I was first introduced to the work of Rebekah Goldstein from her solo show Passenger at CULT|Aimee Friberg Exhibitions in Fall 2014. Since that first encounter with Rebekah's paintings I began following her work. Her paintings of colorful forms, definitive line, architectural compositions, and scale intrigued me in a new way. I also couldn't resist Rebekah's use of pinks.
On January 24 Rebekah opened a new show, Either Way, at 100 Percent Gallery. For her new show Rebekah's work is minimal in color, a shift from previous work, but with the intention of focusing more on line and form. Either Way also includes sculptural objects, which Rebekah calls fragments. Either Way is a continuation of Rebekah's work from her time during a residency last fall in NY, where she worked on a smaller scale making monochromatic works.
I recently visited Rebekah's studio to talk about her past, present, and future work. We looked at some of her paintings in progress, talked about her residency, and her show Either Way. Please read more for the full interview and photos.
SFACC: You had a residency at Sam and Adele Golden Foundation for the Arts in NY last fall. Can you talk about that experience and the work you made during that time?
Rebekah Goldstein: Going into the residency I didn’t have any concrete expectations of what I was going to make. I always figure things out through the process of making them, so I was trying to be as open as possible. I knew I was open to change in my paintings, but I couldn’t visualize or articulate what it would be. While at the residency I tried not to focus on finished work, but rather to create a lot of experiments. I had many small canvases going on – I was working small so that I didn’t feel too attached or invested in any one piece or way of working. I was making works on paper and sculptural fragments as well. I set up these daily routines, like watercolor in the morning, acrylic in the afternoon, oil in the evening. I played around with different ways to layer the acrylic to create a ground to paint on with the oil. Toward the end of the residency I ended up using mostly oil and watercolor. In a lot of ways the residency was challenging. I was trying new things, and in the process some good work gets made and some ugly work gets made. In that sense, it can be liberating to be thousands of miles away from your studio, your normal expectations of yourself, and what you make in your studio. But it can be scary too.
Monochrome piece completed during Rebekah's residency.
Coming out of your residency, what are you thinking about and how are you working now?
Toward the end of the residency, things began to gel a little bit. I began pulling back on color, which felt really new to me, since my works are normally so colorful. I was working on what I considered “monochromes”- paintings that were made of shades of white and cream or shades of black. I decided to keep working with a paired down color palette when I got back to my studio in San Francisco because it allowed me to find new ways to resolve my paintings. I’ve always loved color because it is such a powerful mood setter, and because people have such intense associations with particular colors. In some of my paintings the intensity of the color often competed with the image in the painting, which was purposeful. But by pulling back on the color, images become easier to see. There is more room for the viewer to enter.
I’ve also been thinking about taking small moments of my older painting and enlarging them. So the paintings feel familiar, but with a lot more room to breathe. Everything feels more spaced out. While on the residency I was also working a lot with watercolor, which was totally new to me. I found myself working very quickly and really paying attention to the quality of line. I think that has stuck with me as I’ve come back. Even though I am working with large oil paintings and the paintings become a lot more layered, I think the new paintings have a more immediate read, are more direct. They are less fragmented and use line more as a descriptive tool. My lines have become shorthand symbols, which I use to describe either a figure or an architectural space, and often both. I am always thinking about how to create an image that is both ambiguous and very specific.
Monochrome piece completed during Rebekah's residency.
You teach elementary and middle school art classes. How does working with children affect, influence, and help you think in different ways about your practice? How do you balance the teaching environment from the studio environment, especially coming out of an MFA program?
Finding balance between any job and studio work is challenging, and most people coming out of an MFA program will have to figure out that balance. I like teaching young kids because I spend a lot of time focusing on the elements of art – line, shape, color, texture. Those are my favorite things to talk about, so in that sense work can be inspiring. Setting up and sticking to strict routines is the best way I’ve found to balance my job and my studio practice. I always go directly from work to the studio. I’m generally exhausted when I am done teaching, but it works, because in the studio I totally switch gears. It is such a different energy – teaching is so external whereas for me, being in the studio is very internal. I don’t even listen to music in the studio, I just need a very quiet space.
fragment in Either Way at 100 Percent Gallery.
When I look at your work I can see a relationship to architecture; there are foundational pieces in your paintings that build up and hold the painting. You also mentioned architecture. How do you connect architecture and your paintings? Maybe in the way you don't see your work as purely abstract?
In a painting I often work toward creating a structure that has its own internal logic. I think about it as a space or structure that couldn’t exist in reality – while it references architectural forms, it couldn’t actually hold together in reality; it could only exist in the space of a painting. There are foundational pieces in the painting but often it’s the smallest lines or forms that hold the painting together. I try to create a balance that if you took one thing out of the painting, the structure of it would fall apart.
And yes, I don’t see my paintings as purely abstract because I am always drawing on imagery, although it may sometimes be imagery that is “abstract” – architecture, shadows, textile patterns. The imagery gets transformed through the process of painting, and ultimately becomes more ambiguous and idiosyncratic. I like to think about an image that shifts between categories – at one moment maybe it references architecture, at another landscape, or the figure.
