Abstract painter Rebecca Youssef is currently living and working in Los Angeles, California. I had the pleasure to have a chat with her in her studio of Santa Monica. Rebecca was very kind to take time to answer my questions while, spurred by historic winds, several wildfires burned in California, causing evacuations and power outages! Rebecca has been evacuated from her house which almost burned, but she’s still there, continuing to work in her studio!
Rebecca Youssef, please tell us a bit about yourself and your artistic universe?
I was raised on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. I can’t remember a day going by where I didn’t see water. The sight, sounds and smell of the ocean were constants in my childhood. I never tire of the color blue! I moved to Arizona for university and it was the complete opposite of Hawaii. I moved from a rainforest to the desert, but I loved it. The Sonoran Desert was unlike anything I had ever seen before. The color palette of muted earth tones and soft pastels were all new to me. It was here, while I was in art school, that I really got into hiking, camping and being out in nature.
Were you always interested in art growing up? What motivated you to become an artist and what has been the most touching moment you’ve experienced as an abstract painter?
I have always been a creative person, even as a kid, I loved paint and clay and getting dirty. I think I was attracted to the art making process because it gave me an alternative way to express myself. I’ve always had a hard time articulating myself verbally and art gave me a whole new vocabulary to interpret the world around me visually. It was liberating to tap into this new language for visual narration.
Whenever people come into my studio, they tell me how joyful and happy my work feels. I love hearing that! My work has evolved in recent years to explore happier, lighter themes. My dark, angsty period is over! Focusing on the positive is a theme in my life and in my work.
For many artists, creativity is first preceded by a phase of observational learning. What is this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist?
I have always been described as an observer. I’m not super outgoing. I like to sit back and take in my environment. This sort of “active observation” is my notetaking, my mental sketches. This collection of visual and sensory experiences are what I take into the studio and attempt to interpret visually.
Every piece of art has its own vocabulary, a visual vocabulary that confer it structure and interest. Your work is very abstract; what would you tell your fans to help them apprehend your work?
As an abstract painter, I seek to visually present the natural world around me. I’m heavily influenced by all that California has to offer- the coasts, the mountains and the desert. When I’m not in the studio, I’m out hiking or working on my native tree reforestation project in the Santa Monica Mountains. Nature, for me, is an endless source of texture, pattern and color inspiration.
Was there a particular event which triggered you to start painting “Flooded”? What were the most challenging aspects of the process?
My latest series, “Flooded”, explores being in control versus all those things that are beyond my control. In these paintings, I pour layers of translucent color and water and then attempt to manipulate the path of the flow. There is a moment of chaos as the liquid pigment disperses with their own agenda, as I try to dictate their path. I enjoy the juxtaposition of that anxious moment when paint is in motion followed by stillness as it finds its final resting place. Once the layers dry, I use spray paint or pastels to deliver a final, deliberate mark as an attempt to regain control over the uncontrollable. “Flooded” is really a study in futility.
Rebecca Youssef, what are the feelings you are trying to convey or expect people to have when interacting with your art?
My work strives to evoke a sensory experience, memory or feeling by way of an abstract vernacular or narrative. I don’t paint what I see, I paint what is experienced and I hope that comes through when viewing my work.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you?
I couldn’t really say what my ideal mind set for being creative is since it varies. There are times when I experience that rush of creativity and feel unstoppable and then there are times when I’m not feeling creative or inspired at all and need to take a little break from the studio. I think that is part of being an artist. We don’t have the luxury of waiting around for inspiration to strike. I make a living as an artist, therefore it is my job. You just have to put in the work and see where it takes you. The times I don’t really feel inspired or don’t want to pick up a paint brush are usually the moments that move my work into unexpected directions. That’s how I stretch myself as an artist. However, if I am seeking out inspiration, I’d be out in nature experiencing and capturing those quiet moments and symbiotic relationships. For me, being outside where I can open myself up and be fully engaged in my surroundings is the greatest source of inspiration.
You are now installed in the 18th Street @ The Airport Art Complex, selling well your work to famous designers. What are your plans?
My studio recently came under management by the 18th Street Arts Center. 18th Street’s mission is to provoke public dialogue through contemporary art-making. They encourage me to take risks and push my creative practice into new directions. Recently, I was displaced by wildfires that raged throughout Los Angeles and am currently excavating those feelings of being evacuated in the middle of the night in my work. I’m using a color palette I rarely use and a new vocabulary of brushwork and marks. So much of my work involves the use of water, but this new work is the antithesis to that- literally! 18th Street Arts Center is a nurturing environment that allows me to experiment fearlessly and stretch myself beyond my comfort zone.
Thanks again, Rebecca Youssef, for the opportunity to interview you for Creativinn! Are there any final thoughts or words of advice you have for our readers?
The only advice I would give is to be fully engaged and to develop an awareness about all aspects of your art practice. Understand that everything you do is consciously or unconsciously driven by something. By getting to know myself and what informs my artistic choices has helped me develop a consistent voice in my work. And also, don’t wait for inspiration to strike. Produce as much art as possible. I feel like 90% of the art I make will never see the light of day. It’s terrible, in my opinion, but I’m experimenting and pushing my work in new directions. It’s necessary.
Don't hesitate to visit Rebecca in her studio.
Abstract painter Rebecca Youssef
3026 Airport Ave. Studio 7 Santa Monica, CA 90405