Where were you born?
AR: I was born in Modesto, California, in the late 70s - born into the leftovers of bell bottom pants, Folk music, and the decline of the VW beetle - my mother's first and only car, which she bought when she was 16 and still drives to this day. The only self-portrait I've ever done is a painting of me as a baby eating a cookie in the back of her bug.
Currently, I am living in Melbourne, Australia, with my husband and 16 month old daughter. We moved here from San Francisco in 2009 so that my husband could pursue a career opportunity that was only supposed to keep us here for two years. It's now 2013 ...
How long have I been a practicing artist?
AR: Art was always around me in various forms while I was growing up - music, writing, painting, sculpture, etc. Art was always my go-to activity. If I could turn a math assignment into an art project I would. I loved finger painting in kindergarten. I can still remember the smell of finger paints, big paper pads as tall as I was, and the woody scent of the easel. We wore men's button-up shirts turned backwards as smocks, and to this day I wear a man's button-up shirt when I paint. I also wear painter's over-alls that are over 100 years old; they belonged to my great-grandfather who was a house painter. I think they're very special. I keep a photo in my studio of my great-grandfather wearing them.
Though art was always a part of my early childhood, there was never any attention paid to the "importance of art in childhood development." It was just something we did without much contemplation. I remember dancing with my German Shepard, to Beethoven playing on the record player in our living room, me holding his front paws, he as tall as I was. We had a piano in the house, and I don't even remember when I learned to read music; it seems like something I could do from birth. I got sent home from 1st grade for drawing naked fat lady greeting cards, I started playing the violin in the 4th grade and played all the way through junior college, and when I was 12, I sneaked into a college life-drawing class that my mother had signed up for as an audit. I took the class in her place. I think that was the first formal art class I took, and it was a formative experience. I loved it.
Much like when I was growing up, art is in the house now and stimulates my daughter's development. Sometimes the distinction between art and simply creating something is hard to discern. For my daughter, Aiden, we do something artistic everyday. We dance a lot in the house. She's got a sweet little bee-bop bounce she does whenever she hears music anywhere now. She has also discovered color crayons, and the nanny she has does a lot of arts and crafts with her twice a week. We also bake cakes on Sundays using a really simple children's recipe. Art, in my opinion, is born from invention. It takes an inventive mind to collect materials and create something new from those materials. While I try not to make it a chore or exercise for her by bringing too much awareness to the process, I do try to foster and encourage inventive/creative thinking with her.
What are your preferred mediums?
AR: My first preference is pencil on paper, then charcoal. I love to draw. But the work I'm known for are paintings done in acrylic on top of a collaged background.
AR: Life, specifically people, has always been my inspiration. I've been interested in social issues since I was a small child. I was 5 years old when President Reagan was shot. I watched it alone, live, on television and was deeply concerned about him and the well-being of the country. I ran into the other room to tell my mother, and I was very frustrated that she didn't believe me. She told me, "No sweetheart, that was President Kennedy who was shot and that was a long time ago." I sensed her speaking to me as though I were a confused child and it angered me. I dragged her to the television set and said, "See!" For days after that I drew pictures of what I'd seen, drawing pictures of what I thought the shooter looked like, and all the while wondering, "Why?" What makes people do what they do? I have forever since been searching for that answer through art.
And that search has led me down many different paths of inspiration. Philosophers and writers are very important to my creative process as well as musicians and other artists. If you're looking for names, here's a short list: Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, Lucien Freud, Leo Tolstoy, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ayn Rand, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, Raymond Carver, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Sergei Rachmaninoff, J.S. Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, Yo-Yo Ma, Henri Matisse, Gerhard Richter, Carlo Carra, Barbara Kruger, Mark Rothko, my grandmother, mother, husband and now my daughter.
When did you know you were "called" to be an artist?
AR: I don't remember the moment I learned this about myself. It was something that was just part of who I was, who I am, from the moment I had conscious awareness of myself. But as I've said, art was just something I did. I never considered the action self-defining.
Do you have formal training?
AR: Not in painting. I have an MFA degree from the university of San Francisco in fiction writing (a 3 year master’s program), and I took many under-graduate art classes, but I do not have an art degree from a visual arts school.
How has your process developed over the years?
