A N I N T E R V I E W
(frequently asked questions)
An interview with Rebecca Fox.
You are based in Wanaka - How long have you lived there? Did you grow up there or move there, if so why?
I have grown up in Wānaka most of my life, my family moved from Mount Cook when I was about five. I left when I was eighteen and moved back just before Covid hit in late 2019. Wānaka is a natural choice for me, I love being so close to my family. I also love the outdoors, particularly alpine environments and it’s wonderful to be surrounded by such a tight group of friends.
How did you begin drawing or painting? What inspired you?
I started painting in high school, Wānaka has a month or two a year of inversion (no sun) which can get a bit depressing, so painting was an outlet for me to enjoy in the sad cloud season.
When did you discover portraiture was what you liked to do? What is it about portraits that captured your attention?
I started drawing by copying portraits out of magazines, as I improved I loved the connection and life coming out of the eyes. I got hooked and still to this day that’s all I want to paint.
Did you go to art school, if so where? What did you study?
I studied Fine Art in between ski seasons in both America and New Zealand and left after receiving a Diploma in Fine Art.
The more I’ve drawn and painted the more and more passionate I’ve become about it. I loved learning Art History in University (and still do) but really I just wanted to paint. The University wasn’t pushing painting as a medium and I was told “Painting is a dying art”, I left feeling very disheartened. I moved to Australia, worked, saved money and went travelling.
Your works are very colourful - Why do you use bright colours? How do you select them?
I work in bright bold colours to make statement portraits. People often shy away from colour, sticking to muted tones afraid to stand out. The idea behind the colour is that it’s okay to stand out and be yourself. The world is very beautiful if you decide it is.
Your travels have influenced your work - in what ways?
Travelling is a fantastic tool for self development because it extricates you from the values of your own culture showing you how another society can live with entirely different values and function well. This exposure to different cultural values and metrics then force you to reevaluate what seems so obvious in your own life and consider that perhaps it isn’t necessarily the best way to live. The best part of all my travels was connection and that’s what I try to bring about in my paintings.
Illustrating the female experience is important to you - why is that? How did that come about?
Over 90% of the women who hang in acclaimed museums across the world are idealised beings, painted by men. I am hoping to share a more ‘truthful’ version of women.
As I am slowly getting older I am fascinated/ horrified by what the female experience can entail. A close friend of mine had a stillbirth two years ago and that is what really changed everything for me. She had to give birth in a maternity ward surrounded by other mothers giving birth to healthy babies and the sound babies crying. I was so shocked by the heartbreak and horror of the whole thing. After her birth, so many women came out and shared similar experiences in support. It surprised me how common this tragic event was and that you are expected to keep it quiet. ‘I lost the baby’, that’s how it is commonly said. Implying that it is your fault as the mother, as if you just ‘couldn’t’ hold on to it.
It got me fascinated/ horrified thinking about all the choices you have to make as a women and how these choices and burdens unify a women of any culture or class.
Tell me about the portrait you entered (for the Adams Biennial Portraiture Award) and how it came about? How does your mother feel about it? It is quite different from the self portrait of two years ago - have you changed direction since then?
The portrait I have entered to the Adams Award is of my Mum. The idea behind my work is centred around the female experience and my Mum encompasses that (as all women uniquely do). I know her unique story well and the choices and hardships she’s had to and continues to face.
The painting could also be viewed as the ‘Mother’ a central pivoting point of the female experience. Or It could be viewed as a self portrait, as her experiences become my experiences.
All my works are deeply personal, my self portrait from 2020 was in response to being online bullied and helped me to work through my feelings.
When did you start using florals in your work - how did that come about? Why use flowers on a person's head?
I’m very interested in the conversation between women and flowers but particularly in the role women painters have with flower art. Throughout history, ‘flower art’ has always been seen as a lesser form of art, suitable for women, pretty, delicate and not serious. I am trying to challenge this notion.
The use of flowers on my subjects heads was initially in response to mimicking Frida Kahlo’s sense of identity. Kahlo’s work has played a large role in influencing me, with her abhorrently honest and personal paintings. I work towards honouring this idea.
How has your work developed over the years?
I finally picked up my paint brushes again after eight years living overseas. My first works were all from travel pictures. After a few years I started to view coping a painting from a photograph slightly differently. I didn’t find as much creativity in it and my thoughts changed around using people as subjects. I slowly evolved to having more meaning behind the work and not just producing a surface product to hang on the wall.
How do you work? How long does it take for you to complete a work? Do you work on different works at one time or just one? Are you a 9-5 painter or a work till its done?
Yes I work 8-5ish, five days a week. I used to work more sporadic hours and days but it didn’t work out that well for me and I found I was getting burned out quickly without a routine.
I work on just one painting at a time (as I work in acrylic the drying time is instant so I don’t have to wait). The paintings can take anywhere between 40-250 hours to complete depending on the detail and size of the painting.
Where do you paint? Do you have a home studio?
I still paint in my parents garage, I’m twenty nine and have been bouncing around flats for the past few years, my parents garage provides stability and accountability for me. I will be moving into my very own studio in September this year. Very excited!
When did you return to NZ? Was it a Covid thing or was it prior to that? Why did you return?
I came home from South America in late 2017. Then I started working at a heli-skiing lodge in Alaska which was a 6 month contract for a couple years. I would come back to Wanaka for the other half of the year and paint. After my contract ended in 2019 I decided I was ready to pursue painting full time.
Where did you live while overseas and what did you do - were you skiing?
I lived in Salt Lake City for a couple years, working at Snowbird (a ski resort) and studying, doing trips around America and Canada. I then moved to Byron Bay, Australia on and off for a few years, I learned to surf and would save money for a year so I could travel the following year. I spent one of those years travelling through Asia, spending most of my time in the Himalayas hiking and another year in South America travelling from the southern tip of Argentina to Mexico. We spent a large portion of our time in Peru in the Cordillera Blancas. Then I worked in a heli ski lodge in Alaska for a couple years in the Tordrillo Mountains.
What drew you to pick up the paint brush again after coming home?
After I came home from South America I had just turned twenty five and was feeling a bit lost. I didn’t want to keep waitressing and was exhausted from spending so much time constantly moving. Something started to shift in me in the later parts of our trip, particularly in Colombia. There was some amazing street art, particularly in Medellín and Bogotá. I started to see the potential of painting again and how much it can help communities and inspire people. I realised it was what I still wanted to do and that if I dedicated time to it I could make it work.
Can you tell us a bit more about the new studio?
My partner and I just bought our first home a couple months ago. We will be converting one of the bedrooms into a studio in September and make it possible to have open studio visits by appointment.
Do you have any other questions? Feel free to get in touch!
Adam's Biennial Portraiture Award entry