Rebecca Weinman is one of our four partnert artists for our Indiegogo campaign. She will be donating a print of her painting, Into the Woods, for those who contribute $100 dollars or more. Please consider giving and receiving some great works of art in return.
Rebecca Weinman is a locally exhibited oil painter, a maker of things, and an adventurer. Before setting off on an improvisatory tour of the United States, Rebecca discusses the Berkshire community, the influence of the internet, and her plans to investigate artmaking across America with Mass MOCA intern Violet Lynch. Rebecca is one of four artists participating in this summer’s Berkshire-focused crowdfunding campaign spearheaded by Assets for Artists.
VL: You’ve studied all over the world, but your roots in the Berkshires seem to have grown deep; you worked with Berkshire Creative for a number of years and have been very active within the creative community outside of that. How did you first get involved?
RW: I am actually originally from the Berkshires. When I graduated [from college], I came back to the area because I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do as my next step. I ended up getting very involved in the community and staying, and it’s been a great experience. At this point, I’m looking to travel and expand again; there is nothing like travel to invigorate ideas and produce new ideas and to see how different people live in different parts of the country, and ultimately the world. I would like to travel abroad again but I am starting with the United States.
VL: Was there any part of your upbringing that encouraged you to pursue a career in the arts?
RW:I grew up in a very creative family; my father was a chef and my mother had an art practice. My grandfather was a writer; it was one of those things where it was just in the ether. There was never really a question of it when I was in school; the question was do I want to go pursue the writing aspect or do I pursue the fine arts aspect? And I went with the fine arts.
VL: Do you think that you or your practice were influenced by living in the Berkshires? Are there certain things that you drew from living here that you think might change once you find yourself in a different setting?
RW:Whether it is palate or light, you can’t help but be influenced by what you’re seeing every day. I’m sure my work would be different if I was waking up in a tropical location that didn’t have four seasons. It’s also very much influenced by the fact that there is such easy access to high quality museums. They run the gamut from the Renaissance and Impressionist works you can see at the Clark [Art Institute] to the contemporary work you can see at WCMA or MASS MoCA. You can’t help but be influenced by what’s around you.
For my show at Pittsfield Contemporary one of the larger pieces was very much influenced by Bouguereau’s Nymph and Satyr, which is a very large scale painting in the Clark’s permanent collection. I looked at how he was rendering forms in relation to the flora and fauna around him, around the figures. Being able to pop up to Williamstown and look at that firsthand and take some reference pictures makes a huge difference. [Looking] at it in a book, it’s a small reproduction and you can’t really get a sense of brushwork or how he was layering the paint.
VL: How did you initially get involved with Assets for Artists?
RW: When Assets for Artists was first establishing itself as a program and seeking its initial funding, it partnered with Berkshire Creative to do that. So I first became familiar with it through helping with the fundraising side of things.
VL: So you recognized that the program could be helpful and decided to enroll?
RW: The opportunity came up and I was in the right place. I was seeking to become more financially fluent, to build on that skill set. In school they taught us how to present ourselves to a gallery—artist’s resume, artist statement, portfolio, how to speak to gallerist—but they didn’t really go in depth on how to manage your money. It seemed like a great opportunity to learn that for free. I had spoken to a financial planner before but you have to be in a certain income bracket to really have them be interested in you, or at least the ones I dealt with. So to be able to have somebody give you the information that can help you get to that income bracket by saving and investing in yourself as a business and by investing in your home is very helpful.
VL: Have you seen or experienced any significant changes in your practice since participating in the program?
RW: When I started saving through Assets for Artists, I also started a separate savings account that was just for me. It made me think in a much broader way. One of the other artists in the program, Laurie McLeod, mentioned something. She’s an artist, she has a young son, she has all of these things she’s working on . . . and she said, do it in tens. Ten dollars a day or ten minutes a day, and that really resonated with me.
So actually, one of the biggest things I got out of the program was breaking things down into increments. I don’t have to tackle it all today, but I can tackle ten minutes of it or ten percent of it or I can put away ten dollars a day to save towards a goal. I found that very helpful and it changed the way I look at things. You think of something you might be saving towards or you might want to do, and that might seem daunting as a whole but if you break it down into increments it’s very doable. I also found Esther Robinson from ArtHome incredibly inspirational and invigorating, and I think most of the people in the program did as well. She was just a wonderful speaker, and to have her come in and teach from the point of view of a maker—but a maker who is also financially savvy—was just amazing.
I tend to operate half in both places, which is both a blessing and a curse at the same time. Through my work over the past couple of years I discovered my passion for spreadsheets, it’s the weirdest thing . . . I have a love of organization. In my art, it is all about individual art making, or mark making and layering. It’s not structural, but in a very asymmetrical way. For things to work it’s not about a perfect symmetry; very little in life is actually symmetrical, especially when it comes to the human form. So I have these two sides of me. I think that Assets for Artists really appealed to me because it brought in the organizational piece in support of the creative piece.
