Kocot and Hatton introduced me to Rebecca Salter. Art Critics have described Rebecca Salter's paintings as "paradoxes". Her works appear tranquil, yet are full of movement; they appear empty, but rarely are paintings so full.
Rebecca Salter's art has been featured in several major art fairs- including The Armory Show (2001)- and can be found in major art collections throughout the world. Salter is a two-time recipient of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation award.
Q. Kocot and Hatton introduced me to you. How did you meet them? What other artists have inspired (or influenced) your work? Do you keep an open dialogue with other artists?
A. "I met them (only very briefly I’m afraid) at the opening of my show at Larry Becker in 2005. Contact with other artist who are sympathetic to the work is very important to me. Inspiration and influence are difficult to pin down. There are many artists I admire (the obvious ones such as Rothko, Tobey, Agnes Martin, Barnett Newman) but I try to avoid influence. I never have images of other people’s work in my studio. I don’t have a particular dialogue with any other artists – though there are a few people whose judgment I trust when I need an opinion on the way the work is going.My way of working could be seen as isolated (the reason my be in my reply to a later question on Japan)"
Q. Rebecca, in recent years you have started to use new materials and techniques in your work. For example, the use of aluminum as a support and new techniques involving the partial but deliberate rubbing out of the painted surface. This new manner of working allows you to create in a way that is a subtle shift- a departure from your earlier practice. In your own words, how has your recent work developed from what it once was? Where will your practice take you next?
A. "Choice of materials is largely governed by the way I paint. I need a solid base to work on (canvas stapled to a board/aluminum/wood). My favorite surface is probably paper but having to frame things to protect them is always a problem. I like the immediacy of drawing and it is always a struggle to sustain that and carry it over into painting. In Japan I worked primarily on paper as it is seen as a traditional surface but living back in the UK, the move to canvas became important. It was a challenge to maintain the soft sensibility you can get on Japanese paper. But the problem with the paper was that it is so seductively beautiful that it is easy (and dangerous I think) to rely on that to shape the work. It needs more rigor."
Q. People have described your work as 'empty'... yet they go on to mention that there is a complex form of energy that you convey with your images. In other words, your work is alive in a subtle manner. Can you further discuss your work and the process and methods behind it?
A. "I am quite happy to have my work described as ‘empty’ (which I don’t think it is by the way). The difference lies I believe in the gap between western and eastern concepts of space. Eastern space is not seen as a void, rather as a space with potential. I like to think that my empty spaces are in fact animated with energy – barely perceptible but there all the same. This concept carries through Japanese art/architecture and gardens – which remain a huge source of inspiration to me."
Q. I've read that you were a research student at the Kyoto City University of Arts in Japan from 1979 to 1981. You then stayed in Japan until 1985. I imagine that your experience there influenced your later work. Care to reflect on your experience living and creating in Japan? Who were your mentors? How did that experience shape the future of your art?
A. "I went to Japan at a particularly difficult time for anyone who has left art school and is trying to continue their work. The problem of making a living, finding a studio, exploring your own way of working or even trying to establish a way of working after the security of art school. Going to a culture as different as Japan was, on reflection, an incredibly positive thing to do. Of course I still had the above issues to struggle with but being outside ones own culture provided an invaluable environment to reflect on the tradition from which I come (European) and the tradition in which I was living (Oriental specifically Japanese). Until I had learnt the language my mentors /inspirations were purely visual. As I began to read Japanese I could then study the aesthetics behind what I was seeing and how that was finding its way into my work. This experience has without doubt shaped the way I work still – in that it is based on more on reflection and introspection than dialogue with others."
Q. In 1995 you received a Pollock-Krasner Foundation award. You received another Pollock-Krasner Foundation award in 2003. How did you feel about earning the award? Is your work influenced by Pollock or Krasner?
A. "I have been very fortunate to receive 2 awards. I think the awards epitomise what is the best about the American attitude – the awards are open to all and above all there is an acknowledgment that making art is a serious activity worthy of support. I’m not particularly influenced by their work – though in the unlikely event that I make masses of money I would hope to use it for such worthwhile ends!"
Q. Rebecca, your art can be found in several prestigious collections: Tate Gallery, The British Museum, Yale Center for British Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art... did you expect your work to be so well received or do you still wake up to find yourself shocked at the accomplishments you have had?
A. "The most difficult question for me to answer is the casual inquiry (when people find out that I am an artist) ‘are you successful’? I never know how to respond. Having work in collections is a measure of success but I am haunted by how quickly things can go badly wrong. How many retrospectives end with 2 or 3 rooms of disappointing work? My definition of success doesn’t extend beyond the studio door. My only responsibility (and my personal measure of success) is to do the best possible work that I can, put it away and start another piece. If someone comes along and buys the work or a critic writes about it, then that is a huge bonus (obviously!). But to produce good work is my sole responsibility - the vagaries of the art world are beyond my control."
Q. Rebecca, how has society influenced your art? Are there any social implications in your work? What is hidden beyond the surface?
A. "There are no obvious social messages in my work – except possibly a hope that space can be found for the quiet voice or the visual experience that requires time and contemplation. I often say that I paint in whispers. A lot of work now asks the viewer to ‘experience’ it. I ask the viewer to reflect – a very different activity."
Q. Do you have any 'studio rituals'? As in, do you listen to certain types of music while working? What helps to get you in the mood for working?
A. "Very simple I’m afraid. I can’t work to music at all but I do listen to the radio (spoken voice). I keep very boring regular hours largely governed by the quality of light ( in the winter it gets dark early and that affects colour so I leave). The studio is kept clean and white with no bright colours at all."
Q. Rebecca, where can we see more of your art?
A. "My London gallery (Beardsmore Gallery) has work also Howard Scott in NY and Larry Becker in Philadelphia. And I have a website www.rebeccasalter.com."
Q. Do you have any suggestions for emerging artists or artists who wish to learn more about woodblock printing?
A. "Probably one of the best places to learn woodblock is in the US – there are several people who teach it well and it is more accessible that trying to learn in Japan where it is still largely part of the small workshop tradition and without Japanese it would be very hard. I have only really become involved with woodblock by accident – I learnt it in Japan and over the years became aware that it was dying out so now I am spending time trying to document it."
Q. Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the 'art world'?
A. "My only advice is to try and keep your work and your feelings about it separate from the art world. The art world is subject to powerful forces that are not only beyond your control but have very little to do with art. We all know of artists who were never recognised despite their obvious talent. The two are not connected in any meaningful way. Believe in yourself first and last - the rest is largely accidental."
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Take care, Stay true,