Memoir IV: Let’s Dance with the Starwoman

All images have been provided courtesy of the artist

Music is a powerful influencer, it can make us feel inspired, and it can make us feel sad. Even as I write this memoir, I am listening to music – Collard Greens (feat. Kendrick Lamar) by SchoolBoy Q (released 2013).

One of my fondest memories growing up was going to HMV with my mum on a Friday afternoon after school. Every Friday, we would go to Brent Cross – a shopping centre or for the Americans, a mall. Every time we left HMV, we left with a CD. My mum’s criteria for the CDs she bought were the following: if it was doing well on the charts then buy it. Over the years, my mum amassed an impressive collection of around 100+ CDs, and it was here that my love for music began.

If you look at my Spotify, and even my Shazam, you will see a range of different genres, from hip-hop to electronic to even Japanese jazz. My love for music is so strong I even associate certain memories with certain songs.

So that’s the impact music has on me, but what about everyone else? To say music doesn’t influence art and vice versa is a lie. Let’s look at Coldplay and their 2008 album, Viva La Vida; the band stated they were inspired by Frida Kahlo’s painting, Viva La Vida (painted 1954). If we look at its album cover, that too was inspired by art – Liberty Guiding the People (painted 1830) by Eugène Delacroix. If we look at the music video for Jay-Z’s Picasso Baby (2013), that was shot in Chelsea’s Pace Gallery and starred Marina Abramović. In addition, Jay-Z refers to artists such as Basquiat, Warhol, and of course Picasso – What’s it gonna take/For me to go/For y’all to see/I’m the modern-day Pablo/Picasso baby. Another example is the famous French singer, Charles Trenet, after seeing The Great Wave off Kanagawa (created 1830–32) by Katsushika Hokusai, Trenet created the song, La Mer (released 1946) which is English for ‘the sea’. The final example is David Bowie, inspired by Andy Warhol, Bowie had a song in his fourth studio album Hunky Dory (released 1971) called Andy Warhol. Fun fact: Bowie portrayed the artist in the 1996 movie, Basquiat.

In terms of artists who have been inspired by music, Wassily Kandinsky is a good start. Thought to have had synaesthesia, Kandinsky was known for naming his pieces compositions and improvisations. Henri Matisse played the violin – he appreciated the discipline that came with playing the instrument. Pop artist Keith Haring always had a boom box next to him whenever he was creating a mural or creating art. Another fun fact: Keith Haring designed a pair of trainers for the duo, Run DMC.

So, art and music are intertwined, and we see this in the artist, Rebecca Gilpin. Rebecca is an artist drawn to harmonies in music and enjoys delving into the origins of music and art. So, with that being said, let’s dance with the Starwoman.

Rebecca’s earliest memory of art was with her friend, as a child, the two would draw their dreamworlds for hours on end. As well as that, they would mail the pictures they drew to their favourite musicians. “I remember those times so fondly; it was so fun. It was great! (laughs) In fact, I might start doing that now even”.

As Rebecca continued to grow, she was taken out of her art and music lessons, and instead, given extra maths and english lessons. “When I was growing up, I had to do extra maths and english because of my really bad dyslexia. But I don’t think that stopped me. I think it did the opposite because it pushed me to want to do it even more”. Outside of those classes, Rebecca would still draw – she even made guitar picks out of spare material. In terms of music, it was around this time she began playing the guitar. “It’s weird looking back at it because at such a young age I was already thinking about the crossover between art and music”.

Moreover, Rebecca stated in our interview, she wasn’t a painter during her time in secondary school, but in fact, a collagist.

In terms of Art GCSE, this was a difficult period for the artist because of the high turnover of teachers, and the lack of support. During her time in Art GCSE, she had three teachers. “It was really strange having three teachers because all of them had completely different teaching methods from one another. There was one teacher I just didn’t like. I thought she was a bit cold, and that was quite difficult for me to deal with because if you love a subject, you really want to love the teacher who is teaching it because you spend a lot of time with them”.

But her luck would change because during Art A-Level Rebecca would find her passion for art from a teacher who was also called Rebecca. “My Art A-Level teacher was amazing; we use to listen to music, and just work on stuff. She was sort of like an early mentor to me because at times it would just be me and her in the same room. I really looked up to her. What made it even better was the fact we had the exact same taste in music, so we always talked about that. We also had similar colour palettes. Another thing that inspired me was the fact she worked in India, she was teaching kids how to paint over there, and that is something I definitely want to do in the future”.

By the end of A-Level, Rebecca knew she wanted to pursue an art career. But in terms of her own unique style, she was still figuring that out. “Around that age, I was dipping in and out of different styles. I was exposed to a very broad spectrum of artists. So, it was hard because I just couldn’t pin it down to one thing. But when I was around 20 years old, it just all clicked”.

