In conversation with Rebecca Cunningham
‘I have always felt that music feeds art and art feeds music.’
Rebecca Cunningham is a Gold Coast artist and exhibited at SWELL for the first time in 2015. This year, Rebecca is hosting Life Drawing Workshops at SWELL. Writer Nicole Browne learns more about Rebecca's inspiration, process and why art and music are intrinsic to her practice.
What has been your journey with SWELL so far, and how were you first involved?
I have grown up in Currumbin and with SWELL each year. The first time I was involved in SWELL was in 2015 as an exhibiting artist. As a kid, I would come down each year to see the sculptures. I loved it. I would never have imagined being involved. I remember when I was accepted that first year I couldn’t believe it. SWELL was something I was in awe of and especially the artists and the giant sculptures they were making. There I was giving it a go! I was selected to exhibit again in 2016.
This year I am facilitating the Life Drawing Workshops and this invites a different experience to that of an exhibitor. As an exhibiting artist you put in all the hours beforehand to build your sculpture, then you get to see your work on display at the beach. That is a beautiful part of SWELL, being able to observe your sculpture in a changing environment. Each day brings something different. When I run the Life Drawing Workshops, I get to work with the sculptures by choosing one that a model poses with. It’s really satisfying bringing the drawing aspect together with the sculptures.
As a facilitator, and through your ‘gentle instruction’ what do you hope your students take away with them?
I hope they walk away from a workshop feeling accomplished and with a bit of confidence in what they are able to do. I think some people (unless they have some experience) come in with the mindset of ‘I can only draw stick figures.’ And some come in with the intention of just ‘giving it a go’ without knowing really what they are doing. Often with just one or two points or some simple techniques, they begin to notice a vast difference in their work. Having someone show you a different way of looking at something can bring with it a whole new perspective and learning. It feels more comfortable for them, and they walk away with a sense of pride in what they can do. I love the courage that it can take for people to come to the workshops. I am really grateful to those who are able to step into that vulnerability with the intention of surrendering, being there just to give it a go. No one is there to judge anyone; the judgement only ever comes from yourself.
How did running life drawing sessions come about, and where did the live music come in?
Ever since I was a teenager and into my twenties, musicians have surrounded me. Often, I would go to their gigs and paint, or I would have them in my living room playing while I painted. Then I thought ‘how can I share this with others?’ and it went from there. I teach at Dust Temple and at HOTA, always incorporating live music in the sessions. I have different musicians come along, of different genres – from flamingo, ambient, rock and blues. The idea has really struck a chord, and more and more people are coming and giving it a go. It’s been around 4 years now; it just keeps growing.
I am really interested to know more about the live painting you do on the stage with the musicians, tell us more about that?
When I do live paintings, I usually have no idea of what I am going to paint. There may be times on the way to the gig I see a landscape, or I notice the colour of the sky and this will set the mood of the painting. Once the music starts, it develops from the imagery floating around my mind. There is a little pressure, as the time is quite short, which helps me to resolve the painting quite quickly. I draw energy from the crowd, but my focus is solely on making sure the piece is finished in the time frame, on what I am doing, how I am feeling and how I am interpreting that in my art.
I have seen some of your recent works can you tell us how they came about, and more about your creative process, away from the live painting.
The bird paintings I have been working on recently is about finding an interesting bird species or connecting with an image of a bird and exploring it. I want to capture the bird, study it and get to know it. When it comes to my dreamier, surreal type work, those images just come to me out of personal experience. I guess my work is a little whimsical and touches on the ethereal topics, but that is where my connection to nature lies. I am continually observing life and the way things change. My awe of nature transfers into my work.
What have been some of the greatest rewards for you personally and as an artist being involved in SWELL?
Friendships. The people I have met, the community of SWELL is beautiful. When the festival is on, Currumbin opens up, and people are connecting with each other, to art. I have had the opportunity to meet artists from interstate, overseas and new local people. Being a part of SWELL is really special. Also, for me, submitting my first sculpture Conversation Piece was huge. I am not an engineer. I have no building skills. I just had an idea, I processed it, and I created it. That in itself is a big accomplishment for me. It was so rewarding seeing my sculpture on the beach. People are loving it, or not; they are interacting with it, and it is in the open to be seen, and it is creating a conversation.
What would you say is your connection to art and community?
I have naturally always brought people together through events that involved art and music. I like offering people the space and an opportunity where they can immerse themselves into their creativity, whatever that is. Sometimes they don’t want to draw, they just want to be there, and I am happy that I can offer that place to them. So many times, people leave the live drawing sessions and say “I have just had my therapy for the month.’ I get so much out of holding that space for people.
Nicole Browne @mothersofourhood
Life Drawing AT SWELL - BE SURE TO book a session MORE INFO
Whether you draw in line, shadow or with a distinctive mark, we invite you to this extraordinary experience to transcend the every day to an enlightening visual journey as you depict the human form through your unique perspective. We encourage those who’ve never taken part in Life Drawing to join in this inclusive session.
Life Drawing Workshops at SWELL, Saturday 15 September. The morning session offers tips and tutoring.