I first ran into the work of Rebecca Reeves at her collaborative show with Danielle Schlunegger-Warner at the Convent in Philly. The Duo’s work blended together extremely well as both artists focus so much on the minute detail, the things that suck viewers deep into every last bit of the work. Reeves’s work stuck with me because as well as the fascinating detail, her work also features a lot of alluring and somewhat macabre antique imagery. There’s something so pleasingly haunting about antique images, objects, and framing; this paired with Reeves’s elegant composition and thread work makes from some breathtaking pieces. Pulling her imagery and object inspiration from family heirlooms, her work has this unique ability to spark nostalgia or some sort of connection. It’s that funny how our brains start to form some sort of connection when looking at old or familiar things, and Reeves is a master of taking that feeling and pushing it one step further with all of the intricacies in her work.
There’s so much that goes on in Rebecca Reeves’s work that I don’t think I could ever do a sufficient job in explaining it, but I was thrilled to get to chat with her about the origins of her work, her style, and so on. There’s a whole lot of interesting inspiration that goes into her work and it really made each element seem a little bit more special. She gave a great interview that really shed a new light on her work and will make you think about her work a little differently. Enjoy!
1. To begin, I always like to ask about the artist's background, so what got you into art? Any schooling? Big inspirations? What helped shape you into the artist you are today?
Since childhood, I knew I wanted to be an artist. Whether it be drawing or redesigning my room, I was always creating. Throughout my childhood, I was surrounded by inspirational family members who consisted of painters, musicians, potters, fiber artists and poets. My earliest art memory was in kindergarten. I was given a large piece of construction paper with an outline of a sailboat drawn on it. The class was instructed to take buttons and glue them onto the outline. Everyone finished, but I was picking out just the tiniest buttons for my piece. The teacher allowed me to finish while the other students started on their next assignment. I was grateful for an art-nurturing teacher.
As I began high school, I was accepted into the Honors Art program. This gave me the space to expand my artistic skills as well as an introduction to the world of Art College. During my senior year I attended summer classes at Moore College of Art in Philadelphia. It was then that I formed my educational goals.
My college career spanned three institutions and two majors. I attended Bucks County Community College to get some of the foundation classes completed first and then transferred to Tyler School of Art/Temple University to pursue my BFA. Tyler was the one school I wanted to attend and the only school where I submitted my application. Luckily, my portfolio was accepted. I double-majored at the request of my grandfather and received my Teaching Certification as a backup plan.
When it came time to declare a major the Fiber Department seemed like a perfect fit. The women in my family inspired my love for anything with beads, stitching, weaving and crocheting. During these years, I was introduced to The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I knew instantly that I needed to attend this school for my Masters Degree. Once again, I applied to one school. I put all of my chips on the table and rolled the dice. I was accepted into the Fibers Master of Arts program at SAIC. I packed my bags and supplies and moved to Chicago for the next two years. I had an amazing college experience and wouldn’t have changed it for the world. I know a lot of people have mixed feelings about art school, but it was something I needed for my artistic and personal growth.
2. What got you started in sourced material work? How has your use of sourced material grown or developed over the years? Do you have specific places where you get or search for your materials or are you constantly keeping an eye out for things? Further, how does a piece begin for you? Do you find something and then work off of what you have or do you get an idea and then source necessary materials? Do you rigorously lay out what you're going to do or do you allow the process to reveal itself based on what you're working with and how the piece develops? Or does that vary?
My system for developing art has always been consistent. I wouldn’t say it’s a style that I worked to develop, it’s simply how my brain creates art and problem solves. An idea can pop into my head, typically when I’m driving or right before I fall asleep. I mentally construct all the parts creating the entire piece from start to finish. Once I have successfully created a piece in my mind, I become excited about physically creating the work. The piece begins and ends as a complete idea before I even pick up a tool. Oftentimes, I take that idea and plan it out as an entire series even envisioning how the piece will be displayed in a gallery/museum. My brain goes from the point of conception to the exhibition platform.
The materials I use throughout my work are derived from the influence of my family. Whether it be the materials they used in their own work, collections or heirlooms handed down from generations find their way into my work organically. If the piece calls for an antique object, it’s rare I can part with the actual personal heirloom. Normally, I will source similar objects from antique stores or online. I love the thrill of the hunt. Similar to how I plan a piece/series, I already have my final grand museum exhibition created in my mind. I would incorporate my family’s actual heirlooms into my work. My thought process is that the objects would be forever loved and cherished not only as antiques that have survived generations, but also as works of art. It sounds silly, but I always need a plan for everything I love dearly. I hope to always be the collector, protector and keeper of my family’s heirlooms. Giving them a life after death is my ultimate goal to honor and keep their memory alive.
3. Thread and beads seem to be of crucial importance in your work, how do you decide how heavily they'll be implemented in a piece? How do you decide when you're going to use them as singular or covering elements as opposed to decorative, sculptural elements (i.e. the flowers you often use)?
My choice of material really comes down to what I want the piece to express. The cocooning of the thread represents the overwhelming heaviness and suffocating feeling of grief. Exposing the one eye on the antique porcelain doll heads represent the mourning eye which is inspired by the Victorian’s ‘Lovers Eye’ brooches. When incorporating beadwork into a piece, I want to also express the weight of loss through the density of the beads and the visual weight of the piece. Beadwork can also take on another representation as the spirits or energy flowing. Example of this is in ‘The Calling’ and ‘Séance’ where the hands are calling to the beyond, connecting to the spirit world.