AR: Initially, I never wanted to paint. I was only interested in drawing. I thought I wanted to be an illustrator. After I took a life-drawing class as an under-grad, a teacher convinced me to start using paint. Then I discovered Matisse, and I was hooked. I loved his bold use of color, initially disconcerting but upon further study, his choices made so much sense to me and the way I see light. From that point on, I painted. Initially, for the first 3 years or so, I strictly used paint on canvas, but as I understood my motivations more and more and the emotions I wanted to convey and the communication I wanted to achieve, I realized that paint on canvas didn't fully encompass all that I wanted to express nor did it allow me to fully explore the various realms of art that could help me find and communicate truth through metaphor.
I've always done realistic, figurative art with a human element involved, but as I grew as an artist, I started combining mediums. Text became important to me, and the idea of a culturally shared consciousness via media and advertising started to drive my artwork forward. The idea of combing my two worlds, writing and painting, excited me, and I developed a technique of painting that involved a textual collaged background that I then drew over with pencil and charcoal and finally painted allowing the text to show through and inform the painted image. The energy in these paintings comes from the conflict and tension created between the opposing text and image.
There's another element of my current style of work that I think is probably important to address. The collage work has purpose beyond its meaning. Like so many artists, I'm haunted by my mortality, by the fleeting aspect of time. I'm often disturbed by the thought that the "now" is so seldom appreciated and recognized and that my presence here is only temporary. Some people have children to quell this fear, to leave a mark on the world that will endure beyond their own time. I don't see children this way; for me, personally, I feel that's a self-serving pursuit that puts unfair pressure and expectations on the child. I don't think of my daughter as an object to claim or create. She is a person. She is an individual, and I am here to help her when she needs me. I didn't bring her into this world for my pleasure or enjoyment or to offer me a purpose on this earth beyond my mortality. I allowed my body to be the conduit through which life could pass and manifest itself in the form of another human being because I value life, because, to me, living is what life is for, and that encompasses so many wonderful things (including but not limited to reproduction) that our minds and bodies are capable of. The impression I hope to leave on the world will not be through her but through my art and my success or failure at capturing this time, this history, on canvas. I'm constantly aware of the now and the future and what will be gone later that exists now. I represent this by using paper, print. In this technological time where information, education, and entertainment is moving from paper to screen, I want to capture what I can, preserve how we live now to understand ourselves later. Decades from now (and possibly sooner), I don't believe that paper will be part of the average person's day to day life. In my work, the element of paper represents extinction or evolution, depending on how you look at it. The collage, the hundreds of pieces of paper, of words that are loosely related to each other, represent a web of ideas, of cognitive association; in effect, they are a physical representation of an internet search, and in that way, I'm representing the past, present, and potential future in my work. The figurative images I paint on top generally come from a bygone era that seems idyllic to us now but whose meaning is changed by the juxtaposition of the words behind it and what those words, as a whole, represent: past meeting present implying future. My intention is not for the viewer to see the exact, literal meaning of the painting as I see it but for the work as a whole to illicit a subconscious response that is drawn from each person's individual association with the words and the imagery combined. My hope is that the painting will mean something different but somewhat similar to everyone as a result of a shared cultural consciousness.
I'm currently working on a 18-25 piece solo show for the Kenneth Paul Lesko Gallery in Cleveland, Ohio. My paintings are laborious and take hours and hours: I must first find my collage materials, which can take me to strange places as none of my materials are simply downloaded and printed from the internet; rather, they are actual clippings from magazines, newspapers, books, pamphlets, mail, etc. that I must physically go and search out. Once the materials have been gathered, I must cut them out. This can take up to a week depending on the size of the painting, and I generally work rather large. Once the pieces have been cut, I have to affix them to the canvas, and this can take quite a few days. When the collage is finished, it should be able to stand alone as a work of art in and of itself. People often ask me if it's difficult to paint over them. It is. But that's also the fun of it. It's almost as though I'm destroying what I've worked so hard to create because I choose very carefully where each clipping goes. And then, when the collage is finished, I "graffiti" over my own work when I paint the image on top. There are some elements of the collage that I try to protect from being totally covered over by paint, but some things must be sacrificed to the painting, and I have to let it go. My mind and my process is so controlled and meticulous, I enjoy this stage of the game where I give up control and let the painting dictate what will stay and what will go. The drawing usually takes a couple of days. Once that's done, it's time to paint, and that generally takes me a week to two weeks. In all, I am on a schedule now to finish this body of work for the show in Cleveland that requires me to finish a painting a month. It's tough, especially with a child, so I have compartmentalized each stage of the process into four stages and give myself a week for each stage usually finishing a painting on the last day of the month and starting a new one on the first ... and throughout the whole process, praying that an idea for the next painting will come to me before the first of the next month. It's an extremely anxiety-ridden process.