After completing A-Level, Rebecca did her foundation year and went on to receive her bachelor’s and master’s at Oxford Brookes.

When it comes to her family’s support, Rebecca states they were very supportive of her decision. “My family are amazing; they have supported me through absolutely everything and have always encouraged me when times have been tricky”.

In terms of that first moment when she felt like an artist, Rebecca stated the following, “I think it was just after I turned 21, and I made these two paintings that went together called Cut the Cake. The paintings were named after a song by the band, Average White Band, and touched on the theme of racism (with a black and white line running through both paintings), current relationships and a story from childhood. With those paintings, I wanted to reference unity. In terms of my inspiration, it came from so many things. During that time, I was looking at a genre of music known as two-tone ska, and if you look at the bands formed, they had black and white musicians; my boyfriend at the time was black. So I guess with those paintings, I realised I could paint about my life in my work, and that felt so good”.

With regards to how she describes her work, Rebecca states the following, “It’s soak stain abstraction, it’s a lyrical abstraction, and harmonic abstraction. I’m always listening to music especially when I am painting, so you name it – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young to gospel music. When it comes to my work, I am trying to visually mirror those harmonies”.

As we progress through this memoir, you will see the following pieces: Indian Summer (painted 2019), My Ever Changing Moods (painted 2020) and Hackney Parrot (painted 2020). Because of their distinct style compared to pieces such as Rock Lobster (painted 2017) and Pretty Vacant (painted 2019), I asked Rebecca a follow-up question, and it was, “Do you think your work is still going to evolve?”. Rebecca’s answer to this was the following, “I’ve got loads of places to go. So definitely! I think at some point I’ll definitely venture back into oil painting. As well as that, I want to incorporate collage back into my work. So the way I see it, if I could merge what I am doing now with the dada movement, then I think that could be really interesting.”.

As stated before, Rebecca’s current work is soak stain abstraction, but that goes without saying she has experimented with other styles, and this can be seen with both Rock Lobster and Pretty Vacant.

Rock Lobster takes its name from The B-52’s’ song, Rock Lobster. The song was on their self-titled debut album, The B-52’s (released 1979). One thing you will notice in this memoir is all the paintings are named after songs.

In terms of how the piece started, Rebecca stated it began with a conversation with her friend Ivo. “My friend Ivo who shares a studio with me was telling me a story a few years ago about his mother rocking him to sleep while playing Rock Lobster. If you’ve ever listened to that song, it’s so wacky. I found this hilarious, so at the next party Ivo and I were both at, I put the song on full blast, and we danced to it. So the two lobsters in the painting are essentially us dancing”. Rebecca and Ivo danced into the early hours of the morning with disco lights flashing in the background – the colour of those lights were pink and purple.

Further inspiration for this painting came from Helen Frankenthaler’s work. After seeing her work, Rebecca wanted to create a piece that had two colours, so the colours she used were the disco lights’. Fun Fact, the lobsters were supposed to be a tattoo, but at the last moment, Rebecca changed her mind, and instead, chose to screen-print the lobsters onto a canvas – Ivo was commissioned by Rebecca to draw them. In terms of its scale, Rock Lobster was an important painting for Rebecca because this was one of her first large scale paintings.

Rock Lobster (painted 2017) [Acrylic on Canvas, 100 x 150cm]

The next painting is Pretty Vacant, and it takes its name from the song, Pretty Vacant by the Sex Pistols. The song was on the album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols (released 1977). At the time of its creation, Rebecca was researching various jazz artists such as John Coltrane and Duke Ellington and as a matter of fact, the painting was almost called In a Sentimental Mood.

With regards to the colours used, they are black, yellow, pink, and purple. When it comes to the colour yellow, Rebecca stated its inclusion in the piece was deliberate, and we can partially deduce this because the colour stands out in the painting. “I included the yellow because it gave the painting a garish and punky ethos”.

Another thing you will also notice is how the various colours come together and form square clumps. Rebecca stated she was referring to icebergs when they melt. “I started this painting on the hottest day of the year (2019). It was February, and it was baking hot. There was a girl I worked with, and she was an active environmentalist. We were talking outside, and I said to her, “Wow?! It’s incredible how hot it is today; do you want to have lunch in the sun?”. She wasn’t happy with that comment at all. I’ll be honest it was so naive of me. But I’m grateful for our chat because she changed my perspective. During that time, we spoke about global warming, and icebergs came up. So after I left, I wanted to incorporate our conversation into this painting. So I used the colour black to paint around some of the colours, creating iceberg like shapes”.

If you look at some of the blocks in the painting, you can see lines, and this was done by Rebecca running her fingers through the paint. “I was playing a lot of bass around that time, so I ran my fingers on the painting to symbolise bass strings”.

