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Interview: Rebecca Fontaine-Wolf

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Rebecca Fontaine-Wolf is a third year student at Wimbledon College of Arts currently studying a MFA in Fine Arts. She has showcased her work across various exhibitions such as the Royal College of Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Mall Galleries and Cork Street. Her work explores the female body and the void between fantasy and reality, in realistic beautiful portraits. We caught up with her at her studio and discussed her journey as an artist, the representation of women in society and what the future holds.

At what age did art become of interests to you?

It’s always been of interest to me, I couldn’t really determine a time when it began. My mother and aunt are artists so it’s always been in my surroundings and it’s always been a natural thing for me to do.

How would you describe your art?

I’d currently describe it as an exploration of themes of femininity, idolisation, desire and mortality through the framework of figurative painting, investigating the mythologising qualities inherent in portraiture.

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How do you decide on who you are going to paint?

In these last years I’ve been painting women in my surroundings; friends, friends of friends and in one case someone I met in a bar who I was instantly drawn to. We have now become good friends.  I’m interested in taking people from every day and transforming them into something iconic.

What other artists and people in general inspire and influence you?

There are many artists who inspire and influence me. I’m lucky to be surrounded by artists and creatives in my circle of friends and family and at Wimbledon [College of Art]. They all inspire and influence me in different ways. In terms of well-known artists, I’ve been looking at Marlene Dumas and Wangechi Mutu a lot recently, but I always come back to artists such as Peter Doig, Sigmar Polke, Francis Bacon, Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt and the Pre-Raphaelites.

You worked at a gallery how did that experience motivate you?

The gallery I worked in was more of a museum, and it motivated me in terms of making me realize that it was not what I wanted to do. Although it was ‘technically’ working in the arts there was nothing creative about it. I found that I didn’t have the time or energy to paint after I’d been at work, I was paying for studio space at the time, and it motivated me to try and find alternative, less rigid employment, so I could focus on making art.

What would you say has been your biggest achievement?

To be honest, I think not giving up has been my biggest achievement, and getting myself to a point where I can live from my art.

What struggles do you face being an artist?

Making ends meet, as an artist it is a major struggle and doing this whilst keeping your artistic integrity is at times is hard. It can be quite a steep learning curve, because you’re not just an artist, you’re also trying to be a business person, an accountant and a marketing manager all at once and that isn’t necessarily something that comes natural to most artists. On the other side keeping things in perspective is probably one of the biggest struggles. Not comparing your own successes and failures to those of others, not allowing your sense of achievement and self-worth to depend on external factors such as financial successes, failures or prizes and competitions.

What is your favourite painting and do you have a least favourite?

The way I feel about my work constantly evolves, and I often have quite a Traces contradictory and conflicted relationship with my work, where at one moment I can feel completely satisfied and then I slip into absolute despair and want to destroy it. At the moment though, there are a couple of pieces which I feel happy with and they happen to be some of my latest pieces such as ‘traces’, and ‘spectrum’. I feel happy with ‘spectrum’ in particular because I feel that it marks a shift forwards. Maybe that’s what defines which pieces become my favourites temporarily, it’s when I feel that something has clicked and developed.

What does independence mean to you and how does that relate to your path?

I think that the path of an artist is mostly a solitary, self-determined one. You have to carve out a path of your very own. There is no specific way to make art or be an artist. There are no set rules as to how to conduct yourself, even to the point of whether you choose to show your work to anyone or not. So I think independence is at the very core of my life and my work as an artist.

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How would you describe the void between fantasy and reality?

To me it describes an existential problem of existence and desire. As human beings we are never static or complete, we are in a state of constant flux and uncertainty. Yet, I believe we long for some kind of certainty or wholeness.  We have a fantasy, a desire, which can never truly be fulfilled. Even if the conscious manifestation of our fantasy is fulfilled our desire shifts onto something new leaving a constant void.

What is it about the female subject that intrigues you?

I am a woman and I come from a very matriarchal family, so I’m interested in the female subject from quite a narcissistic point of view to begin with. From an early age I’ve enjoyed looking at and drawing women. We are surrounded by images of female beauty in contemporary society, from media images through to art history, and these images have a very strong effect. I find they can be simultaneously enchanting and terrorising, and this contradictory relationship can evoke questions concerning the more existential issue of desire.

How do you think the female subject is portrayed in society?

I think there are still many issues around the way women are represented in society. The pressures of youth and beauty which are imposed on women and the overly sexualised images we are fed don’t necessarily create an environment of equality and empowerment for women. Because these images are omnipresent they seem normal and women develop a confused relationship to them and their own sense of self. That said, I have been thinking about this question a lot recently and I have noticed more strong female role models appearing in the arts and in politics, so possibly all is not lost.  In either case I think it’s promising that it has become a strong topic of conversation again recently.

Why did you choose to study Fine Art at Wimbledon College of Arts?

I decided to do the MFA at Wimbledon because I felt that I needed to push things further than I had been and I needed some input from outside. I’ve been working on my own for almost 10 years and sometimes you can get in a rut. I felt that an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) would be much more appropriate than an MA (Master of Arts) for me personally, as I am dedicated to being a practising artist rather than an academic, and after going to several different open days I decided that Wimbledon was the right fit for me.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be an artist?

Think about it carefully, realise that the path you are embarking on is not an easy one, emotionally, financially, or socially, but if you feel it is your calling, then dedicate yourself to it fully and don’t give up. I think going to an art college and studying is a great place to start, as it will obviously develop your work and give you a network of like-minded people. Keep working at it, experiment, go to lots of private views, see lots of exhibitions, make lots of friends and enjoy it.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

I’m really not sure where I see myself in the future, but I definitely see myself making art.

All photography by Sid Black

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