Young Masters Interview with Rebecca Fontaine-Wolf

Rebecca Fontaine-Wolf is a painter and recent graduate from MFA fine art at Wimbledon College of Arts. Here she tells us more about her new work ‘Patina’, which will be shown as part of the forthcoming exhibition ‘Young Masters: Dialogues’ at Sphinx Fine Art, 12 – 24 October 2015.

What is it about Young Masters that you are most interested in?
Although my work is firmly situated within a contemporary practice and employs a lot of more experimental techniques and materials, it’s basic foundation lies in the tradition of portraiture and vanitas painting, so it’s really exciting to have the opportunity to allow these two worlds to collide and see how the traditional skills of portraiture have continued and evolved.

Can you explain to us what your work is about and tell us more about the work you will be showing at Sphinx Fine Art in October?
As a whole my practice explores themes of femininity, idolisation, desire and mortality through the framework of figurative painting, investigating the mythologising qualities inherent in portraiture. In my most recent series I selected my models according to a set of principles I’d established for the series, and then interviewed them on their views on images of women, beauty and self-image before beginning my paintings of them. The piece I will be showing at Sphinx Fine Art is part of this series, although it is also inspired by Joshua Reynolds’ ‘Portrait of a Lady’ which it will be in dialogue with in the gallery. Joshua Reynolds’ work inspires me on many levels; apart from being one of the greatest portrait painters in history, his interest in mythologising his subjects and experimenting with new painterly techniques strikes a particular chord with me. ‘Portrait of a Lady’ also has the added quality of being unfinished, which I always find extremely appealing. Being able to see the painting being born out of the raw materials of canvas and paint is something which deeply excites me, and I have endeavored to incorporate a sense of this alchemy into my technique over the course of my practice. In this case I began with a portrait, which I then roughly covered with ink and acrylic before beginning  to draw the remains of the portrait back out to the surface with the use of oils and pastel.

Which artist/s are you most inspired by?
It’s a hard question to answer because there are so many. The artists who have inspired me growing up and still continue to inspire me are artists such as Klimt, Schiele and the whole Vienna Session movement, along with academic artists such as Hans Makart and Sir Lawrence Alma -Tadema but also artists such as Frieda Kahlo, Francis Bacon, Marlene Dumas and Sigmar Polke.

Can you tell us something about your background?
I was born in Australia, and grew up in-between Germany and England, which has given me quite a broad, sometimes confused sense of identity. My mother is an artist, specialising in portraiture, so my work and subject matter is in the blood to a certain degree. As a child I used to draw my own portraits of her subjects when they’d come for a sitting, it’s through this that I developed a fascination with drawing people. My art has always been focused on female identity. From childhood onwards, women, the female form and beauty have been central themes, possibly because I come from a very matriarchal family.

What inspired you to become an artist?
Growing up with an artist as a mother showed me how difficult it can be trying to make a living as an artist, so I had actually intended to avoid it at all costs. The Arts and all creative subjects always interested me, but I wanted to do something more grounded with it, such as packaging design, which I originally began studying before changing to fine art. I chose to change to fine art because I was unsure of what else to do and was hoping for an epiphany as to what my ‘real calling’ was going to be throughout my entire BA. It was only after I left University and started working in a Gallery/Museum that I realised I just wasn’t happy when I wasn’t making art, and that the ‘calling’ I had been waiting for had been there all along. So, I suppose the reality of life as a ‘non-artist’ was what finally inspired me to take the plunge and commit myself fully to making art.

If you weren’t an artist what would you be?
When I was younger I was very interested in the performing arts, singing, acting and dancing, so for a while these seemed like a possibility, but as I just mentioned, I think this is ultimately what I am and was always going to be. Nowadays I often fantasise about being a carpenter, a hairdresser or a designer.

What is your greatest achievement as an artist to date?
I just completed my MFA at Wimbledon, but I have been working as a practising artist since finishing my BA in 2004, so it’s been around 10 years. There have been several achievements, such as prizes, having solo shows and being part of exciting exhibitions, but I’d say the greatest achievement is that I’m still ‘standing,’ so to speak. The achievements are accompanied by a lot of knock backs and doubts, so the fact that I’m still painting, still experimenting and evolving artistically, and am able to support myself through my art is probably the greatest achievement.

What are your plans for the future?
In the immediate future I’m going to continue the line of inquiry I began towards the end of my MFA; continuing the exploration into the role of the iconised image by interviewing and painting different women. I’m going to be showing in the ‘kinds of blue’ show at Candida Stevens Fine Art in Chichester alongside Tom Hammick, Ceri Richards, Roger Hilton and others in November, and I will be showing at he AAF in New York next Spring.  The longer term future holds more art, exhibitions and hopefully a continuing evolution of my practice.

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