Based in Orakei, Bec Robertson's works wouldn't be out of place in a storybook so rich is their narrative. Using the finest of tool Bec creates fanciful peacocks with attitude and highly detailed watercolour collages.
Tell us a little about your artistic background, and your first creative influences?
I have loved being creative for as long as I can remember. As a young child, I had a cupboard in the kitchen under the bench where I kept all my treasures: little bottles of crayon sharpenings, paper cut-outs of anything which took my fancy, matchboxes full of strange found objects. I think a few unfortunate forgotten ladybugs and a caterpillar died as a result of my matchbox obsession.
My Grandmother and her sister were painters in their retirement, my grandmother also wrote and illustrated poems and stories. I loved showing them new pictures and ideas and getting their feedback. I also wrote and illustrated A LOT of newspapers. I would make up fanciful news stories and pictures sell "the paper" to my dad for lolly money.
How do you develop an idea? Is there a certain pathway that brings you from concept to paper? Is there a routine you follow each time you begin a new piece?
I don't have a set routine but I have found over the years the organic ideas tend to turn out better than the forced ones. A few times I have dreamt of a painting and remembered the dreams to draw/paint it; that is always quite a special thing. Otherwise, I just try to 'fill up my creative cup' (Julia Cameron / The Artists Way) I look at loads of art all the time, whether it is online, at a gallery, in people's houses or in nature around us. I try to be present to shapes and colour. I also love the little book by Austin Kleon called 'Steal Like An Artist', instead of the pressure of thinking I need to come up with a totally new never seen before concept, I realised it is OK to be inspired by other artists as long as you are creating your own version and not copying.
You are perhaps best known for your peacock works; how did your passion for peacocks develop?
The Peacock series was born from an illustration course. I was trying to draw people and I was getting really frustrated so I started doodling instead and there he was. I have loved creating the series, sometimes naming them was so obvious: 'Shuttle-cock' 'Pea-ano', 'Pea-lates' and it wasn't until I had drawn the concept that the name was staring at me. Other times I started with the name first and developed the concept. I did have to put a plea out to my friends and family to stop buying me everything peacock for my birthday or at Christmas. I love drawing them but I am not collecting all manner of peacock paraphernalia!
Recently you have been creating more works that combine watercolour and collage elements with finely detailed elements; what are the challenges of working on such a small scale?
Looking back at sketchbooks from years ago there have always been elements of the finely detailed, perhaps this comes back to my childhood matchbox obsession and the small things I could keep in them. There is the finely detailed element in the peacock series, in the earlier pieces the detail was in the tails (i.e. little planes 'Cockpit', or doves in 'Pea-ce'). I have enjoyed those tiny little detailed pieces so I guess it was a natural evolution to bring these tiny pieces into a landscape where they were the focus.
The challenges are perhaps more the physicality of doing these tiny little pieces having the hunker down over the paper, the light and my vision. I often use brushes which are only three or so hairs thick and even in my large scale works with ink I often opt for a 0.03 sized marker.
There’s a certain level of vulnerability in sharing your art with others and a pressure to have a social media presence. Do you worry about people judging you and have you ever felt a work is too personal to release?
Certainly in the earlier years when I was young and unsure of myself. I didn't want anyone to see anything I was working on, I was scared of their judgment and even if I finished a piece I was happy with I would hide it away.
I guess it's true with age does come wisdom! and I am less concerned with people’s opinions than I was. However at the end of the day while I LOVE what I do I also would love to make a living doing it and so I do find myself thinking about what people are looking for, it's almost impossible to tell from various shows and exhibitions as what might not work at one show is snapped up with commission sought at another. With that in mind, I am reminded that I just need to follow the journey I am on and it may or may not appeal to different people. I love the quote from American Artist Rex Ray, which is "if you do something enough, eventually people with start to like it"!
Social media is interesting, Facebook is quite easy because it is a less formal format, I can post pictures of works in progress and feedback is almost instantaneous, however, I have no idea how the algorithms work and who of the followers are actually seeing the work at any stage I'm posting. It is sometimes quite a nerve-wracking experience sending out a piece into the ether of the Internet, but it is no less nerve-wracking sending the original piece off to a show or a gallery.
Art means different things to different people. What does art mean to you?
To me art is a story and a journey, I feel like it is woven in the fabric of who I am… I just need the courage now to wear the purple hat with the bright orange mumu!
Bec's exhibition 'Away From Home' opens Wednesday 15 March.
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