You brought up Russian Constructivism in our conversation, mentioning Varvara Stepanova and Lyubov Popova. I can see how the way they use lines and color forms is also in your work. Also their textile designs are great. What is it about Constructivism and their work that sticks to you?
I think it was such a fascinating time in art history. Popova and Stepanova, along with other Constructivist artists, sought to recreate the look of the modern world, and in doing so, worked with architectural, graphic, industrial, and textile design. I love that the geometric, abstract visual language was used equally on paintings and sculptures as it was on textiles and teapots. It created an entirely new aesthetic. At the time it was revolutionary, but today no one would think twice about a geometric textile print. However when I see a geometric print skirt, for example I love to think about its connection to art history, even if that was never the intention of the designer.
In Rebekah's studio.
For the new paintings you're working on in your studio you photographed friends in their favorite outfits as reference for your color palettes. Can you talk about what you're doing in these paintings regarding the "zooming in" and enlarging sections of paintings?
Lately I have been feeling like I need restrictions to the color palates in the paintings. After making the black and white paintings at the residency I found that a limited palette forced me to resolve the paintings in new ways. I have always loved the relationship between painting and design, specifically fashion design – I guess that relates back to Popova, and Stepanova. So I started photographing friends in their favorite outfit and using those colors as the starting point of the painting. Using someone else’s outfit as the palette of the painting takes some of my taste out of the equation, although taste is still definitely a factor.
In these paintings I’ve also been using a lot of white to serve as a backdrop. These paintings tend to be more “zoomed in” – I imagine I am taking a section of the way I construct my paintings and enlarging it. I think because of that the paintings are becoming more spacious.
In Rebekah's studio.
You have made sculptural objects that you call fragments, and showed them in your Casual Separates show at City Limits in 2013. How did you begin making these? How do they fit along with your paintings?
I started making sculptural objects in 2012 while I was on a residency at the Atlantic Center For the Arts. I wanted to create forms that felt like they fell out of my paintings. For the show I had at City Limits, Casual Separates, the pieces were installed on the wall. Since then objects have become more sculptural. I call them fragments because they are meant to be seen in groupings, and can be endlessly rearranged in different combinations. The term fragment implies that each individual piece is part of a larger network. I like having an assortment of objects that I made hanging around my studio. They definitely inform the paintings. I often photograph them and create collages from the photographs as a way to create new imagery. I love the translation between the painting to the 3d object, and the translation of the 3d object back into the painting. It’s an iterative process that allows me to create a visual vocabulary and has become essential to my process of making paintings.
Once the pieces became objects, I actually never intended to show them. They were just part of my studio life. However, I decided that they have an interesting relationship to the paintings and actually help the viewer to enter into and navigate the paintings. For my solo show at Cult in 2014 I showed the fragments along with the paintings.
In January you had a show opening at 100 Percent Gallery, titled Either Way. Can you talk about that body of work, the grey scale, wallpaper, sculptures, and how you went about arranging the space.
In my studio I had some fragments on a pedestal in front of a painting. I tend to think about my paintings in terms of planes, almost like a stage set. I liked the way the fragments created one more plane, or seemed like characters in front of a set. When I started thinking about the show at 100% I decided that I wanted a backdrop for the fragments, but something that would truly be a background, rather than a painting which is its own object. Also since 100% is a house project space, wallpaper seemed appropriate. To create the wallpaper, I took closely cropped photographs of the fragments in front of a painting. I liked how the black and white created a flattened, graphic image, where it became difficult to see what was the painting and what was the fragment. As for arranging the space, I wanted the fragments in groupings so that the pieces created little vignettes.
I'm always interested in how artists title work, especially work that is more abstract. In your work the titles sometimes are decided based on what you see in the paintings and how forms are relating to each other. For exampled can you describe what is happening in some works, like the Middle Sister piece?
Middle Sister, 2015.
The titles are important to me because I think they give an entry point to the work. For me, the forms in the paintings create an absurd or abstract narrative, and are interacting with each other in a very specific way. For example in “Middle Sister” the three totem like structures became symbolic for bodies or figures. And the sibling relationship opens up possibilities for a lot of potential readings – maybe these forms are competing for attention, maybe they are playing nice, maybe one is the black sheep or one is the square. I tend to have a very animated reading of what may be considered abstract and I think the titles allude to that.
Rebekah Goldstein at the opening of Either Way at 100 Percent Gallery.
What else are you working on this year? Do you have any shows that you are working on?
I’m starting to get ready for my next solo show at Cult | Aimee Friberg Exhibitions. It’s about a year away, but I need time to sit with the work for a while before I show it. There are some other exciting things in the works for this year as well, but I’m not at the point when I can announce them yet. Get ready for some kick-ass paintings.
Thank you Rebekah for speaking with us and opening your studio. For more of her work please visit her website and follow her on instagram @RebekahGoldstein.
There will be a closing reception of Either Way at 100 Percent Gallery on February 21. 100 Percent is an alternative art space within a private residence. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for the address to see Either Way.