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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

An interview with paper artist Rebecca J Coles

Rebecca J Coles creates vibrant paper assemblages, often featuring repeating butterfly silhouettes – here we speak with her about her influences, artistic processes, and what the New Year might hold in store.

Written by Caitlin Sinclair

Rebecca J Coles

All photos provided courtesy of Rebecca J Coles

Where did you grow up, and are there aspects of your childhood which you see as being influential on your work?
I was born in Bath, we moved to Yorkshire a few years later until I was ten, and then returned to Wiltshire which is where I grew up. The only aspect from my childhood which I can see as being influential to my work is that I was always creative as a child. My mother was an infant school teacher and very artistic, so it was natural to be making something whether it was a den in the garden or cutting out paper and making collages.

Rebecca J Coles
You now live in Frome, Somerset – what is it like to be living and working as an artist there?
Frome is a wonderful town, and is quite the creative hub. There are artists of all disciplines, musicians and writers who live here, and we are lucky enough to have two theatres, the Black Swan Arts and Rook Lane Arts, both of which continually host new exhibitions, the artisan market that is held monthly, along with independent boutique shops which all make the town quite special, encouraging a genuine interest in the artistic field.

Rebecca J Coles
With a Masters in Constructed Textiles from the Royal College of Art, London and a specialisation in woven textiles, how did your studies inform your later work?
In response to my current work, a friend from the Royal College of Art said ‘well that makes sense‘. Referring to the comparison in that my work is still labour intensive and repetitive. As a weaver, threading the loom was a process you either enjoyed or hated. I loved the process. It was somewhat therapeutic, even though viewed as tedious, and that repetitive notion is ever apparent in my current paper art… cutting out hundreds, if not thousands of butterflies, then pinning them, then positioning them onto their specific heights on the pins, and then positioning them on the board where they will stay.

Rebecca J Coles
How would you describe what you do as an artist?
I’m an artist who creates paper assemblages which are encased in box frames. I focus on the reinvention of entomological cataloguing, display and the play of shapes.

Rebecca J Coles
Previously, you have mentioned your fascination with the process by which three-dimensional forms materialise from flat sheets of paper – can you tell us more about this transformation? And how did you decide on paper as your medium of choice?
Using paper was such an intuitive decision. It is such a malleable medium, and the childhood practice of folding a piece of paper in half and cutting out a butterfly to show symmetry seemed apt when experimenting for my current work. I used to cut out sections of my sketch books at college, and became interested in seeing how you, as the viewer, can be made to observe something that’s not actually there, or focusing on a small section of the overall image which becomes a different when it’s dissected. Using pages from magazines became quite integral to my work….

Rebecca J Coles
Tell us about the process of creating your pieces, are they carefully planned with distinct stages, or do they come together organically?
It depends! Some are very much planned from the colour palette, size and shape, and the end result depicts the original idea. Others are organic. Most start with a colour story….I collect the paper to be used, and then start cutting out the butterflies. I then decide whether I think the butterflies should be positioned on the base, or at the top of the pins, and then I start to build the piece. If I am creating a series of work, such as Stamps’, because they require butterflies of all shapes and sizes, I may spend a week solely cutting them out, to then create the pieces later.

Rebecca J Coles
Butterflies feature across the art of many cultures – how did you come to choose them as one of the focuses of your work, what do they symbolise for you?
I’m afraid they don’t symbolise anything for me apart from being a beautiful silhouette to work with. I used to work in a boutique that sold feathered butterfly garlands, so when I started to cut out paper, I started cutting out an incredibly naive butterfly silhouette… and when I returned to this idea, I started to focus on their true shape.

Rebecca J Coles
Your pieces are obviously delicate, involving a great deal of repetition and close attention to detail – what are the challenges associated with this, and how do you manage?
I once suffered with RSI (repetitive strain injury) which made me realise that I must alternate my work and that I can’t cut out all the time for long periods of time. I just alternate the processes of my work now.

Rebecca J Coles
Are there any particular artists whose work you admire or turn to for inspiration?
Artists I admire would include Wycliffe Stutchbury and Helen Beard. I wish I had her illustrative skills…..

You have exhibited extensively throughout the UK over the past year. How did you begin exhibiting your work and what have been some of the highlights?
I approached a gallery in Bath who accepted my work, and have continued to showcase my art since. I then exhibited at Origin (the Contemporary Craft Fair in London) last year which led a lot of galleries approaching me. I was fortunate enough to have the London gallery, Mark Jason, select some of my work to take to the art fairs, which has been great.

Rebecca J Coles
Do you have a particular goal or hope for the pieces you produce?
My only goal is to continue selling my work, and that I continue to push forward my ideas. I hope to work on a much larger scale whether it be framed pieces or an installation piece.

Are you able to share with us any plans for 2012?
I am hoping to exhibit in Australia earlier this year, which would be a great opportunity to showcase my work internationally…. and I do have several ideas for new work….so watch this space….

Visit Rebecca’s website www.rebeccajcoles.co.uk for further details.

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