Paintings with Good Spirit: An Interview with Visual Artist Rebekah Andrade

Rebekah Andrade is a Canadian visual artist based in Nevada where she has established her practice in the gritty and corporate landscape that dominates our idea of Vegas. With a BFA in Visual Arts from Emily Carr University of Art + Design and studies on graphic design through Parsons School of Design in New York City, Andrade has exhibited nationally and internationally and her work has been recently featured in issue #144 of the New American Painting catalogue. Through her practice, Andrade has developed a solid body of work that shows the apollonian attributes of a disciplined artist working with balanced colour palettes, creating abstract compositions that rely on form and structure, executed with discipline and elegance. I met Rebekah Andrade in March 2019 while she was exhibiting her work at The Other Art Fair in Los Angeles. After our first encounter, we met again a few months later while she was completing an artist residency at OTIS College of Art in LA. This past June I visited Andrade’s studio remotely to talk about her current projects, her life in isolation, and what she’s doing in preparation for an exhibition at the Sahara West Gallery in Las Vegas, Nevada in the Fall. 


Claudia Pretelin: You grew up in a creative environment in Canada in a family of musicians. Can you describe your first recollection of connecting with art and your own creative side?

Rebekah Andrade: When I was in my early twenties, my mother gifted me one of her guitars and a chord chart. That summer I taught myself to play. Slowly, I began to write my own music. At the time, I was going through what most twenty-year-olds experience. A misdirection of life, confusion about who you are and what your place is in the world. The guitar was an outlet for my frustration and emotional highs and lows. That was the first time I connected authentically with my creative side.

CP: Ellsworth Kelly once said, “I want my paintings to have good spirit.” This is how I feel when I look at your paintings. How do you feel once you complete your artworks?

RA: What a beautiful quote, I’m going to put that up on my studio bulletin board. When I complete a painting, it feels like I’ve finished another paragraph in this long essay I’m writing about my work. For the last couple of years, I’ve been content with my finished works. It feels like I’ve found my voice and confidence with it all.

Awareness First. 2020. Acrylic Colored Pencil on Canvas. 40 x 32 in.

CP: When did you decide to use abstraction as a visual language for your ideas?

RA: The first year I completed art school, I was working on hyper-realistic compositions. But abstract painting was always my passion. Picasso once said it took him four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child. This quote has always stayed with me. To express one’s thoughts through an abstract language excited me. I was inspired to develop my own unique visual language and the challenges that came with that.

My paintings are a reflection of the cascading thoughts that I navigate through each day. They mimic internal landscapes when I am at peace with myself and the world around me, and when I am not.

CP: Your work draws influence from landscapes, architecture, and more recently, meditation gardens. Can you talk about the introspective part of your practice and how you use these elements to re-imagine environments for your paintings?

RA: The mind is always active, and there is no way of turning it off. The key to taming it is focusing your attention on the present. My paintings are a reflection of the cascading thoughts that I navigate through each day. They mimic internal landscapes when I am at peace with myself and the world around me, and when I am not. The re-imagined environments shift when I catch myself drifting into thought. Then shift again when I redirect my focus to the present. Recently my compositions have changed, taking on a topographical feel. This is where I connect the meditative gardens. The application of paint, layering of shapes and color, create depths that allow you to wander the canvas, moving in and out. I’m excited about these new works.

CP: As repetition is a crucial element in your work, it also involves a rigorous working method. Can you tell us about the practice of making your work? Specifically, can you talk about the process of making preliminary sketches and color charts?

RA: At the beginning of the year, I  write a proposal, and all of the work I create within those 12 months is inspired by that. When I start a new body of work I’m always looking to the old to expand and push the language on the current. The journey starts with small studies and sketches, extracting elements of color, texture, and form from previous paintings. I give myself the freedom to play and experiment. Sometimes I’ll make five or ten images and then move onto larger paintings. Other times I’ll keep the process going and make twenty or thirty. It all rests on where my confidence lies with the work. In the past I’ve ignored my intuition and moved onto larger works, then ended up not connecting with them at all. Now I take it slow, observe myself, and question if my actions are coming from the right place before I dive into larger paintings.  

CP: Tell us about your color palette. I understand that you use only eight colors for your paintings. How do you mix them and what goes into creating the right color palette for your works?

RA: At the end of last year I began taking steps towards simplifying my studio and my practice. I switched from oil to acrylic paint and went one step further and began using earth pigments and non-toxic acrylic binder. I cleared away the material that was no longer needed and slowly I have started transforming my studio into the calm and relaxing space that I need. My decision to work with eight colors was intentional and inspired by simplicity. I’ve grown fond of limited options. I don’t want to pick from 20 different versions of the same thing. Give me three maybe four options, make it easy, make it simple. By implementing this concept with my paints it has assisted me in staying focused and not feeling overwhelmed when painting. I’ve even started to think about the number of paintbrushes I have and how many I actually need to create a painting. The most important element that goes into creating the right palette is balance and freedom. When the viewer looks at my work, I want the colors to invoke a meditative state.

