Rebecca Chaperon's Gardens
July 12, 2017 by Laura Horne-Gaul
Existential themes in art appear in the form of someone or something experiencing an "existential crisis". These themes go back in time to the earliest stories of human history. Concluding in the fact that when one is relinquished from the most basic assumptions of their lives, face the absurdity of existence, and asks, "what's it all about?".
What is the meaning of life?
Who am I? What is my true nature? What is my true identity?
What is my greater purpose? How should I live my life?
What is death? What happens when we die?
Is there a god?
At the point of absolute existential crisis, one realizes that there is no one to turn to for answers except for him or herself. We, alone, must decide.
Rebecca Chaperon is a Vancouver based artist who addresses the absurdity and beauty of our existence. Her series of works for her upcoming exhibition in Toronto at Gallery 555 titled, Garden, is an extension of her continued perseverance into the unknown realms of our everyday lives.
TUSSLE: Your upcoming exhibition in Toronto Garden opens on July 20th at Gallery 555. How does this work differ from your previous work?
Rebecca Chaperon: Garden is a mix of new and old work, all from the same series...some images were created in 2014 and some were created this year ( 2017). The newer works still fit with my Eccentric Gardens series but 2 of the pieces move in slightly different directions. "Gather" is a piece that straddles Eccentric Gardens and my new series called Cave Paintings which will be exhibited this fall at Seymour Art Gallery in North Vancouver, BC. "Flood" is the other new piece that moves the series in a different direction. A stylized figure steers a raft through a flooded garden. I had opportunity to do all the illustrations for Sub Terrain magazine last fall and I really enjoyed working with stylized figures in limited palettes. This work follows that thread. Also this piece was inspired by life-circumstances as I was planning a residency at Artscape Gibralter on Toronto Island but it was cancelled due the flood ( though hopefully I will be able to take advantage next year ! ) .
TUSSLE: Although your paintings are in essence, benevolent landscapes, there is an underlying feeling of some catalytic event about to occur or has just occurred. How do you approach your canvases? Do you have a story or event in mind before you paint or is your process more of a stream of consciousness?
Rebecca Chaperon: My approach to painting is something I am always fiddling with but I am inspired by storytelling. I like to create a sense of place and then populate it with living things, real and surreal. I like to have a general idea of the place and mood I want to create but I stay open to stream of consciousness as I paint. The story I begin with is vague but comes into clarity as I work, sometimes it takes a different direction from what I had expected.
TUSSLE: Why are some of your works titled after Helen Keller, most popularly known as being blind, an American author and a political activist?
Rebecca Chaperon: I have created 3 paintings on this theme ...they are inspired by a letter written by Helen Keller to the New York Symphony Orchestra. Helen Keller, wrote this letter after she experienced their rendition of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony by holding her hand against a radio diaphragm. Among the myriad of vibrations that came through the speaker, she recognized the individual instruments and the human voice. In my Helen Keller paintings a figure sings and rings emanate from her mouth representing the vibration of her voice. In her letter, Keller describes what the music brought to her mind, the dynamic nature of wild landscape but as she knew it - through her sense of touch. In these paintings Helen Keller’s arms reach through a portal and touch a different dimension full of sound. I was inspired by the power of sound to allow someone to experience another world beyond the limits of seeing and hearing.
TUSSLE: You mention that you are interested in "the darker side of how we live" not including the negative, can you expand on what that darker side of human nature is?
Rebecca Chaperon: When I said I was interested in "the darker side of how we live" I mean the full range of emotion and circumstance that we experience as humans. I want to go beyond the mask we show each other - the surface of ourselves. I like what is dramatic, mysterious, frightening. It explores deep sadness, irrational and rational fear. I'm interested in that which is richly melancholic and energetically mystical.
TUSSLE: In your practice how do you explore these different, undiscovered planes of existence that you are painting?
Rebecca Chaperon: I really enjoy inventing places. It's always been a comfortable way for me to create images. My exploration of these places is deciding the general location be it secret garden or vast snow-scape. I then move to choosing a palette and deciding the dominant tone and how to create a balance in the image. Objects in the painting are characters sharing a spotlight or sometimes hogging it.
TUSSLE: The "Tesseract" series seems like a meditative repetition on the analog of the cube... Although the Tesserract is used in popular culture as a portal or communication device between dimensions, for example, A Wrinkle in Time (Novel by Madeleine L'Engle,1963) and Interstellar (Film by Christopher Nolan, 2014). What does this shape represent to you in your work? and How many studies of the Tesseract have you actually painted?
Rebecca Chaperon: I think I've completely lost track of exactly how many paintings now exist in the "Tesseract" series. I am sure its somewhere around 30 by now. Before I started making these crystalline forms I was making these black almost diamond like geometric shapes that I refer to as "portals" so the Tesseract work evolved from these forms. I wanted to make the shape contain facets, gradients and all the real painting "work" while leaving the background as a grey and muted void. In a way I was reversing what I had been doing before with the portal paintings where the portal was the featureless void. I loved the book "Wrinkle in Time" which partially inspired the series and made a fitting title as, in the book, it is an device used to travel to different dimensions which is in-line with the idea of portals.
TUSSLE: What is your favorite existential question and how do you answer it?
Rebecca Chaperon: Since I was a kid I have always thought about infinite space. What if there's an edge? And if so, what's beyond that? To me, it's still the most terrifying and amazing existential mystery.