In the studio with Rebecca Parkin, whose practice explores feminine and sometimes masculine myths within popular culture, art history and mythology We met with Rebecca to tell us more about growing up in Yorkshire, unexpected sources of inspiration, and catalysts for creating a “good” piece of work.
When did you first begin to see yourself as an artist?
I wanted to be a dancer when I was little, then a vicious dancing instructor put me off it for life! Then when I was in my teens I really began to spend a lot of my free time drawing and painting. I was very shy and it was a way to escape into my fantasy world. I can’t really remember when I first thought about it professionally, it just gradually built up, and I‘ve never really since considered doing anything else.
Where are you from and what was your upbringing like?
I’m originally from Yorkshire, I enjoyed picture books from an early age and I was lucky that my mum bought me plenty to look at and read. This is probably why I’ve always been interested in illustration, and fairytale and myth making underpins most of my output.
Paint us a picture of your artistic journey. What inspired you to first pursue, and then continue to practice, artistic work?
For me there was never really a moment when things got resolved and then that was it. It’s always a circuitous , rambling, circular and complex path. My themes change all the time, so there’ no one place I’m heading, but more and more I feel there’s a kind of consistency of pattern, or way of putting things together, and that gets more sophisticated as I go on.
What’s the message of your work? How would you describe your aesthetic?
My recent focus has been on images of women in popular culture and in art history. I like to use familiar themes which have populist appeal like the witch (an emblem simultaneously of castigation and empowerment) or siren (madonna/whore). I explore the associations these figures have for our contemporary culture, and also chart how our perceptions of gender, sexuality and so on change through the eras . I’m interested in both the unsettling aspect of these figures and the potential they have for a more radical femininity. I work in series and often use strong colour themes and draw aesthetically from both high and low art.
Who/what are your greatest influences?
There are so many really. Frans Hals , Goya, Matthias Grunewald, Piccabia, Jim Shaw, Mike Kelley, Paula Rego, Karen Kilimnik, Dawn Mellor. But also I look at fan art, cosplay, film posters, book cover illustration, horror and science fiction film.
An unexpected source of inspiration?
I’m open to so many sources anyway, but a texture in something I might notice, or a piece of music sometimes illuminates a fantasy, gives shape to an embryo of an idea and enables a new realm to be conjured.
What do you want people to take from your work when they view it?
It’s important for me that my work communicates, I work with different themes but I always want the viewer to ‘get the message’ in a mutually empathic way. That way you have a real connection with your audience- knowing that you’re seeing the same things. I also want them to enjoy the work and be seduced by it, pleasure makes you more receptive and makes the work resonate more strongly.
What events in your life have mobilised change in your practise/aesthetic? How has your art evolved? Do you experiment?
I think naturally when you go to art college things change quite a lot, I started to think more about the presentation of the work as more of an installation of work and think more about how it’s received. This has led to a more conceptual approach and I think about not just the content of the image but also the style, the feel, the presentation, the aesthetic associations of all of these elements which enhance or alter the meaning. As a result I make less work but construct it more carefully.
What are your ideal conditions or catalyst for creating a “good” piece of work?
Sometimes it’s really just having a play around, completely unpressured and something just comes into being and it’s a bit of a surprise. But when I want to produce a consistent set of work I find I need to plan really well, I’ve always been adverse to this in the past but I find with the kind of work I’m making I have to have a plan. So I will spend quite a lot of time researching, sketching and developing before I make the finished works.
Tell us about the inspiration behind one of your works?
Verdigris Green is a small painting which is part of an offshoot of my ‘Green Women’ series. I made a few of these exploring different shades of green which accompanied green colour charts which I made using grease paint (face paint). This series focused on permutations of colour on the one hand and on the other charts a cultural history through Greek myth, fairytale, horror film, science fiction and fantasy which has been populated with many mythical green skinned women.