The beadwork was influenced by my great grandmother. She was a potter, painter and fiber artist. Her home was full of wonder. The staircase had one step that opened to reveal a secret space. The second floor sat on an odd slant almost like a funhouse. Her sewing room had a beautiful floor with pink flowers and a slate-blue background. I would pour baby powder on it and slide around like a skating rink. The house had cast iron floor grates that opened to the first floor. I would make tissue ghosts and hang them through the slots scaring the people below. Her family room was where she beaded and crocheted. Her beads were neatly organized on TV trays covered in fishing tackle boxes. In the kitchen, she had a large windowsill that was covered in the tiniest square tiles. On those tiles she displayed many things, but her vase of beaded flowers embedded into my soul. I never forgot about those tiny flowers and wanted to incorporate them into my art. In my work, they represent the spirit and energy of the deceased, the forever flowers that are left at the graves by visitors and the forever flowers carved out of stone on the grave markers.
4. Is scale an important element of your work or just a byproduct of the materials that you use? Is it ever a challenge to work small? How does your process differ when making vs. sourcing miniature elements?
Miniatures are something that I’ve always been drawn to since childhood. I had a dollhouse, but it wasn’t a Victorian home it was a modular home that stacked level by level. I don’t recall really playing “house” with the dollhouse it was more about designing the spaces. What I truly associate my love for miniatures were the toys that opened to reveal tiny homes hidden inside a tree, under a doll’s dress or an ice cream sundae.
I began working in the miniature during my graduate program. I felt that it was the ultimate way to control an environment. Once pieces were complete, I would create protective storage covers for them. I then realized those protective covers got dusty and needed protectors – protectors for protectors. My need to control through organizing and protecting was my need to control the uncontrollable events in my personal life. The preservation of family’s memories has always been my inspiration for my art. My early work was about the loss of my grandfather and my grandmother’s loss of memory from Alzheimer’s Disease and inevitably her death. I incorporated screen printing, crochet and beadwork to create that body of work. The next stage in my work began the introduction to miniature dollhouse furniture in order to preserve my family’s memory through their heirlooms which were represented in miniature form. The miniatures I use are rarely created by me.
5. Framing and mounting bear quite a significant role in your work. Are these elements planned at the beginning of a piece or do they reveal themselves through the process? Are frames or stands sourced as well or are they made specifically for each piece?
Framing my work is as essential to the piece as a whole. The frame is never an afterthought. It is selected during the creative process. My frames are sourced mainly from antique markets or online. My dad would find them for me as well as he was a huge antique collector. I learned from the best. Due to the need for extended frame depth for the beaded flower series, I have frames custom-made.
6. Across your body of work you have a pretty consistent color palette. A lot of black, white, gold, deep red, and some earth tones. Was your color palette built off of interaction with the porcelain figures or sepia tone photos? Or does it bear a narrative significance? How do you decide what colors you're going to add to each piece? Do you ever find materials that you really like but you have to alter them in some way to fit your color palette?
I’m a long-time home/décor magazine lover and find inspiration for colors and composition within those pages. My color palette is echoed throughout my home with grounding brown tones with hints of antiqued colors. My home is filled with my family’s heirlooms and I think that environment flows into my work organically. The red series was a rare addition to my regular palette. The red is reference to blood and the recurring images from my father’s illness. My color choices rarely are determined by the objects. The color palette is already determined prior to obtaining the found objects. The porcelain dolls incorporated in my work are not altered other than removing the clothes, removing the limbs and cutting off the neck when needed.
The beaded flowers in my work take on a couple of forms. I either create the beaded flowers from scratch or disassemble antique flowers and then reassemble into a new flower and/or recolor based on the piece. Disassembling the flowers taught me so much about creating them. Some of the antique flowers that were intended for pieces never made it out of my personal collection as I become too attached. That being said, I justify keeping them as reference for my own beaded flower creations.
7. You've got a couple of series or consistent themes throughout your body of work, for example the threaded up doll arms or the bead beards. Do you create series in one shot or do you have things that you do consistently that you always find yourself venturing back to? Or both?
Although my work can take on different forms, whether it be cocooning (obsessively stitching in thread), beadwork or beaded flowers, the consistent theme throughout is to preserve my family’s memory and my love and gratitude for them. A series typically will maintain a specific style or use a particular object, as seen in the new series with the broken doll heads. As I work through bodies of work, the idea is complete prior to me physically creating. While I work on one series, another is building in the back of my mind. I don’t tend to jump around from one series to another without completing that energy. I have to get it completely out to move on to the next. My focus is usually on one or two pieces at a time or my anxieties will get the best of me. Chaos doesn’t work well for me. Including the space where I work. I love and admire studios that are full of experiments and stages of work, but my obsessive brain doesn’t function at its best in those situations.
8. Finally, PLUGS! Where can people find your work? Any shows/events coming up? Anything and everything you'd like to share, fire away!
I recently debuted the first piece in a new series, ‘Broken Beyond Words, Damaged Beyond Repair’ at Arch Enemy Arts Gallery in Philadelphia. Currently, I am in the beginning stages of creating a large collection of work based on this new series for a two-woman show withwatercolor artist, Michelle Avery Konczyk. The show is titled, ‘From Within Ourselves We See’ and will open in December. I’ll be in a group show at Gristle Gallery in September and December. I hope to participate in the vending Salem Dark Arts Market in October in Salem, Massachusetts, which is all teetering on the state of the virus. Follow me on Instagram under @timberchouse and on FB as Rebecca Reeves Artist.