Rebecca Kinkead: Meet an artist in her studio
For an artist’s studio, Rebecca Kinkead’s is really very clean.
“It’s sort of a mess,” she apologized anyway. “I’ve been trying to keep all painting stuff over there,” she gestured to one half of the second-floor barn space, where a painting of a yellow lab asleep atop a series of white shapes (which she said she imagined as piled laundry) was affixed to the wall, a table of paints and tools beside it. The workspace area was as messy as you would expect it to be, especially for Kinkead whose canvases are remarkable for their texture, which she builds up using wax and chalk with her oils, and a series of unlikely tools.
“I think I spend as much time at the hardware store as the art store,” she laughed, pointing to the shelf below her work table where her tools all stood at the ready; new squeegees of different sizes, squeeze bottles from which to drip paint mixed with mineral spirits, and wide shoe polish brushes. Above, two big circles of an ochre color and a burnt sienna, had been mixed right on the table top, surrounded by uncapped tubes of paint, and the thick cylinders of R&F oil sticks in cobalt and teal.
The “clean” half of her studio has finished works, some 40” x 60”, others 64” x 58”, hanging in a series of racks, and a kitchenette, where she often fixes herself lunch.
“When I’m working, I don’t want to go over there,” She gestured across the driveway to the house she shares with her husband Jamey and their three dogs. Jamey does “all of the practical and administrative work, he pays bills, packs paintings, cooks, mows, shovels, cleans… He does everything, which frees me up completely to focus on painting.”
Kinkead was recently awarded an Artists’ Residency at the Baer Institute in Iceland. “I’m excited,” she said, “To be there, painting. And to have everything taken care of for a month feels so special. I am enormously grateful.” She says she doesn’t have expectations for what she produces from this opportunity, but all the same she’s practical in her preparations.
Slowing down to really focus is what Kinkead has been thinking about a lot recently. A piece “can take anywhere from four hours to four weeks to work on, and now It’s been important for me to revisit things, and slow down. For the last 6 or 7 years, I’ve been working quickly ? I mean, all of this [getting noticed and finding success as an artist] happened very quickly to me, so I was trying to work while it was happening. Now ? I want to spend more time with each piece. I want to respect the time it takes.”
There’s a “lack of pretense in nature” that draws her to wildlife. She mentioned seeing a horned owl up close the winter before, and said that “the eye contact, that moment when you feel all their power and energy, that’s what I’m trying to understand.” The power of wild animals is a theme she returns to, as well as dogs ? labradors, particularly.
“We had a black lab who lived to be 14, Dee, and she shows up a lot in my work. We got her as a rescue, and she had a bad leg ? it had been broken and never healed right ? so I’ve been painting her a lot, running freely.”
The other subject Kinkead captures are children. She says she first painted kids right after Hurricane Katrina, and those paintings got a lot of responses, most commonly how sad they were. Kinkead had no connection to the events personally, but on a human level she said the images of children in the news, “on the rooftops,” struck her powerfully.
She was living in Boston at the time, painting with acrylic on roofing paper because, “I had no money for art supplies.” Originally from Massachusetts, Kinkead got her first BA in Political Science from UVM, and then a Masters Degree at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her MS was in Experiential Learning, “Although I didn’t really want to be a teacher. Then, they said you can take a course in whatever you want to fill out your credits, and that’s how I started doing ceramics. And I was just like, wow. This.”
Kinkead stayed in Minnesota and got another BA in ceramic arts. When she moved to Boston shortly after in the late 90s, the overwhelming expense of renting ceramic studio space is what lead her to painting. Almost immediately, she was picked up by a gallery, and had her first solo show in 1999.
She began painting the children she is known for, the joyful, nostalgic, jumping-in-water and running-through-fields children, when she moved to Vermont to be with her now husband, Jamey. This was a big turning point for her career as well.
“In Boston I was working as a nanny. It was a good job to have the time to paint and work. But when I moved up here, there weren’t any good jobs like that. Even though financially it was a huge risk, Jamey wanted me to paint full time. And that’s when all of this happened.”
Kinkead’s pieces are featured in collections all over the world. She currently shows in over a half-dozen galleries across the U.S. “Last year, I had to turn down 13 galleries. In one year.” She shook her head in disbelief.
With success, she built her studio, which is larger than their house in Vergennes. “The house is small ? two rooms, really,” She explained. When they were only just beginning to date, Jamey had converted one of those rooms into a studio for her, to entice her to make the move from Boston . “Now I have my own space, which I need. He likes to listen to the radio, but I like to work with quiet.”
Her studio has a high ceiling coated in yellow insulation and an abundance of skylights. The windows were all open, and from the surrounding branches at the second-story level ? birdsong and the rustle from green leaves outside blew in. One part of the “clean” area is devoted to art books.
“That was really my education, my painting education. Because my formal education was in ceramics. Books, and my friends who are artists, and seeing art. I go down to New York to see shows as much as I can.” Tacked to the wall are cards from exhibitions, Philip Guston, Wayne Thiebaud, Joan Mitchell.
She pulls out one book she calls an “art bible in terms of living as an artist.” On Art and Mindfulness, by Enrique Martinez Celaya. She flips to a page and points out one quote she likes a lot: “It is not taste that recognizes art, but spirit.”
This speaks to how openly and deeply people from all walks of life can connect to Kinkead’s work. It is something Kinkead strives for, and is represented most directly in her omission of specific facial details. “A suggested face (rather than detailed features) allows body language, color, paint application, etc. to hold equal weight in the painting,” Kinkead explained. “My hope is that it creates an entry point to wander…. for viewers to seek something of themselves in the work.”
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