During our interview, I spotted traces of dark blue in the painting. I was curious about this, so I asked how this came about? Rebecca stated that Pretty Vacant was a reworked painting of a previous piece called Sound and Vision. “I remember painting the blue on top of the yellow, and I thought, Hmm? In the end, brown was formed, and I just didn’t like it. So I thought no, and I painted over it, and left fragments of the painting beneath”.

Rebecca also stated that this reminded her of posters on billboards and walls, and I can see what she means by this. For anyone reading this, next time you go on a walk, and you see a poster, peel it, and you’ll see a different poster beneath it. If you peel that poster, you’ll see another poster

Pretty Vacant (painted 2019) [Oil on Canvas, 180 x 150cm]

In terms of what her art means to her personally, Rebecca had this to say, “My work means everything to me, I wake up in the morning and I cannot wait to get to the studio. My work reflects where I am in life, so every painting I create is like a milestone. Anytime I look at a painting I think, “Wow?! That was what I was doing! And that was what I was thinking!”. The memories just come flooding back”.

Because this is The Maverick Series, I asked Rebecca the question, “What makes your work different?”, and I loved Rebecca’s answer. “It’s an interesting question! (laughs) My work taps into nostalgia, it’s something that’s new but looks old. My work brings the past to the present, but there’s a nuance to it. My work delves into topical things such as mental health. It also incorporates the research I’ve done on colour. For example, which colours soothe the mind, and which colours reduce adrenaline levels. My work is like a science experiment! There’s an element of chance in it. It’s a push and pull, a give and take between me and the work. I can’t really describe it, it’s like a conversation. I’ll initially map out where I want things to be in terms of colours and compositions, and when I start adding the different layers and changing the viscosities of paint and water, things get really interesting. Because what’s formed can be completely different from what I expected. But that’s not a problem for me, because I welcome the imperfections, the unconsciousness, and the unpredictability”.

This unpredictability Rebecca states is due to her using unprimed canvases and a special device she built with her father. The device Rebecca uses is a table with four adjustable legs. Since the four legs are not fixed, they can be adjusted to different lengths, this in turn creates a changeable gradient which causes the water and acrylic to move across the unprimed canvases; the results from this process are paintings such as Indian Summer, My Ever Changing Moods and Hackney Parrot.

Indian Summer takes its name from the song, Indian Summer by The Doors, the song is on the band’s fifth studio album, Morrison Hotel (released 1970).

When I first saw this piece, I felt enlightened. As cliché as it sounds, it felt as if I was in a state of Nirvana. When I told Rebecca this, she exclaimed, ‘Good!’. And said this too, “I’m so glad you said that because this was the biggest painting in its show. Before I created this, I was reading this book called The Psychedelic Gospel (by Jerry B. Brown and Julie M. Brown). I came across this book because I was looking at the history of black music, and its influence. I was interested in the harmonies of both psychedelic music and gospel music, and how they were interlinked”. Along with this, Rebecca explored topics such as spirituality, heaven, and hell.

When it comes to the colours used, Rebecca stated her inspiration came from the sunsets she saw in India. “When I was in India, I saw the sunsets, and they were magnificent; they were beautiful. So, when I was in the studio, I wanted to use them for this painting”. The colours in this painting work so well together, and they coalesce so effortlessly with each other, and it’s because of this I feel that sense of peace.

However, Rebecca stated she wanted to give the painting an eerie element as well. “If you know the song Indian summer by The Doors, you will know it’s an extremely eerie and dark song. So the one thing I also wanted to explore in this painting was the eventuality of death”.

Indian Summer (painted 2019) [Acrylic on Canvas, 200 x 150cm]

In terms of My Ever Changing Moods, its name comes from the song My Ever Changing Moods by The Style Council which is from their debut studio album, Café Bleu (released 1984). Rebecca stated that this piece was done after a breakup which happened during lockdown. The painting was about how she was feeling during that time. “When I created this, it was a dark time for me; I created this to talk about the state of my mind and how it was changing. I was feeling indecisive, and I didn’t know which path to take. It was that fear of saying yes to something and ending up somewhere completely different”.

As the viewer, we can really see this sentiment, because so many different colours are used, and they contrast each other. The different colours give us an insight into what Rebecca was feeling and thinking during that period.

In addition to this, Rebecca wanted to use this piece to understand subjects such as identity and characteristics. “When I was a lot younger, I used different colours to symbolise different characteristics, and for this piece, I wanted to bring that. So, the purple is used to symbolise spirituality. The orange symbolises energy and passion; it shows my love for life. The pink represents happiness and calmness, and lastly, the blue represents sadness and loneliness”. If you look at the piece again, you can see the blue in multiple regions, fusing with different colours. In the middle region, you can see it seep into the pink, and I think it’s symbolic of how Rebecca felt – her peace and happiness being disturbed.

