April 2014 Interview
Gulsah Mursaloglu: When did silhouettes first enter into your work?
Rebecca Shore: In 2008, but initially the silhouettes were of invented forms, not found. By 2009 I was starting to use found shapes from my own photos, from artwork, and from catalogues and advertising.
GM: While looking at your silhouette work I feel as if I’m a kid looking at a box full of treasures in front of me. It is very exciting to go into the paintings and try to discover the silhouettes and what they are representing; finding a pair of sunglasses right next to an exclamation point or discovering a spoon in the corner of a painting. How do you decide on which silhouettes to combine while working on a painting? What is usually the departure point for you?
RS: It always took a lot of moving the silhouette shapes around, and often replacing them with other choices before I would settle on an arrangement. I made the shapes on tracing paper, cut them out, and moved them around as a way to plan the paintings. This allowed maximum flexibility. I made hundreds of shapes, many of which I did not get to use (yet). I may have thought of this process from the years when I made quilts and worked in the same way.
I like to imagine what it would be like to live in another time or place, and these paintings let me do that. They also solve the problem of loving objects but not wanting to collect them. I can collect them and arrange them in my paintings.
GM: Silhouettes are often used as a way of abstracting the actual object/figure. They can be viewed as symbols or metaphors for other things. How do you think about them? What is your specific relationship with the silhouettes?
RS: I don’t think of them as symbols in a generalized or universal sense. They are representations of things that I have encountered in a variety of ways: daily life, childhood, family history, art history, and popular culture. I usually have a specific association. Some examples are: a cat in a child’s drawing that my sister showed me; a wedge shoe that I saw in the New York Times; the shape of Jan’s hair in an episode of The Office; a part of the robe of the Madonna in a painting by Sassetta, and a Chippendale drawer pull.
But I realize that my own experience of the shapes can be very different from the experiences of others. I have the key to what the shape is whereas others may be pondering and guessing its identity. By removing the interior visual information to make it into a silhouette, I make the object’s identity ambiguous. The viewer can then speculate as to what the shapes are and what the relationships between them might be.
GM: Silhouettes in your painting come as very specific shapes, but they also have very specific color choices. It often strikes me as though there is a color-coding system behind them. How do you decide on your color choices while working with the silhouettes?
RS: The colors often took many tries, and very slight adjustments to work out. I didn’t have a formula, and I was endlessly humbled and surprised by what I discovered. Interestingly the original color of the object seldom ends up working in the painting. The challenge was to make the painting work as a whole at the same time as having the relationship be right between each shape and its color. I don’t think that I employ any color coding system.
GM: While composing/arranging the pieces do you think of them as systems or structures or do you think of them more in terms of the narrative content?
RS: I think of them as collections or arrangements of things that are part of my life, and of others’ lives individually, but also representative of different cultures and times. There are a few paintings that have many human figures that work more as narratives, but that has not been my first interest.
-GM: There’s a certain level of absurdity in terms of the combination of the silhouettes and a subtle humor in the work. Was humor always present in the work or did it come
about when you started working with the silhouettes?
RS: Hmm… there may have been some humor before these silhouette paintings. I’ll leave that for others to decide. I am generally very interested in humor, but don’t intentionally try to make paintings that are humorous. Humor is so subjective that I don’t expect viewers to find it in my paintings, although they sometimes do.
-GM: Working with you I also know that you have a very extensive knowledge in terms of painting materials and techniques. You use materials such as egg tempera, distemper or casein that are not commonly used by painters today. How do you decide on what kind of paint to work with while starting a painting?
RS: I choose media based on how their attributes might fit the image that I am making. For example, if I have many thin lines to paint I prefer a medium (gouache or casein) that is liquid, not sticky and is easy to use with a small, soft brush. Or if I want a matte, even surface I might choose to use acrylic made with some silica in the binder. If I want a background that I can repair I will avoid distemper and egg tempera.
-GM: You mentioned previously that you never took a materials class while at school and you had to teach yourself everything about materials. How did that process start out? Also how did this learning process affect your painting practice?
RS: In school I had been painting almost exclusively in gouache on paper, which I love, but years later I wanted to paint bigger paintings and on panel or canvas. In conjunction with reading the various painting handbooks and consulting with colleagues, I systematically tried out casein, egg tempera, oil and acrylic and worked for many years in egg tempera. It was empowering to have the knowledge to make deliberate choices and my sense of frustration was greatly reduced. I became a problem solver. In the course of teaching Materials and Techniques for the past 12 years I have continued to learn a lot.
-GM: How was your SAIC experience? What sort of work were you doing while you were here as a student?
RS: I loved SAIC as a student. I came here after two years at a liberal arts college, and two “gap” years working, traveling and studying part time. At SAIC I found teachers and students who were deeply engaged in art making, and I felt that I had finally found the place I was meant to be. I took many studio drawing and painting classes, mostly with Chicago Imagists and my work at the time was gouache or drawing on paper, dealing with pattern and form invention.
-GM: You have been living in Chicago since you came here for school. Am I right? How would you describe your experience of living in Chicago as an artist? Did you ever think about moving to New York or Los Angeles (where most graduates move these days) at any point in your career?
RS: Yes, I came here for school, never dreaming that I would stay, and have been here ever since. I still think of myself as a Vermonter in some ways, but have adapted to urban life and love Chicago. I have never wanted to move to another city, especially not New York.
-GM: Is your studio separate from your home or do you work at a home studio?
RS: My studio is the first floor of the two flat where I live. Not having to travel to a studio is great for me as I can work more and stay engaged with what I am doing. The challenge is not getting distracted by household chores or the computer.
-GM: What’s your work schedule like? How often do you get to be in your studio? Do you have a regular scheduled studio time or do you have more flexible working hours?
RS: I am in my studio most of the days that I am not teaching. I usually take one or both weekend days off to do other things like clean, do errands, or socialize. During the week I often have to juggle other obligations but I am in my studio for 6-8 hours/day, taking breaks to go on walks and to eat.
-GM: What’s a typical day in the studio like for you? Do you work on one painting at a time or do you work on several paintings at the same time?
RS: I usually work on one painting at a time. Depending on what stage I am at, I might work directly on a painting, make sketchbook studies from source imagery, do preparatory work such as preparing supports and grounds, test color ideas, and attend to business (email, calls and documentation). I enjoy listening to NPR and music while I am working.
-GM: Who were some of the artists that were big inspirations for you? Which artists do you identify with/feel closer to in the contemporary art world?
RS: Early on, Matisse, Morandi, Japanese textiles, Amish and African American quilts, Bill Traylor, Morris Hirshfield and Joseph Yoakam. Over the years: 14th and15th c Italian artists such as Giotto, Duccio, Giovanni di Paolo, Sassetta and Piero della Francesca, Japanese printmakers Hiroshige Utamaro and Harunobu, Vuillard and Bonnard,Persian and Indian miniatures, and signage. In the contemporary art world: James Siena, Thomas Nozkowski, Richard Roth, Chicago Imagists Ramberg, Hanson, Rossi, Yoshida and Wirsum.
-GM: Finally, are you working on a new body of work right now? Do you have any shows coming up in 2014?
RS: Yes, my new work is different from the silhouette paintings that we have been talking about.
I am in a show in Sydney Australia that is about to open called “Now, Chicago”, and I will have a show at Corbett vs Dempsey in 2015.