Rebecca Farr is currently dabbling in collage. The painter has turned to late nineteenth century photography and historical images as a resource of images to place in her work. “I was doing very traditional, straight figurative paintings and now I am thinking of paint with collage and painting from collage,” she says, reflecting on what she is currently working on. “Right now I’m looking at the scale of what I have been doing and bringing that back to full painting informed by collage. I’ve been really captureD by old inky photography from the mid-1800s to early 1900s–but I don’t feel settled with just presenting that image again.”
She uses this new aesthetic strategy to mess around with imagery and icons. She speaks to the idea of mass movements, specifically related to the concept of Manifest Destiny. These migrations of people, groups composed of so many influences and places, in many ways represent Rebecca who is herself a collage of influences and places. This would not be the first thing you extract from her work first but her history is present.
The biggest marker is color. Her current body of work–which recently was on view at Santa Monica’s Gallery KM–featured pools of white mixed with dark grays, blacks, and navies, a subdued color palette that is very distinctly not Los Angeles. Like the pieces, they respond to a colder place and somewhere slightly drearier: it should come as no surprise that Rebecca grew up in the Pacific Northwest.
“I was actually born in LA but we moved to central Oregon–Redmond, Oregon–when I was two so I don’t really have a feel for the formative LA years,” she says. “I spent seventeen years there with a little intermittence in Eugene since my dad was getting his Masters degree there. The majority of my time was spent in very rural, spittoons at parties, lettering in rodeo, very small town Oregon.”
“My childhood was amazing. It was also the seventies, when parents would just say, ‘See you at eight tonight!’ I spent a lot of time roaming around these big, vast open spaces and my best friend from a rancher family. There was a sense of high desert light and space which actually is coming more and more into my work, the Western, Westward push. A lot of that came from this time.”
Following high school, Rebecca attended Evergreen State College. It’s a unique school that she describes as being similar to Santa Cruz in that you get evaluations instead of letter grades. It’s a self-directed school and their art program was very unique in how they approached the subject. “I kind of did a flip flop in that I approached art for four years without a lot of technical study: it was more conceptual. I learned how to develop a theme and how you pursue a body of work into a new body of work. I really learned how to drive the concept of the work before I learned a lot about drawing and painting. I don’t know if I could have done it a different way. It was absolutely perfect for me.”
“Once I graduated, I realized I wanted a strong base in painting,” she says. “Where I was at in Olympia, Washington, there was a painter and sculptor named Simon Kogan who was Russian trained and did the whole 35 pounds of drawing to graduate. He took us through a mini Russian school of training. Myself and eight other artists who were tight, close friends painted three to four hours, three to four times a week for four years. We travelled to Paris and Southern France for an intensive painting retreat. We did a lot of very traditional figure and landscape drawing and painting. He taught me the basics and very traditional techniques. I really learned to understand the materials well. The ability to be technically strong is endless but I felt like I got a training that is really hard to get. He was just great. We became a very tight community that influenced and pushed each other. It’s not a masters program but it had elements of it. “
Her education in art and her being in the Pacific Northwest really helped her in that she was able to discover everything on her own. She was able to discover art on her own terms, which can be hard for people to do. “It was helpful for me for a couple of different reasons because I didn’t come from an art scene. Where I was in Oregon, an environment where there wasn’t a massive influence of the cultural understanding of art, has allowed me to develop my own confidence without getting utterly overwhelmed by the weight and power of modern and contemporary art. I was able to take it in and digest it always in relationship to developing my own voice. I felt like it would have been more difficult for me to have a commitment to my own voice, not that people who go to masters programs don’t feel their voice,I think they do. That’s my view looking back, at least. That’s just how it happened.”
After living in the Northwest for so long, Rebecca felt that it was time for her to move on. She ended up traveling to Mexico and focused on her painting while working various part time jobs, namely in social work and sex education. During these travels, she was trying to find the right city for her. Los Angeles came to her by way of a relationship with her now wife Lisa Romerein, who she came to Los Angeles to be with. “It’s been amazing: I feel so grateful to LA,” she says. “I felt embraced almost immediately. Things started moving in a way that kept giving me confidence to move a little further.”
