#LivesOfArtists…With Rebecca Harper
What time do you wake up?
More of a night owl, I normally get up at around 8am, and am in the studio by 11am.
What do you eat for breakfast?
The only thing I will wake up to is the smell of coffee. If I have time I may have granola, if I am in a rush, normally a banana will suffice until lunch! On the weekend out of lockdown we routinely go for a nice vegetarian breakfast locally.
Describe where you produce your work, and why you chose that space.
I work at APT Studios in Deptford on the beautiful Creekside. Initially I joined as part of a subsidised residency out of art school and was then fortunate enough to have been selected as a longer term studio and committee member. It’s spacious, private, light and has a great and supportive community and collective of artists.
Do you have a particular daily routine that helps you work?
11am – I pop the kettle and Radio 4 on, coffee in hand I tend to look afresh and reflect on books, smaller studies, and the existing paintings on the wall before setting a direction and embarking on the larger works. With an intense focus my studio days tend to be long, I find food supplies in the studio and intermittent coffee breaks help to stay in the zone until the evening!
Where do you go for your creative sparks?
Anywhere and everywhere, so much of my thinking about making is derived from the internal and external; my life source informs my work, and my work informs my life. I often draw inspiration from dual positions and meanings, a compassion and wish for understanding. It can be particular and personal in mood, resonate as familiar, but the ideas are perhaps at their best when they are also somewhat reflective of sources outside of my own personal world, a world bigger than me. I draw from life and the imaginary, I collect images for their composition, palette, moods, subjects, and I make little notes all the time.
What are you currently working on?
I am working on a new series of both painted and sculptural resin works simultaneously. They are about beginnings and endings through change, consolation and ritual, contemplating the necessity of self-imposed rituals to mark moments of change, and reflections as an opening for metaphysical thoughts and the sublime.
What do you do when you need to reset your mind?
I think resetting and taking time out of the white walled studio and being back in the world is massively important for both reflection and the development of ideas and processes. Ironically I often find whenever I do have a holiday and I have time to unwind and relax, is normally when I have fresh eyes, renewed spirit and ideas take hold where I cannot put a sketchbook down!
Who was your most important mentor or inspiration?
The Paul Gauguin portrait Young Man with Flower Behind his Ear. I endlessly love that painting and a reproduction sits in my peripheral vision in my studio at all times. I think the mood of this work reflects the mood I feel for in my own.
Who do you speak to when you need a second opinion or who gives the best feedback?
On a daily basis I speak to my partner Max who manages the Art Handling team at the RA, he handles and observes important works very closely and so has a good eye for critique. He is my go to regarding anything practical, and I value our thoughtful conversations where I can count on his honest input.
What’s the best advice you have ever been given?
I can’t remember explicitly but recently I read some very good advice:
Tal R says ‘Invest in failing. Invest in losing. Get comfortable with that. Don’t ask why something meant something to you, but try to articulate it. Slowly you will find your way. There will be things you hate in your painting which will suddenly become your option and your possibility.’
Martin Kippenberger says ‘embrace your past. Whatever ugly boring background you had…that’s where you’re going to find images, material’.
If you weren’t an artist what would you do?
In another life I’ve always wanted to be a psychotherapist, I’m a thinker, a people watcher and a listener. I am endlessly fascinated by the subject of psychology and others interior/exterior worlds. Even within my own paintings I am trying to indulge and enter inner worlds.
How do you switch off from work in the evening?
I normally work in the studio until about 8pm, and have a long commute. So most of the time it is dinner and hopefully a good BBC drama series. I like to read before sleeping!
What book are you reading right now?
Right now I am finishing the The School of Life by Alain de Botton and am halfway through A History of Pictures, a very insightful book of conversations by David Hockney and Martin Gayford.
Who is the other artist working today that you most admire?
A long list that could go on: Kiki Smith, Lisa Brice, Denzil Forrester, Tal R, Mama Anderson, Kara Walker, Florian Krewer, Dana Shutz, Louis Fratino, Guglielmo Castelli, Leon Golub.
If you could have lunch with any artist from across time, who would it be and why?
I would love to go for lunch with Hilma af Klint for a natter and to ask her about the real fuel behind her hermetic and mystical work that she made and kept secret, and how she conducted her séances with her group of fellow female artists, De Fem.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I don’t know, I’m not sure I ever stop to look back too much in my career, but what I do know is that I am fortunate enough to keep practicing and teaching what I am most passionate about.