Pieces of Mind: Rebecca Ness' Detailed Stunners @ Nino Mier, Los Angeles
"Now I'm just primed and trying to find those moments of connection more, like out in the world, of things that we can connect with," Rebecca Ness told us in an interview during her first international residency with Nino Mier in Cologne, Germany last year. "I think that's what I'm interested in now because a lot of my work before was purely from my own internal experiences."
Fresh with an MFA in Painting and Printmaking "in her hand," the New Haven-based artist began to shift focus, ready to explore the world through her painterly practice. Interested in discovering new ways of rendering surface and patterns, rediscovering everyday moments and connections with strangers, she was eager to get to work on her major debut, Pieces of Mind, with Nino Mier in Los Angeles which shows July 10 through August 31, 2020.
"The state of the world changed the thesis for my show completely," Ness told us recently when we got in touch to talk about the exhibition and her works made between February and June of this year. "My original ideas for the paintings were to make them more public, maybe a few crowd scenes. But once the pandemic hit, these paintings started to feel forced and didn’t match the reality of the world outside the studio." This resulted in very intimate, revealing journals of quietude and creation. By capturing her own, personal life on large scale canvases, she created a detailed, earthy document of this shared moment in history. "The paintings became more solitary, with either self-portraits or paintings of myself and my partner." This atmosphere is arguably most evocative in the largest piece, I See You (above), which depicts a huge studio space that could be filled with visitors and friends, but captures the artist in the corner in contemplation.
In addition to the common experience of sheltering in place, Ness has a very direct frame of reference. "There’s also the fact that my girlfriend is a surgery resident at New Haven Hospital, and cared for COVID patients throughout the pandemic, and still continues to do so," she explains. "The paintings Holly Coming Home, and Put The Pencil Down, My Love are directly about this experience. Holly Coming Home pays homage to our relationship during this pandemic, and how it has affected our home life. After Holly comes back from the hospital, she takes off her scrubs and puts them somewhere isolated, wipes down her phones, and heads straight to the shower. After all this is complete, I’m then able to kiss her and welcome her home. On the kitchen counter in the lower half of the painting, I show newspapers from the month of May highlighting specific articles about the pandemic in order to make a time capsule. This painting was a chance to make something that can be felt and empathized by millions of families who have been affected in this way. From doctor to Uber driver to grocery store cashier, essential workers and their families have been dealing with this fear of the virus coming home for months. I felt a responsibility to document our time."
Working from photographs she arranges as college to compose her scenes, Ness mixes, edits, and enhances with documentary precision. "Photographs allow me to create a backbone and architecture to the piece that is based on an actual perspective, and then I have free reign with invented moments after logic is established. It’s like I need to eat my fruits and vegetables at the beginning of a piece by creating a space that makes sense, and then I can eat my dessert when I paint the little drawings, the books, the toes, the shoes," she says in a relatable analogy.
Confined to her living and work space for undisturbed periods of time, she rediscovered an environment bursting with newly unearthed delights and discards to incorporate into her work. Eventually, the books, drawings, sketchbooks, extension cords, shoes, and wood grains infiltrated the scenarios, along with hand-painted newspaper articles to underscore the mood, a method that is becoming a welcome Ness signature. By capturing an almost staged-looking domestic scene from an unexpected, but true perspective, she creates a kind of still-life in process where the figure is both fascinating subject and object, a kind of interactive interlude among author, scene, and viewer which is beautifully encapsulated in the title of the show, Pieces of Mind. —Sasha Bogojev