RR – One of my uncles, who I’m really close with, is an artist – he’s a sculptor and a painter. I always loved going to his house as a kid because it was full of cool stuff; it kind of weirded me out, and I didn’t really understand what was happening, but I was always really curious about it. I was considering, when I was in high school and getting ready to make that decision, going to school for journalism. And then when I graduated, I had this graduation party, and I had some of my artwork at my dad’s house. My uncle saw it and was like, “you should go to art school.” It was one of those things where I was like, “really?” I was so excited and honored that; I was like “OK, Uncle Bob says I should go to art school, I’m going.” Actually, that must have been my junior year of high school that he said that to me, because I did early acceptance my senior year; I only applied to Mass Art, so I knew right away that I got in.
I didn’t know I wanted to go for education at first, but I’ve always really loved working with kids, and I love children’s artwork. It’s so inspiring to be around kids making stuff and talking about art. So that was an added bonus. I was initially going to work with older kids too, and worked in high schools, but ended up getting a full time thing at a K-8. The age range is like four years old through 15 years old, so it’s a totally different thing. But it’s really fun and really interesting. It sounds super cheesy, but they’re so unafraid, and they’re so not embarrassed up to a certain age. I feel like they start being embarrassed in like third grade, but before that they’re like not tied to things looking the way they want them to look, I don’t even know if they have an idea before they start. So they’re like, “that’s a dog,” and I’m like, “alright yeah, that’s a dog.”
It kind of breaks down any of my formal training, which is really fun. But yeah, I always kind of knew I was going to continue making stuff, I just didn’t know in what capacity. School pushed me in the direction of education and working with people, which I really love doing. But, the thing that suffers most is my own artwork, which I think is the case for a lot of educators and a lot of artists. I think you have to have a certain kind of personality to both make stuff and put stuff out into the world, and be good at both things.
I primarily am a painter and collage artist, and I’ve done a little sculpture work. Because of this space, obviously, I have to keep things really small. I think it’s part of being someone who makes art and lives in the city and is trying to afford to do that. If I had a bunch of giant paintings…
EF – At my house, we have two paintings someone did that are like, huge. They were in a show, and when it came down, he was like, “Can you hold onto these?”
RR – [Things are small] kind of just out of necessity. I wish – I have a few big paintings. I have one here in my room, and then all my other large work is being stored at a friend’s house who has a basement. I like any friends with a basement, I’ll put work there. I do like working small to some extent, but it gets annoying.
So, do you want to talk a little bit about your process if you feel like it? Or we can keep talking about putting stuff out, making time for your personal work, which is a thing I care about too.
I can talk about my process; I think it’s a harder thing for me to do. I think that’s related to all the stuff we were just talking about. When I was really young, I was drawn to landscape painting. I grew up in the woods and on the ocean, so I was always out in the woods by myself, out looking at stuff really closely and being really into nature. I was a Girl Scout, went orienteering. I really loved that nerdy stuff and I started making landscape paintings in high school. I was also always really interested in abstraction. I think in the back of my mind, the formal training I have in landscape painting kind of grounds or informs my abstract work in some way. It might not be obvious to someone who’s looking at it, but I learned about composition that way, I learned a lot about technique and actual application of paint that way.
That makes a lot of sense, to me.
Yeah. And so that’s kind of where it started.
Those were all over the winter, I was doing more abstract stuff. Most of the paintings and collages you see all over the house are mine.
That’s cool. This isn’t meant as judgement in any way – I’m impressed by that – but I always feel like, should I put this up? This thing that I made?
I feel weird about it too. But I’m like, you know what? Fuck it. Some people have to see it somehow.
Did Zoe say that you were talking about doing on a show together?
Yeah, we’ve been talking about that for a while, actually. She and I met initially because in 2012, I was booking Ladyfest Boston with a bunch of people, and she played one of our benefit shows. We’ve always known each other in that capacity. The only show I’ve ever played, we played together, it was a Halloween show. I’ve always made flyers and album art for her, and we were like, “let’s just do something together where it’s just about our art.” She actually asked if I wanted to put on another Ladyfest for the spring of next year.