Los Angeles has been great for the artist and has quickly folded her into the mix. She has and occasionally still does freelance work to supplement her art. She’s made quite a name for herself in the food styling world, which she finds to be a very complimentary field to work in that she wouldn’t have if she hadn’t moved to LA. “It’s a much lighter, looser, supportive world: I can take whatever I need off for art,” she explains. “When I can, I supplement my work with freelance work for a few months. That wasn’t just possible where I was before, to have these fabulous freelance LA jobs that allow you to have breathing room. There was a feeling that I needed to put full focus on painting.”
“Art and food styling both build off of each other, actually,” she continues. “There is this way that all the understanding of painting and color and texture and culture feeds food in composition. I’m still playing but it’s with meat or grapes. There’s definitely a relationship between the two practices. It’s very aesthetic and interesting but also a very different world. I don’t feel like painting is sacrificed or drained from this work .
Rebecca finds that all of her freelance activities have fed into her practice in one way or another. Even her jobs in social work opened up an avenue of conversation she didn’t expected to impact her so much. “The social work was great because I’d have these twenty to thirty hour a week jobs that were amazing and interesting and that became part of the conceptual aspects of my Manifest Destiny work. Most of my work is a study of humanity in reference to environment and how we are perceiving and engaging with each other. A lot of the social change work I was doing was a study of that.”
“It’s like a soup,” she says of the relationship between her work and practice. “Everything counts for something.”
In addition to her history, Los Angeles as a place has definitely inserted itself into her paintings in some capacity. You see this in a less overt way than assumed, given the nature of her work. “It’s funny because I look at my pieces now: it is a lot of black and whites, very monochromatic-esque with hints of color. Edge had a lot of deep moody colors and, while it looks like I’m gathering the Northwest and bringing it here, I’m actually seeing those colors here. I think my eye is cued or likes the gray in all this gorgeous light. I find something about that great.”
“In terms of light, I’m actually surprised that I’ve toned down and become more limited in my palette. There are less strong colors and it’s very muted, which is super weird because I used much brighter colors in the Northwest. I think I’ve undeniably landed in my subject. I was definitely searching around historical stories of migration as well but there is a way that the SouthernCalifornian environment is what I’m studying. In terms of content. I’m in a nest of material all the time.”
An example of this is Rebecca’s Relay series which studied and juxtaposed foot traffic in Los Angeles and Tokyo. The paintings were an introduction into how the city behaves itself. “That first body of work I came across here was a study of Tokyo and LA and these micro-migrations at crosswalks and bus stops and subways, ways figures move around each other with utter consciousness and utter disregard–and what signs and signals we use to indicate identity and belonging and how these codes are closed or open. We are constantly reading these signals.”
“I found a real difference in how these two cities speak. That’s true of every city: there is a distinct energy to how we move. We have a lot of space here. There’s a lot more solitude and honoring this privacy. At the same time, I’m really drawn to these strange and/or beautiful places that are left alone here. I feel a solitude in our space that is different.”
Ultimately, it’s surprising–and somewhat ironic–that Rebecca is in Los Angeles because its a place she was trained to dislike. “That happens in the Northwest,” she says. “There is a lot of tension and discomfort and mythology around what LA is between TV and Disneyland and a lot of people coming up and buying up property in small towns. There was definitely grudges that formed that often have no foundation in anything.”
Although born here and with a connection to family in the area, the city was just not a place she envisioned herself being a part of. She didn’t see herself here. “I didn’t feel an animosity: I just didn’t know it as a city. When I started to date Lisa and I would visit, it was like ‘What?!?’ It is so wonderful and the people and communities and the textures and differences are so vast and unexpected. I was so excited by the art scene and that I could plug into it. I very quickly changed my mind.”
She acknowledges that her wife’s being here helped ease her entry to the city–but she is very aware of how off putting LA can be. “You could just slide off of the surface of LA and not feel the city if you didn’t have any guides. I had a great reception. I feel really lucky to have landed here.”
Rebecca’ has more than embraced Los Angeles: she’s completely fit it into her life’s collage and she within the collage of the city. “I really feel at home here,” she says with a little smile. “I actually feel the light and landscape and palette of LA Is much more who I am than the Northwest. There are these deep rich greens there that would start to feel oppressive. There are many, many ways that the people and the art make this a place I want to be. We visit the Northwest a lot and I love the different islands up there and I will always keep a limb up there–but my home is here.”
“I’ve dedicated my whole life to painting,” she continues, addressing the future of her work. “I see myself painting forever. There have been huge shifts in what I’m doing over the past couple of years–and that’s really interesting.”