expanded to incorporate exposure of the Pentimento in painting--the process of repentance and change.
Can you discuss the complications and successes that arise when painting with a combination of realism and spacial ambiguity?
Composition is the most challenging element when working with suggestive representations of recognizable form. The interplay of positive and negative space, how the figure moves in and out of recognition--it is delicate and sometimes a risky force of color relationships and implications of limbs, torsos, faces, hands, and feet. I never "fill in" space or looking at space between forms that way when I'm composing--often the painting will guide me by bringing my attention to the next place of focus and I have learned not to conceive further than that for fear of discovering the mystery before it is revealed in the painting. In other words, not making art in my head but from a vertical dimension of presence.
For six years you painted rabbits. Suddenly, you stopped. Can you explain this transition?
It's funny, because I thought I was 'done with' (i.e. painting) rabbits several times then something would happen that kept me engaged. I do experience a strong interest as a gift (inspiration perhaps) and I follow it, blindly even, wherever it leads me. I have always intended to return to the figure once I felt liberated and loose--the rabbit work gave me 6 years of getting back in touch with my 'hand' as something I could trust rather than prescribe.
What role do animals play in your personal life?
They are my progeny (extended family)--the animals that live with me are my most immediate relationships and the ones that don't live with me are just as sacred. I look to animals to remember how to let life flow through me, without role-playing, past or future.
How has the Chicago art scene contributed to your choice of subject matter, theme of identity, and overall body of work?
This is an interesting question in that I rarely talk about how rebelling against the conceptual culture of much of Chicago's art scene has been a recapturing of what painting means to me and how I'm still quite a traditionalist where all that is concerned (such as the age-old debate about a realistic painting's value in the face of a photograph and the notion that painting is dead because all's already been done and technology has eliminated the need for a sense of what painting involves). I think that one of a kind paintings that represent what is true in that time for the artist who made it, is a powerful and precious thing that defies reproduction or replication. The art market in Chicago being what it is (non-existent, really) can lead artists to entrepreneurialism--it certainly has for me. I am grateful for that in many ways.