Where/when do you like to create?
AR: It’s evolved over the years as my career has. As I’ve progressed, I’ve been able to afford better spaces. When I was living alone in San Francisco in an apartment I absolutely loved, I painted in my dining room (as selfish and ungrateful as it may sound, there are times I terribly, terribly miss living alone, having no one to “need” me. I’m not a very social person; I don’t have a large group of friends I pal around with. I truly enjoy being alone). A few years later when I got married and my husband and I bought a house in SF, I had a tiny little room in the house we called my studio. It was terribly difficult to work in there though because I usually work on big surfaces.
When we moved to Australia, we chose a house that had a massive upstairs room with a beautiful balcony, and I used that room as a studio. I loved that space. I also rented a studio space in downtown Melbourne that was shared by about 15 street artists. It was a great way to connect to the culture in what was then a foreign environment, but I’m not a street artist. I don’t enjoy vandalizing other people’s things that they have worked hard to acquire or maintain. When I got pregnant in 2011, I gave up my studio space downtown as there were too many unhealthy environmental factors to consider there.
Now, we live in another house in Melbourne, and again I have a room to myself that I use as a studio. I prefer working away from people. I don’t like to be watched or talked to. I like to feel hidden. The shared studio space was a test for me. I was trying to push myself beyond my comfort zones, but I didn’t really like it. I don’t find the creation of art and socializing to go hand in hand in my world … I also don’t like the constant and often subconscious influences that other people’s art has on me while I’m in the creative process. I understand the benefits of sharing and conversing with other artists, but I really try not to study any artist too closely as I don’t want to repeat someone else’s work/journey.
Now, with Aiden, I keep a very regimented work schedule. She goes with the nanny on Mondays and Tuesdays from 10-6 p.m., and those are my two full week-days of work. When she leaves, the race is on, and I work furiously all day both days. Wednesdays, I'm usually a little burned out from the crazy pace of the first two days of the week, but I work Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday in the studio from 12-3 p.m while she naps and then again in the evenings from 6-9 or 10 p.m. when my husband comes home and takes over baby duty. And then, on the weekends he is on baby duty both days and I work from 10 - 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. We've just instigated a date-night on Thursday nights, which cuts down on my evening productivity, but ... I am a wife. My husband deserves a little of my time. When this show opens 18 months from now, I am taking a big break from painting on such a severe schedule. It takes a toll and truly alienates me from the world because I have so little time to do anything else.
What “day/odd” jobs have you done that you care to share?
AR: Before moving to San Francisco, I worked as a junior editor at a newspaper, The Modesto Bee, in my hometown. When I got to San Francisco, I took a job as an assistant at a major blue-chip art gallery. While I truly loved seeing, holding, touching paintings by Chagall, Picasso, Matisse, Matta, Bacon, Fini, Dali, and many of the other greats, this high-end gallery business disgusted me. I saw what went down behind the scenes, the car-salesmen mentality of the “dealers," and the smarmy nature of the gallery owner himself. I spent a little over a year there and left. It was depressing. Art felt dirty to me there. This is not to say that all galleries or gallerists operate this way, but this one did.
After leaving the gallery, I got accepted to grad school, and I managed a non-profit second-hand shop for the Grace Cathedral while I took classes. I stayed at that job for about 3 or 4 years and then took a job teaching a fiction-writing workshop at UC Berkeley. Teaching makes me very uncomfortable though, but I stuck with it for a little over a year, maybe two.
I’d been painting on the side the whole time I'd been living and working in San Francisco, and I was eventually introduced to someone who commissioned my first painting (no, he wasn't a relative, a friend, or some man interested in me for other reasons; it was strictly professional. The man was a stranger to me). The commission was for 2 paintings, a painting of each of his sons, at a total of $10,000.00. The guy paid me in cash! A big, fat envelope of $100 bills! I had never seen that much money in all my life. I kept it in a tampon box stuffed in the back of my linen closet and fed it into my bank account a little at a time to avoid taxes. It made me so nervous having all that cash at home! I showed it to my grandmother when she came to visit, and her eyes practically popped out of her skull (we were not an affluent family). I’ll never forget that. After that commission, I focused on painting full-time and got many more commissions. My least favorite commission? A man commissioned me to do a painting of his dog, Mr. Bubbles. Mr. Bubbles was a very wrinkly, slobbery, bulldog. I think I was paid $2,200 for that one. I couldn't have been happier to finish it. Then, about six months later the guy comes back and asks me to do the painting, the exact same one, over again because he was getting a divorce and his wife got the painting in the split. The kicker is, he paid me half what he paid me for the first one! Commissions ...