My Ever Changing Moods (painted 2020) [Acrylic on Canvas, 158 x 147cm]

The last painting in this memoir is Hackney Parrot, and it takes its name from the song, Hackney Parrot by Tessela (released 2013).

The inspiration behind this painting was from a trip to Hackney Marshes with her friends. “I was with some friends in Hackney Marshes, and we were looking at the water, and from the corner of my eye, I saw a massive gang of parrots just fly past. They were coming in waves and flying so close to the water, and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen; it was breath-taking just watching it”.

I attended Rebecca’s last show in 2020, and this was the last piece I saw, and it caught my attention due to the colours being vibrant and bright. “I was listening to that song (Hackney Parrot) so much before I painted this. The painting looks nothing like the song, and it’s not meant to. But I really took my time when it came to this painting, and I am happy with the outcome because it’s really stunning”.

In addition to this, Rebecca stated that the painting has an underlayer of pink and yellow, but because of the other colours and their viscosities, you can barely see the two. But if you focus on certain regions, you can see the pink.

Hackney Parrot (painted 2020) [Acrylic on Canvas, 200 x 160cm]

When it comes to artists who inspire her, Rebecca has a massive list. In terms of late artists, they are Al Held, Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchel, John Hoyland, Howard Hodgkin, John Cage and Pierre Bonnard. “I’m really digging Helen Frankenthaler right now; she is one of the most important artists. She was the pioneer of soak stain painting. […] Jackson Pollock was cool too; I loved the way he painted his canvases on the floor”.

In terms of established artists, Rebecca states Joe Bradley, Frank Bowling, Matt Connors, Tal R, Laura Owens, Mary Heilmann and Chris Martin. “Mary Heilmann’s work is super child-like; I love the way she uses bold and punky colours. In fact, I got the idea of putting two paintings together from her”.

Out of all the names mentioned, Rebecca states that Chris Martin is her all-time favourite artist. “Chris Martin is something else; I’m in awe of his work. I’ve read every single piece of text about him, and in terms of cultural references and pop culture, we have the exact same taste in art and music”.

In addition to the aforementioned artists, Rebecca also states she is inspired by these upcoming artists: Marcus Nelson, Elsa Rouy, Jussi Goman, and Luke Silva.

When it comes to other sources of inspiration, music is a big source. In terms of musicians who fuel her work, the artist states David Bowie, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, JJ Cale, Grandmaster Flash and many more. “I have always researched musicians and checked whether or not they were artists as well, and a lot of my favourite musicians were painters as well, so I guess that really inspired me”.

Besides music, nature is also a massive source of inspiration for the artist. “I remember going to France when I was younger, and there were these rolling hills; they were incredible. They were in Normandy, and I use to just sit there, and draw them. I really miss it over there. I often think about those beautiful green hills – my current work subtly references those memories”.

When it comes to her art’s message, Rebecca states the following, “Something that I have always said to people is dream big and look at the bigger picture, those are my two catchphrases. I say them to my friends who are going through something or to people who need some inspiration. When I was 13, I performed at a concert with my band, and my amp exploded in front of 600 people; I was so embarrassed.  After that experience, I turned towards painting more.  My work is so large because of that experience; it’s performing to a crowd. I don’t need to speak anymore; my art is doing that for both of us. With my work being so large, I ultimately want the viewer to experience nostalgia; I want to trigger their memories. My paintings are named after songs, so when you look at the paintings and listen to the song, whether you know the song or not, I want you to think of that period, the pure aspects. So, I hope that helps (laughs)”.

In terms of what to expect from Rebecca this year in 2021, expect some new pieces and expect some shows. In the words of Rebecca, 2021 is a weird year where anything can happen. However, if lockdown is eased this month, then expect a show in Piccadilly, mid June. In addition to that, Rebecca is expected to show some paintings in Next Door Records – a record shop which has a bar, a restaurant, and a live music lounge.

I called Volume III The Maverick Series because I wanted to find mavericks within the art world, and I found one, Rebecca. Every painting discussed in this memoir is named after a song, and to have the ability to infuse both music and art so seamlessly is a skill, and for that, I salute Rebecca. The story of Rebecca Gilpin has only just begun, and I for one, cannot wait to see what she does in the future. “When I look back at Bowie’s paintings and Syd Barrett’s paintings, they’re all fascinating. When Joe Strummer was in university, he did this piece of work that got him kicked out of university – it was made from sanitary towels (laughs). What’s crazy about that story is after he got kicked out, The Clash happened after that. I think it’s stories like these that make me want to paint more and more”.

To see more of Rebecca’s work visit or follow her on Instagram at @r.l.gilpin

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