Artist Interview: Rebecca Gilpin on her practice and the intersections between art and music.

by Cass Art

Rebecca Gilpin is a London born artist currently working in central London. She specialises in abstract painting on a large scale, taking inspiration from different periods between ancient art and popular culture - cave etchings to record covers. We were delighted to speak to Rebecca about her practice, inspiration behind her work and the intersections between art and music.

Hi Rebecca, firstly thanks so much for taking the time to speak to us. Could you tell us a little bit about how you became an artist?

I guess from a young age I’ve always looked at the world in a different way - Always been drawn to colour and how it can affect mood.  I remember at school at the age of 8, we were asked to draw ourselves in our homes and I drew me and my cat and then when I’d finished, covered the whole page in bright orange. 

But I think I really became an artist when it clicked at the age of  20 that I could paint about my own personal experience and things that are on my mind.  That was when I painted a series of two paintings called ‘Cut the Cake’ where I touch on the theme of racism (with a black and white line running through both paintings), current relationships, a story from childhood, music and my age. 

 

I read quote by you that ‘You’re not excited by control, you’re excited by chance and unpredictability’. Does this feed into your painting process, do you leave some of it up to chance and spontaneity?

Yes definitely - I would describe myself as a process painter, which means I have an initial idea but it changes as I go along, and eventually the painting tells you what it wants. I guess it’s a sort of conversation between me and the painting. By mixing water with my medium, and using different viscosities along with the contraption we built which alters the gradient (moves the paint in different directions), I have invited chance and spontaneity to play a role in the way I work. Nothing is completely random, but life is unpredictable so I like my paintings to be too. 

Music plays a big part in your artistic process of production. What kind of relationship does your art have with music?

That’s a good question.  I’ve always listened to music while painting and generally speaking I’ve listened to music for as long as I can remember.  The stories the musicians tell through their songs have always played on my mind, so initially I wanted to be a musician, but my stage fright took a hold of me at the sad age of 13 when performing at a talent show with my band playing the guitar.  We played in front of 600 people and my amp exploded on stage and we had to play the song from the top and I played it from behind the curtain in tears.  The worst part of the story is that it’s all been filmed and the drummer’s dad has the recording- horrific! This made me realize that I needed to express myself in another way so I turned my full attention to art where I could quietly express my passion, rather than being on centre stage performing.

The way music has inspired my work has changed over the years - I used to reference the music that inspired the work in a slightly more direct way, whereas now I do it more subtly.   In my early paintings for example ‘Adventures of Grandmaster flash’ I reference the idea of sampling  by the use of collage.  I’ve always named my work after song titles or lyrics which makes the clear link and adds context.

You know how jazz and blues musicians improvise with their instruments? Well, the way I work is the same but with painting.  Like a musician who’s learned and practiced their instrument over the years - they get to the stage where they can improvise, I work in a similar way, but with paint.  People always ask how long it takes to do a painting - well, the truth is, it's taken my whole life because everything I’ve learned up to now feeds into it and my technique has been repeated and critiqued over the years.  As a child I was in a choir and really enjoyed learning the harmonies, and I still get super emotional when I hear church music. I constantly listen to 70’s musicians like Crosby Stills Nash and Young - the harmonies feel quite spiritual to me.  I think lots of my work looks like the music I’m listening to - It’s a bit like osmosis - the music gets absorbed into my painting.  My aim is to create work that’s as powerful as when you hear a song for the first time or hear a song you haven’t heard in years and it stops you in your tracks.

Every few series, I commission a producer to work on a song with me that ties together elements and concepts to complement the work.  For my last show, we made an experimental piece reflecting some of my favourite aspects of American culture and music from the 80’s - It's on my soundcloud page if you want to hear it, it’s pretty wacky.

A couple of years ago you travelled to Brazil and experienced live Bossa Nova music. How did this experience have an influence on your practice?

I had never been to South America before and the colours really hit me on arrival. Also everywhere we went you could hear a constant drum beat because we were there for the lead up to carnival - there were lots of pre carnival parties happening, with local people dressed in really bright clothes dancing in the streets.  I’ll never forget going to an underground club on our first night and spending hours there listening to the most amazing live Bossa Nova music.  When I got back to the UK, my colour palette changed quite drastically to soft tropical colours:  yellows, oranges and pinks.  The taste of the fresh mango caipirinhas we had at that club almost came across in the new work.  I introduced an energetic use of oil pastel and playful shapes mirroring the beat of the music.

If we were to take a wander into your studio what materials would we find and why are these integral to your practice?

Every conceivable colour of acrylic and oil paint in big quantities from Cass Art, and rolls on rolls canvas of - lots of pieces of wood - all different lengths for framing the paintings when they’re done as I do my own framing.  I buy my paint from Cass Art because I go through so much that it can become quite expensive and I really benefit from their deals. It also means I don’t have to worry about how much paint I’m using, I can just focus on my work. 

The last few months have been such a strange time for us all for many reasons. But from a creative perspective we’ve spoken to many artists about how Covid19/Lockdown has affected their creative output. There have been such varied responses from good, bad to indifferent. How have you found the last months have impacted your creativity?

So on one hand, living and experiencing life inspires the work, so obviously I’ve missed that - but on the other hand, because there is nothing else to do but work, I have all the time to experiment with new techniques.  Luckily I am now able to work from my studio.  I’m also enjoying having the time to draw and read - I’ve recently discovered audiobooks,  I’m fully addicted to them.  At the moment I’m listening to ‘The Secret Lives of Colour’ which is fascinating and I highly recommend it. The inability to plan properly for exhibitions is super frustrating - I got very very lucky with timings last year and managed to be a part of 4.   I’m trying to stay positive for this year but my main income comes from exhibitions, so fingers crossed things will start to open up at some point…

Have you got any projects in 2021 you can let us in on?!

I am currently working on a series where I’m homing in on different states of mind during lockdown, using different pieces of music I’ve been listening to, to convey different situations.  For now, I am looking in-depth at colour and experimenting with how when you put certain colours together, how it can make you feel.   I’m planning on organising and curating a post-Covid group show with different artists around the theme of escapism and we will be donating some of the funds to a mental health charity.  I would also love to be able to show my work in a public space so that it’s accessible to everyone - I’m still working on that.

 

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