In Process is a series of studio visits with artists, makers, dancers, musicians and other creatives.
Rebecca Byrne is an American visual artist who lives and works in London. She uses paint and paper to construct large scale spaces in which to exhibit her paintings.
This is the fourth in a series of posts documenting some of the artists on the Florence Trust residency programme at work in mid-June 2018.
UPDATE: Rebecca’s new installation as part of the Hospital Rooms project at Woodlands, Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust will be on show 28 June 2019, 1800-2000.
Address: Waterfront Gallery, University of Suffolk, Waterfront Building, 19 Neptune Quay, IP4 1QJ
How would you describe your practice in a sentence? What excites you at the moment?
The overarching concern in my work is an exploration of interiority and the psychological impact of space. In particular, I am interested in the spaces that people animate and inhabit, the traces left behind in abandoned and re-purposed spaces and thresholds into fantastical places that cannot exist.
At the moment, I am excited about the prospect of making more large, site specific work on paper; The Florence Trust Residency allowed me to make a painting that came off the walls and was suspended freely, creating an physical interior from the work itself. Only in a space like St Saviour’s Church could I make a work that is 4.5M high x 2M x 3M.
How did you realise that you wanted to be an artist? What formative experiences shaped your decision?
I was very ill as a child with an auto-immune disease, so I spent a lot of time alone with books and art, they were my outlets. Then, when I was able to go back to school, I was fourteen and I took as many art classes as I could – they were an icebreaker to help me socialise after so much time away. I won a scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago’s Saturday and Summer Programme for teens and I was really able to study seriously. That early experience of being the youngest person in the life drawing classes and learning about casting in a foundry way before university was really important – pursuing art was never really a decision, it just was what I did, I didn’t think to do anything else.
Who are your art icons and why? Who or what is the biggest non-art influence on your work?
I don’t have any consistent art icons. I am fickle and I am enthusiastic about lots of artists, including sculptors and photographers.
The biggest non-art influence on my work is probably food. I think of plates in terms of colour and composition so my kids always had colourful, if sometimes odd, combinations for dinner. I think about painting whilst I cook – I find it relaxing and my mind often drifts to my work.
What unusual habit or absurd thing do you love? This could be a studio ritual or something in your wider life…
I love to sing in the studio. This is absurd because I have a terrible voice and a crazy eclectic taste in music.
What is a great piece of advice that helped you in your life or art making?
The best piece of advice I had was from a tutor who told me to be in the studio as often as possible. He said to go to the studio even if you can only fit in an hour or two, don't tell yourself that just a few hours is not worth the journey to get there, because it is. Another artist I admire greatly told me that even puttering around the studio, having a tea and reading a book, is good studio time. You don't have to be making something all the time, sometimes it is just as helpful to just be there.
What made you choose the materials and techniques that you use? How have they changed over time?
I started using acrylic paints just over a year ago and that massively impacted my practice. I stopped trying to make them behave like oils and that was pivotal for me. It opened doors and allowed me to make large work and use layers in a way I hadn't before when I worked with oils. The colours you can get in acrylics also tend to be more modern and quirky, which I like.
How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a ‘favourite failure’?
I fail at saying no all the time. I say yes to everything and often wind up in situations where I don't really know what I am doing, but I try. Usually, it turns out well and I have a new adventure, but not always...
What do you do when you are feeling uninspired or overwhelmed?
I read, spend time with my friends and family, I sleep and I just generally do things that feed my soul for a while.
What are you learning at the moment?
How to relax more, I am trying meditation and I am a poor study.
What advice—big or small—would you give to an artist or creative, just beginning on their journey? What advice should they ignore?
I hate the idea of giving anyone advice, and I think the advice I have been given is often so similar that it must mean we are all cycling the same ideas to each other. That is probably because it is good advice, so here it is again: make work, make lots of work, talk to other artists, use new materials, slow down when you need to - that is often a good time for research and reading and it all goes into the work. Visit other artist's spaces, and invite them over to yours. Engage with the artists in your community and make your own opportunities to show your work and/ or curate projects.
As far as what to ignore, I think you take it all in. The advice that isn't helpful may still help because it reminds you what you don't need to be thinking about, the direction you don’t want to go.
Rebecca’s final installation at the Florence Trust residency final show. Photography by Andy Keate.
What advice do you think your future self—ten years older and wiser—would give you, looking back at where you are now?
Everyone probably says this but, honestly, my answer is: keep going
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Rebecca will be starting a month-long residency at PADA Studios in Lisbon in February 2019. Her latest installation as part of the Hospital Rooms project at Ipswich NHS, Woodlands Unit, will be completed by the end of January 2019.
Find out more about Rebecca Byrne here: