Art is frequently brushed off as an unrealistic career goal. There’s no money in the arts. It’s not a serious, or sustainable career, they say. But artist Rebecca Léveillé Guay never once doubted that the unpredictable world of creativity was where her destiny lay. She began her professional art career in the commercial sector as a comic book illustrator, before shifting her focus to large-scale gallery paintings. The images she creates are sensual, beautiful, mysterious and confronting. Her work has been shown at venues in the U.S. including the Center for Contemporary Arts (Santa Fe), the Wasau Museum of Contemporary Art (Wisconsin), and has shown at the SPRING/BREAK Art Show for the past two years in collaboration with The Untitled Space (New York).
Guay talks to FRONTRUNNER about her inspiration and how she forged her way as an artist.
What first drew you into the art world and towards a professional career?
I’ve always made art- or rather, I’ve always drawn stuff obsessively. My mom went to art school and encouraged and helped me see things positively and critically early. I was never told I couldn’t do this for my life. It was just a fact and I knew I would.
How did you break into the professional art world?
As with anything – big career things happen in stages. I started my career as a commercial artist because when I went to art school at Pratt [Institute, New York], I wanted to draw and paint figure and address narrative, but the painting department was toxic to those ideas at the time, so I went into an iIllustration major. I got my first big breaks there by getting gigs in comics. I got quite established and successful working in these venues, but ultimately chose to leave in 2011 and fully shift to doing personal and gallery work. I could not say what I wanted to say within the boundaries of work for publishing, and I’d been watching all along what was going on in the avant-garde/art world and was inspired to travel deep into those questions.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
All artists are sponges. I draw it from everywhere – from my morning coffee to a hangnail to a potent piece of pop culture to the art world itself and all of art history.
How do you hope people respond to your work?
I don’t view my work as equations that are easily digestible. And while sometimes I will play around with specific narrative combinations, I’m more interested in making an emotional print in people. The emotions that they bring to the work, that the work triggers IN them are more interesting to me than any prescriptive intention I have myself.
How do you define yourself and your vision as an artist?
I think I might refer to the last answer and add that I see things through my own experience as a woman who grew up at a certain time in culture- and I bring forth the things I do, through my individual lens with the tools I have and aim for integrity and some truth in the work.
Talk me through your process. How do you decide on a subject and theme; how do you get yourself into the right headspace to begin?
I have a million ideas always running through my head- the trick is to catch them and get them down in quick visual notes in a sketchbook (I have a small book with me ALWAYS). Then it’s about pure discipline- get your ass to the studio and work that ass.
How long does this process take you?
I don’t measure the time with the process with each piece because I almost never stop working or idea generating.
What part of making art and being in the art world do you find particularly challenging?
Always having to put yourself out there and risk rejection ( and get rejected!) again and again and again; always having to advocate for the work being seen; the public facing side of the work is very challenging – often exciting – but emotional and hard.
What do you find to be the most rewarding?
When the big successes happen from all that “forward facing” work one does…
What’s one piece of advice that you’d share with a young, aspiring artist?
It’s a marathon not a sprint – Your ability to stay in the conversation longer and harder than other people will get you closer to the things you want. Others who may flash bright for short periods may not burn long or have the ability to keep themselves going through setbacks or challenges. Inspiration finds you working.