CP: Do you work on one painting or many simultaneously, and how do you make decisions about scale?

RA: Yes, I work on multiple paintings simultaneously. Currently, I have six large paintings on the go in my studio. If I find myself stuck on one painting, I can move onto the next.  In the past, I was particular about scale. I followed the rules taught to me in school. Over the years I’ve relaxed with it all. The sizes for this new body of work were chosen based on what the art supply store had in stock. COVID seems to have inspired everyone to make bread and paint. It was a great experience for me in letting go and trusting the process.

Constructive Action. 2020. Acrylic Colored Pencil on Canvas. 30 x 24 in.

CP: Speaking of COVID. I understand that you don’t see your art practice as an outlet when it comes to the stress and complications of the outside world. Can you talk about how you are dealing personally with the current health crisis? And if it has altered your working process?

RA: To deal with the stress of our current health crisis, I’ve been focusing on my daily routines and being a little more disciplined within them. I start my day early with exercise and do my best to put in a 6-8 hour studio day. Sometimes I paint, and sometimes it’s administrative tasks. In the evening, I make dinner, tidy the house, stream a show, and finish with some stretching. Usually, I’m in bed between 9-9:30. There are the off days, but for the most part, I’m consistent.

Recently, I started limiting my viewing time on news and social media outlets. I allow myself a few hours three days a week for IG and Facebook. Then, I delete the apps, so I’m not tempted. My mental health was suffering, so I took the necessary steps to ease and calm my mind.

Now that my anxieties about the world aren’t in overdrive, I’ve found that my approach to art-making and my studio practice has also shifted into a calm, intentional, and focused space. For the first time that I can remember, I’m relaxed about my career and trusting the process.

CP: What are you working on now? And what are some of your plans for the uncertain future?

RA: I didn’t paint for the first three months of self-isolation. This was not by choice. I had already scheduled administrative tasks into my calendar prior. When COVID happened, I ended up needing to organize other areas of my life. It left little room for painting. In May I was asked to show work at a gallery here in Las Vegas. When it came time to start planning, I was nervous. The work I had been making prior just didn’t feel right anymore.  My life and perspectives had shifted. I was searching for a new level of freedom in my work. At the beginning of June, I sat down and started drawing. Those turned into larger sketches and transformed into a new direction with my work. There is still a thread of continuity within these new compositions, and I’m excited about the new direction. My plans are to continue developing this new work. The rest is out of my control.

© Rebekah Andrade.
All images courtesy of the artist.

CP: What’s your favorite instrument of memory?

RA: Smell is my instrument of memory. The best is when I’m out and someone wearing a fragrance walks past that reminds me of a family member or friend. The smell of a campfire or a BBQ relaxes me.  Last year I visited the rose gardens in Portland. I spent almost an hour just smelling the different flowers. I couldn’t get enough. Even though we are in isolation, I still spray my perfume from time to time. It makes me so happy.

IoM: Thank you, Rebekah!

Rebekah Andrade holds a BFA in Visual Arts from Emily Carr University of Art + Design. Currently, she is studying graphic design through Parsons School of Design in New York City and recently completed a residency at Otis College of Art in Los Angeles. Her work has been shown in Canada, the United States, and Chile, and been reviewed by Edeltraut and The Gathered Gallery. In 2018 her work was selected for the Art with Heart auction at the AGO in Toronto featuring the country’s foremost established and emerging contemporary artists. Through re-imagined environments and composed structures, Rebekah’s work explores notions of objective and subjective realities. Within the layers of geometric combinations, meandering lines, contrasting palettes and recurring forms are abstractions representing psychological states and our physical surroundings. Repetition is a crucial element in Andrade’s work, employed as a method for balancing compulsive and reflective thoughts and rethinking the concrete and ambiguous spaces we inhabit. To expand on compositional and conceptual possibilities, traditional and experimental woodblock printing techniques are incorporated, creating movement, depth, and texture. The mindful process of carving and stamping, precise yet unpredictable in its nature, contrasts with notions of the ‘ideal’ and an anxious attachment to outcome. Through her creative process, a visual language has emerged that drives Andrade’s practice, challenging perceptions, and beliefs within our internal and external environments.

If you are interested in collecting or learning more about Rebekah Andrade’s work, check out her website or follow her on social media @rebekah_andrade

From August 10-14, 2020 don’t miss Rebekah’s takeover for the Instruments of Memory Instagram account!

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