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New Directions in Abstraction: Interview with Rebecca Ward
by Fred Paginton

London, Jul. 2013: A few months ago back in April, I had the pleasure of meeting the wonderfully talented, young American abstract artist, Rebecca Ward, before her solo exhibition, Cow Tipping, at London’s Ronchini Gallery. We talked about the ideas and references of Arte Povera that resonate through her latest works, and Ward’s recent turn of attention towards painting, away from her previous installation work. Fascinated with the exploration of colour and space, Rebecca Ward approaches this medium in the same manner she does with sculpture, explaining that this is just another form in the exciting direction abstraction is taking for young artists like herself.

Meeting on a typical dog day afternoon, the Texas-born artist was upliftingly relaxed as she complied in taking me around the gallery, speaking intimately through each of the individual works, before openly engaging with the various fruitful endeavours her career has taken thus far. I’m not too sure whether it’s the fading Southern drawl (on account of living in Brooklyn, New York) in Ward’s tone that helped accentuate queries into her robust technique of canvas manipulation and distorting colour, nonetheless, I was convincingly drawn towards both Rebecca Ward the artist and the art itself. With a draw full of sharp knives, Rebecca uses versatility and experimentation between diverging mediums to her advantage. However, some of the works on show appear less accomplished, which perhaps indicates that Ward has a little way to go before fully grasping her concepts. That said, Cow Tipping presents a fresh and confident outing of an artist who is creatively bold in her approach to making.

 Rebecca Ward, rocky mountain oysters , 2012, bleach and dye on canvas, 40 x 30 inches; Courtesy of the artist

Fred Paginton: Can you explain the transition between your sculptural installation and painting?

Rebecca Ward: At first it was a bit of a struggle, because any time you approach a new medium it’s not going to be magical the day you start doing it, but that’s actually why I went to grad school. I was doing the tape installations and I knew that I didn’t want to keep doing that one thing for the rest of my artistic career, so, I think being in school helped me take a new direction with my work.

FP: How is the exploration of space reflected in your work, and why do you choose to explore it in such an abstract sense?

RW: It’s different with the paintings than it is with the installations, so I kind of have to speak about them in a different context. With the installations it starts with [the question] ‘Why did I start making them?’ and I think it is just about being able to walk into a room and transform a space, and also create extensions of that space; it was just a natural ability or desire that I had. With the paintings I hoped to transfer some of those same ideas over to a flat plane. I think a lot of people experience paintings in a very spatial way but within just a flat rectangle, and it was a revolutionary moment for me with painting, when I realised they could be experienced the same way a room could be experienced. It was really fascinating.

FP: When did you first start using tape?

RW: I started using it in undergraduate in 2004. I’d always loved Daniel Buren, and for me, tape was kind of speaking to his work but in this new kitschy, crafty way, almost, so it enabled me to speak about his work and his installations, whilst having this transformative nature [through] a new material.

FP: How do your references to Arte Povera come through your work?

RW: I’m definitely always thinking about new materials and recycling materials; I really hate to discard materials, and I know that was something that was championed in their movement, and was really regarded as highly political. It is something that I am always thinking about, how to recycle things in my work, and how can something that’s possibly unwanted or unsuccessful, become successful.

Rebecca Ward, Pink Marble, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 24 inches; Courtesy of the artist


FP: Why do you rarely use brushes?

RW: I think that honestly, I’m still a really bad painter; so naturally, I had to find these ways to make interesting paintings without the use of a brush. Also, I really wanted to be much more physical with the material, so it only made sense to kind of treat the canvas as a sculptural material. When I start working with a canvas, I’m crumpling it into balls, pouring bleach on it, letting patterns emerge through this random contortion, and really just warping it and treating it as a physical material in the world, rather than a flat surface on a plane.

FP: Do you have any specific artists in mind that you look to pay homage to?

RW: Yes, definitely. I think that with the stripes I was looking at abstraction from the sixties and seventies, hard edge painting, and colour field painting.

FP: You’ve worked with artists such as Maurizio Cattelan and Marilyn Minter, how does it feel to be working with such established artists and being so young yourself?

RW: It’s definitely mind blowing, because ‘The Virgins Show’ at Maurizio’s gallery, had been on while I was still in graduate school. Marilyn Minter was my teacher at the time, and there were several of us in grad school that were about to graduate that were working with some of the same ideas within Arte Povera, and Marilyn noticed that, and Maurizio just happened to have his gallery opening very soon. She’s [Marilyn Minter] such a great person, like she always brags about her students, which is nice. She is so encouraging as an artist; I mean it’s incredible to have that opportunity.

Rebecca Ward, Cow Tipping, installation view; Courtesy of Ronchini Gallery.


FP: Do you feel more opportunities developed for you because of this directly?

RW: Yes, I mean it would be nice if they kept coming along. I think there’s always an irrational fear that this will be the last thing, and then I’ll look back and say, that was real nice when I was an artist back in the day, but definitely I’ve been very fortunate so far.

FP: After this show ‘Cow Tipping’ you’re going to work in Italy at Alighiero Boetti’s studio. Can you tell us what you’re going to be doing there?

RW: I’ll probably be making another rug piece like this, maybe four or five paintings and a tape installation as well. I’ll be there for about two weeks and the show is with Carla Accardi.

FP: How does it feel to show with Carla Accardi?

RW: Awesome, pretty fantastic. It’s quite an honour to be having a show with someone who has been painting for such a long time, I think she’s eighty-nine; I have so much respect for that.

FP: Would you agree, that for many young abstract painters there is a shared expression of experimentation?

RW: I think that was definitely happening when I was graduating from my MFA program. I think it’s important to be a part of a dialogue and for us to share ideas, because I think that’s how good things happen in the art world. This new abstraction that’s emerging, I don’t even know what it is yet because it’s so new, but I feel like I’m taking part and I think that’s exciting for me.


Fred Paginton



ArtSlant would like to thank Rebecca Ward for her assistance in making this interview possible.

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