Pet peeves with the art world?
AR: I think my biggest pet peeve with the art world is expectations. I get really tired of hearing "how" an artist should live, "how" an artist should create, from other artists, gallerists, etc. I also get sick of the expectations non-artists have about artists (sometimes I just want to say, "What the fuck do you know?" - feel free to edit that out;). I feel like the public has seen "Pollack" one too many times. It's the sensationalized stories about famous artists' lives that stick in the brains of the mainstream masses, and then they think that every "good" artist should be an absolute basket case, a drunk, a drug addict, an adulterer or psychologically disturbed to the point that they can't function properly. I've said it before to aspiring artists who piss me off with their characterized, artist personas, "Just because you're a drug addict and like to get shit-faced doesn't mean you're an artist." I don't have people over to my studio anymore because I'm sick of hearing, "Oh ... it's ... so clean," and then the light in their eyes goes out. Yes, I'm crazy, but that's none of your damn business. I'm neurotically neat. I hate messes. I probably verge on the edge of an obsessively compulsive clean freak. I can't think or create among clutter. But that seems to disappoint the general public. They want to be entertained. When they go to an artists' studio, they want to see carnage, ears on the floor, empty booze bottles underfoot, needles in the trash can, paint splattered from floor to ceiling, a noose in the corner and an artist that looks like some sort of stage character on the verge of suicide. I'm a huge disappointment. I work. This isn't a game or a hobby or something I do when I'm in the mood. This is my life, my career, my purpose, my meaning, my identity. I take it very seriously, and that goes against the Hollywood stereotype of an artist because it's too "normal." What they don't see, what the public doesn't realize, is that an artist's studio isn't really the physical. It isn't what you see; it's what you don't see. An artist's studio is in his mind. That's where the real work is done, and if I let anyone inside there, they'd curl up in a little ball and cry like a baby on the floor in front of me (or with me).
What advice would I give to aspiring artists?
AR: As far as advice goes, I'd say be true to yourself. Advice is hard to give because all artists work differently. I think it's safe to say, though, that being a professional, working artist takes a lot of self-reflection. You have to spend a lot of time with yourself identifying what motivates you, what thrills you, what angers you, what you love about the world, what you'd like to change, and what makes you burn with passion (and not just the sexy kind) and then you have to apply that in some way to what you create. Next, I'd say work. Artwork is called work for a reason. It takes A LOT of practice, time, and devotion if you want to be more than a hobbyist. Be prepared to make sacrifices for your art - you'll have to sacrifice your social time and your family time too, to an extent; creating art is a somewhat selfish endeavor and usually a lonely one. Beyond that, I'd say persevere. There are a lot of haters out there. There are a lot of successes out there too. Both can get you down depending on your mood. When outside forces start to influence your artwork and your creativity, shut them out. Follow your instincts. If you listen at the door of my studio from time to time, you'll hear me repeating out loud to myself when I'm working on a particularly challenging section and want to just give up, "Trust yourself, trust yourself, trust yourself ...'' Finish your work. See it through to the end. One of my most popular paintings now, one that was on the cover of a few magazines and not only sold straight away but has sold its limit of limited edition prints was a painting that I was ready to abandon midway through. I left for a trip back to the states when I was working on that piece, showed a photo of it to an artist friend in San Francisco, and told him that I was just going to gesso over the whole thing and start something new when I got back to Australia. He convinced me to finish, and I'm so grateful that he did. Don't do half-assed work. Put your all into everything you do and just work, work, work. And above all, don't sit around waiting to get "in the mood" to create. I think Chuck Close says it best when he says:
"Inspiration is for amateurs - the rest of us just show up and get to work. And the belief that things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will - through work - bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt of if you were just sitting around looking for a great ‘art [idea].' And the belief that process, in a sense, is liberating and that you don't have to reinvent the wheel every day. Today, you know what you'll do, you could be doing what you were doing yesterday, and tomorrow you are gonna do what you [did] today, and at least for a certain period of time you can just work. If you hang in there, you will get somewhere."