We interview London based artist Rebecca Fontaine-Wolf. Principally known for her bold figurative paintings in which she explores themes surrounding female identity, desire and mortality.
Q1: a) Can you tell us about your recent collection 'Dreams, Promise and the Divine Series'
The series is inspired by the female archetype, from saints to voodoo spirits, to the goddesses of the Greek Pantheon. It’s creative exploration into the many forms these archetypes inhabit, offering a plethora of possibilities of what it means to be a woman. “Traditional” feminine traits, such as kindness, passivity and a desire to nurture do of course feature, as so do icy determination, power, cunning, and everything in between.
The starting point for this body of work was an interest in how female spirits and goddesses could serve a way of externalising and giving character to many women’s experiences, making them visible and thereby legitimising them.
These spirits, goddesses, and archetypes, felt very familiar despite being so far removed from contemporary life and seemed to be reflected in the many women I’m surrounded by. The culminating series was born from a playful interpretation of these ideas in which archetypal characters, goddesses and symbols were incorporated and reimagined with images of my contemporaries.
Lifeblood Venus, 182 x 147 cm, oil, ink, acrylic on canvas
- b) how you see your work developing from this point?
Each series I paint is like a new branch growing from the previous one, and it’s only through the process of making and continued research that these branches form and reveal themselves to me.
One of the paintings in the Dreams Promise and the Divine series, ‘Lifeblood Venus’ opened up the path for my new body of work. It is a painting of a female nude, which features a lot of red and proved to be quite problematic for some viewers because of the colour’s connotations with menstrual blood. I’m interested in the taboo this still represents despite being a reality for half of the population, and being an integral inescapable part of fertility, something which contemporary society still places a huge emphasis on when it comes to women.
The development of this body of work starts from this taboo, looking into different mythological, religious and symbolic references to menstruation, the cyclical nature of women’s experience within their bodies and also the lack of any rights of passage for the onset of a girls menarche in contemporary western society.
The resulting body of work ‘The Moon’s Animal’ which I’m still working on doesn’t aim to shock, but instead to explore, to celebrate and possibly help normalise conversation about this very natural part of women’s experience.
Q2: Tell us what initially inspired your practice to focus on fantasy, beauty and identity?
These themes are ones I’ve carried with me since childhood. Over time they have matured and evolved into my current practice. I come from a very maternal family, and have always drawn and painted women, especially mythological characters. These early fantastic, explorations into idealised female identity represent the beginnings of how the female form became the primary barer of meaning in my work; a vehicle though which to explore themes of identity, mortality, desire and a search for meaning in itself.
Beyond the Solstice, 182 x 127 cm, oil, ink, pastel and acrylic on canvas
Q3: Women's rights, equality and gender are at the forefront of global attention. What representations of womanhood are you portraying within your paintings?
Absolutely, and I think there are a lot of interesting conversations to be had about this as our perceptions around gender are slowly changing and evolving. Even seeing more art about women by women changes our view of womanhood through offering a broader perspective.
In Dreams, Promise and the Divine for example I look at a very classical theme, but offer a playful and contemporary take on female archetypes which hopefully invites us to question how they continue to shape our view of womanhood.
I paint the women in my immediate surroundings. My contemporaries, my friends, fellow artists and their children; women from real life. I’m interested in capturing their unique beauty and essence whilst also exploring the overarching themes of identity, mortality and desire.
The women I’m representing in my paintings are therefore both fantastic and real. They are representations of the feminine divine present in all women.
Exhibition View © Rebecca Fontaine Wolf
Q4: You've experimented with various mediums and surfaces, tell us about your unique processes and how this adds to the conceptual framework?
I like to try out new materials and mediums, which I feel drawn to either because they add something to the ideas I’m currently working on, or end up leading the ideas through their materiality.
My paintings generally exist on a sliding scale between chaos and control, which varies from piece to piece and series to series. This relationship is deeply rooted within the concepts of my practice, and my interest in female identity and mortality; just as the young woman holds both forces of life and death within herself symbolically, these oscillating opposites of activity and passivity, chaos and control, are a vital component in the act of making art. Whilst painting, I’m often aware that as much as I have to consciously manifest a mark or an image, I also have to surrender to and accept moments of chaos, allowing ideas or images to be destroyed in order for something new to be born. Incorporating new mediums and surfaces is part of this process.
Q5: What's next? Do you have any upcoming news you would like to share?
I will be having a solo showing of my next body of work, ‘The Moon’s Animal’ at the end of October at Someth1ng Gallery, and am also very proud to be part of “Muse, Model or Mistress?, a show I am co-curating with gallerist Karina Phillips at Gallery Different this September. The solely female exhibition based on the question Marcel Duchamp posed to Peggy Gugenheim about the role of women in the art world, which led to her New York exhibition in 1943 : 31 Women Artists, will be held in collaboration with Flying Elephant’s production of Picasso’s Women. It comes at a time when, as you mentioned, there is a global spotlight on the role of women in society and the way in which they are portrayed and perceived. I hope that this exhibition together the monologues will open up a discussion of how the muse’s position changes through the female rather than the male gaze.