We kind of talked about that.
Yeah, so we’re thinking about that. Because I’m going to be so busy I can’t do it in the same way I used to be able to do it. But I definitely want to put on an art show.
Actually, this is a good example [for discussing my process].
I found this piece in an army enlistment pamphlet that has this weird, comic book style that looks like it’s trying to appeal to children. It’s a picture of these two guys, doing whatever kind of weird bomb war crimes that they’re doing. And then I made this painting [on the left] based on it. After that, I was like, ok, I should put the actual thing into a collage [on the right].
These weird doctor Devo guys are from an old Playboy magazine, and this lady too. She was part of this really fucked up Nazi-styled porn spread in an old magazine I found. Then there’s this picture of this ape screaming during a scientific experiment that was in another magazine I had. The aggression and the weird energy of all of those things came together for me in some way, and then there’s weird landscape-y painting bomb stuff going off in the corner. So that’s kind of like a good illustration of what I think of as my process – seeing an image and associating things. I think there’s kind of a common thread in a lot of my work.
And then, sometimes, I just see something I like and paint it. Like this [bottom left painting] is observational. I went to Ecuador over the summer, and while I was there I went to this museum, the preserved home of Ecuador’s most famous artist. I had never heard of him before but his paintings were crappily reproduced everywhere.
What was his name?
Guayasamin. Some of his work, I really liked. The funny thing was, all of his work was about the pain of being a poor Ecuadorian person, but you go to his place and it’s like, infinity edge pool from the 1930s. It was so ridiculous, but also really weird. That little cactus painting is from his garden. So sometimes it’s just seeing stuff and wanting to capture it and thinking it’s beautiful and it’s that easy. But I also kind of feel guilty about just painting things I think are pretty, which is weird, it just feels not useful for some reason.
Are these some of the books that you use to collage?
Yeah! I have bags of shit, if you want to look through anything…There’s a thrift store down the street, and someone donated their shitty comic book collection. There were all these “GI Joe” comic books, which is perfectly related to that thing i was showing you before. But so, those collages I showed you, here’s some of the stuff I bought. It was all like, a bunch of these “GI Joe” comic books, which were really weird – there’s one about the Middle East, and there’s this one Arctic guy I haven’t looked into yet. They’re all like special mission, really creepy spooky “GI Joe” comics for little boys who are being trained, or whatever.
Totally. “The Pictorial Guide to the Moon” is another one I got there, and “Ascent to Civilization” is really early archaeology type stuff. And then there’s this “Revolution in Science” one, which is like, I don’t know when it was published, but it definitely looks like maybe the 90s, and it’s all about technology, and it’s really really goofy looking. A lot of word art of floating numbers coming out of things. I thought that combining these topics somehow would be fun, and would make for interesting imagery – that’s kind of part of the process of gathering materials, too. Those things I showed you before illustrated that, associating things that may not have a common thread, but by putting them together, whether it’s visually or whatever, you create a common thread.
I kept getting all of these unsolicited catalogs for that store Anthropologie, just always sent to my house, and I was looking at the photographs – really high production, beautiful photographs -and I feel like a perfect capitalist looking at them, like “I wish I lived here.” And then I think, “don’t even look at this…”
This is, by the way, surprisingly only the second conversation I’ve had where someone talks about capitalism in this project.
So I was looking at that magazine, and I was noticing all of the black and white patterns. I cut them out and was like “I’m going to reassemble them in a collage, so that you can’t tell what’s what anymore,” because a) I thought they looked nice together, and b) I wanted to take these things out of context and make them into something else. Then, I was looking at this book that is kind of similar to this “Ascent to Civilization” one, I think I found it at Boomerangs, which is that store I was talking about, and it’s about the occult. There was a black and white picture of this woman and her sisters in it – the Fox sisters, I think this is Kate. They were some kind of occult, witchy, early Aleister Crowley people that went around and told fortunes, and they did creepy magic stuff. And then it came out that they were all bullshitting.
