Visual Intelligences Research Project

Exhibitions : Inspiration To Order : Rebecca Fortnum

What am I supposed to do?
oil on canvas
122 x 90cm

print on paper
3 x 4 "
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Rebecca Fortnum (b. 1963) read English at Corpus Christi College, Oxford before gaining an MFA from Newcastle University and taking up a fellowship at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, USA. She has been a Visiting Fellow in Painting at Plymouth University and at Winchester School of Art; a visiting artist at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago; a Senior Lecturer at Norwich School of Art and Wimbledon School of Art and an Associate Lecturer at Bath Spa University and Central St Martins School of Art. She is currently a Senior Lecturer at Camberwell College of Art, University of the Arts, London and Research Fellow at the Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts at Lancaster University. She has received several awards including the Pollock-Krasner Foundation; the British Council; the Arts Council of England; the British School in Rome and the Art and Humanities Research Council. She has exhibited widely, including solo shows at the Collective Gallery, Edinburgh; Spacex Gallery, Exeter; The Winchester Gallery; Kapil Jariwala Gallery, London; Angel Row Gallery, Nottingham; The Drawing Gallery, London; and Gallery 33, Berlin. She has exhibited in group shows in New York, Maine, Budapest, Salzburg, Marseilles and Gdansk as well as numerous UK exhibitions. Recent group shows include Fluent; painting and words (2002) and Unframed; the politics and practices of women’s contemporary painting (2004). She was instrumental in founding the artist-run spaces Cubitt Gallery and Gasworks Gallery in London and has worked as curator and an art writer, contributing to various magazines and books. Her book, Contemporary British Women Artists, in their own words, has just been published.

Artist's Statement on Process

When I began my recently completed paintings (False Sentiment, April 2006) in 2002 I didn’t know that they would take their present form. I had been using words in my paintings since 1997. To begin with I used diary entries, emotionally evocative writings that I inscribed into an impastoed surface in columns within large paintings. I had long related to the thick paint as a skin-like surface, so to use a kind of handwriting, recording the body’s movements seemed to reinforce the sense of the personal or the felt. Yet authenticity was undercut; reading one became aware the works’ had no single author because of the differences in each text’s vocabulary and tone, which I had carefully edited from their source. With these paintings I decided to remove this sense of authentic experience still further. I continued to use the lyrics of pop songs, evoking common, yet personal sentiment. I exchanged the inscribed cursive for a stencilled surface using vinyl lettering. Thick paint was applied over the letters and when removed I noticed that the words appeared to optically hover, white on white. I liked this sensation as it reminded me of listening to music when it feels as if the words hang in the room’s atmosphere. Recently I washed some of the lyrics paintings with intense colour and the clarity of the stencil means that they are still legible which wouldn’t have happened with the thinner inscription. I chose a font that felt like a formal handwriting. I love the histrionics of pop songs and the lyrics were chosen for their comments on relationships,

I paired the lyrics with canvases depicting the silhouettes my partner and I. Having worked on wall sized paintings, I saw the scale of these smaller works as mirrors, to look into and see ourselves blankly reflected. Drawing with a sharp surface into sized and pigmented canvas the oil paint seeps into the line. I see this process as a tattoo, inscribing into the weave of the canvas, like an indelible shadow, permanent yet evasive (like our own sense of self). I drew directly from our shadows, projecting a light so they would fall on the canvas surface. Most drastically I have paired the coloured lyric canvases with large ‘portrait’ paintings of my children. I used a full range of brushes and colours, which I haven’t done for many years. The pleasure I have in looking at my children’s faces coincides with this primary pleasure in image making - long abandoned in my painting practice. I painted on a smooth ground (five layers of primer) colour washed to work with the lyric canvas colour. I wanted the images to be painted lightly so that the ground seeped through the face and didn’t overwhelm the lyric canvas. I used a projector and photographs to work from, but I wanted a painterly image, showing brush marks that speak of this pleasure in painting.