VL: Have you noticed the market change at all within the past few years? Are there changes and adjustments you had to make along the way that you didn’t anticipate?
RW: I think that because my day jobs have pretty much supported my art practice I haven’t made what I like to call the de Kooning leap. I don’t know if you have read the biography of de Kooning that came out in the last decade, where he just stopped having a dayjob . . . His art practice supported him.
I was down at Art Basel this year and I have a friend who is a gallery owner, so I can see shifts in the market a bit there. But because I’m not completely dependent on the art to support me so at this point, I can be immune to it. Within the Berkshire County market I’ve seen situations of galleries opening or galleries closing, galleries changing the way that they do business. But again, I can be two steps away from that because it doesn’t directly impact my livelihood–yet.
VL: You are one of four artists participating in Assets for Artist’s crowd funding campaign focused on recognizing and supporting the vibrant creative community that exists here in the Berkshires. What sort of projects are you currently working on? Do you have any plans for how you might use your portion of the funds?
RW: The funds from the campaign will go in support of my trip and all that it offers for the continuing development of my practice. One of the things that I’m planning to do is visit other artists’ studios while I’m going across country. I want to work organically through my network to connect with people, so I’ll start with friends around this area and in the Pioneer Valley and visit their studios. I haven’t confirmed how I want to document this or how I want to distribute it, but it will likely be in a blog format: pictures, text, and possibly video. The friends and people I know in this area will hopefully lead to people in other cities and other towns throughout the country.
Something that really interests me at this point is, what does artmaking in America look like? And not going at it necessarily from an art critical point of view, but more of like Alan Lomax, who documented a lot of songs in Appalachia around the turn of the century, and looking at it as anthropological. So it’s kind of for my own interest and benefit, but hopefully other people will be interested as well. What does artmaking in America look like today? It is so varied and so broad. I think that it will be interesting to see what themes arise, because I know a variety of people with different art practices, from very traditional oil painting and easel painting to knitting to high craft. [What I want to do] is look at how all of these practices are co-existing, and where they are. I can only guess; you get an idea of it with guessing, but you don’t know until you see it. That’s the great thing about new experiences: the surprises and the things that come out of it that you weren’t expecting. [Those are the things] I’m really looking forward to.
VL: Along with other technological developments in communication, the internet has made it incredibly easy to search for and share information, regardless of your geographical location. How do think this might effect your findings, if at all?
RW: Groups and movements within the art world can occur across the globe very easily because of the internet. Say you have people who are interested in knitting as an art form, and they connect with somebody who is on a completely different continent, because of the internet. It used to be that. . . people would form their community based around where they were living, because that’s who they had immediate access to. But because of the internet, it’s not necessary to be in the same town or the same region.
I don’t know if it necessarily homogenizes the art practice. There are people maybe seeing the same things, but there is so much out there and so much for all these different niches that I don’t think it necessarily causes homogenization. I think it just causes greater specialization, because people just have easier access to what they’re interested in. If they want to find out more about 17th century guns, it used to be that you’d have to go to a particular library or a specialist in a certain area of the world; whereas now you can just email them or you can go to their website or you can go to the library website and get possibly the same information without travelling. I think the internet is fantastic for that.
I’m actually hoping that with my trip the connections that I make will grow organically in the same way that connections grow on sites like Facebook or Tumblr or Twitter. You connect to one person, who connects you to five other people, who connect you to five other people; you can trace the relationships. I’m hoping that the trip will be very much like the internet in a lot of ways.
VL: How do you plan to go about documenting these connections?
RW: It is a big project to commit to, so I’ve been standing at the water’s edge waiting to jump in because I don’t know how cold the water is. My thought is to have a set of five standard questions that I would ask of each artist, and do video documentation of their workspace. I just love artists’ work spaces. I like to see how different people set up their studios and what they have around to inspire them. Some people are very messy and some people are very minimal. There will definitely be a text component and there will be images documenting the actual space. This is such a visual experience, you want to see the artist’s work, you want to see the artist’s work space. When it’s possible and when the artist is willing, it is great to do a video because you can have a panoramic shot that gives you a real feeling of what its like to be in that space. You just get more of a sense of who that person is.
VL: Does this trip have a specific time frame or schedule?
RW: If I find a community that I want to stay in, I will; I will be working probably part-time and seasonal jobs as I travel, so it is kind of fluid. [Everything] depends on what my reaction is and what I find out there. It might be that I come back and I say, “That was great!,” and resettle my practice here, or I may even end up settling somewhere else. I won’t know until I get there. I kind of have to bite the bullet. It’s a big project to take on but if I think of it in increments it’s not so bad. It is simultaneously exciting and terrifying.
Note: This interview was conducted by Violet Lynch, in May of 2012. All dates and references are accurate up to May 2012. Rebecca took her art on the road in June.