Like, seance people?
Yeah, yeah. So I put her in it, and this isn’t a fully realized thing yet, so I don’t have an idea for how these things are related yet. I don’t even know if I need one, I kind of just like the way it looks. So it’s one of those things that it’s like, maybe I should just leave it and like the way that it looks. One of the things I was thinking about too is that, I’m always interested in early occult, witchy kind of stuff, and the fact that these women were sisters and that they did it together kind of made people more interested in them, or more creeped out by them. I have two sisters and I’m really close to them.
Are you the oldest?
No, I’m the middle…but yeah, I’m super close with my sisters, and both of them are way more into woo-woo stuff than I am. One of them is an herbalist and a yoga teacher and reads tarot, and is into crystals, and the other one is similar but not as into it, like it’s not her whole lifestyle. I don’t know if I believe in it in a spiritual way, but it’s fun. And it’s interesting from a sociological standpoint. I think there’s a lot of interesting sisterhood things, and relationships between women that wouldn’t exist otherwise, and it gives women a certain kind of power.
Yeah, whenever I hear a dude talk about like, astrology, or crystals or whatever, I’m like “…unusual.”
Or “fake!” I think that stuff is very particularly feminine. There’s something interesting about that. So, her image kind of stuck with me, and her name stuck with me. Maybe the common ground was, it’s funny because I’m just working this out now, I haven’t had to think or talk about this yet because it’s really recent. But, the common thread to this maybe is that my own femininity made me super drawn to the fucking Anthropologie catalog, and maybe something in that made me put her into this.
And, I brought this little book when [we met in] New Hampshire. Now it’s my travel book, I have this little set of watercolors, and [a bunch] of these were made while we were in New Hampshire.
We should totally just make art next time we’re there.
Yeah. I was so pumped that people wanted to paint, because I was really embarrassed at first to even have that with me, you know? Anyway, after that it actually became my little travel painting book. I went to New Orleans with one of my sisters and I brought this with me too – here’s a picture of me and my sister from that trip, and there’s one of the paintings that fell out of the book.
I’ve been talking about collage more, but with painting, I really like watercolor and acrylic. I can’t paint in oil – I guess I could, but it would turn into a fumes, and mess, and getting paint all over my house thing. They’re expensive, they take a really long time to dry, and they’re complicated to use because you can’t ethically get rid of any of the chemicals. It’s a mess. I haven’t painted in oils since I was in school, because I don’t have a sink that has solvent.
Do you think when you have a studio you might?
I think so. It’s set up for it there, and it’s going to be an opportunity for me to do it. But I do like the immediacy of being able to paint, let it dry for five minutes, and then paint over it. I really like layering, which is a slower process for oil, and I’m not that patient. But, it would force me to slow down and not produce so quickly. You can let it dry quickly and then you can just have a canvas that’s done.
That’s kind of one of the things that pushed me into doing this project – the idea behind it was just, like, I went on vacation and i had to bring four cameras with me because i wanted all of them for different things. And then it’s like, figuring out the kind of ideas you have and the way that your medium restricts what you can do.
That’s a big challenge. That seeps into a lot of work, too, You’re totally constricted in some ways, and it changes the whole process and what you can do. Like, the fact that I’m making small work now is only because I live in a tiny apartment. It’s not really a choice.
Like goldfish? I don’t know if that’s actually true…
That they grow to the size of their tank? Yeah.
Rachel Rizzo is an artist and educator, and an organizer of Ladyfest Boston. She currently has a show up at Aurum in Jamaica Plain, and can be found online on Tumblr and Instagram. She was photographed in her home in Jamaica Plain, MA on April 9, 2016.