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INTERVIEW: Rachel Siminoski

Location: Charlotte, NC

Instagram: @rachelsiminoski

Can you describe your studio routine?

I wish I had a routine to share! Right now my life revolves around being a mother and working from home, with studio time squeezed in between the cracks. I try to do one art-related thing a day, whether it’s drawing in my sketchbook for 15 minutes before our youngest wakes up, or making small collages after he's gone to bed. It may not seem like a lot, but the small moments add up. I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time in the studio building momentum last year while I was pregnant, and I think that has helped me accept the fact that things have slowed down a bit now. My goal is to be persistent, even if I don’t have long stretches of time in the studio. You use the term "internal landscapes" to describe your work and there are elements that reference landscape features such as rocks, caves, vines and mountains. Where does your interest in the natural world come from?

It’s interesting- I don’t work from life or actively try to depict landscapes. I focus on the function of the forms in my paintings, not on “what” they are. Whatever the forms end up referencing is typically a byproduct of its function. I was actually a biology major before I was an art major, and I think most of my interest in the natural world revolves around biological systems within the body.

The corporeal enclosures that I create often take the form of a landscape, but I still wonder if that is the best term to use. Instead of vines, I tend to view them as veins or membranes, caves as a womb or cell. Last year, I was ruminating on the idea of growth while I nurtured my body and my son within it. At that time I started to introduce green into the paintings, which also lends to the inadvertent landscape reference. During my residency at Main Street Arts, I was talking with the Executive Director, Bradley Butler, and he said, “They’re spaces, not places,” and I think that really hit the nail on the head for me. I think of the spaces I create as abstract ecosystems or environments, and that’s what led me to describing them as landscapes.

How does the warmer and softer work you are now creating contrast to your previous work?

Previously I was making grayscale paintings that in hindsight feel like containers or vessels, whereas the work I’m making now includes various colours (albeit still subdued) and is more biomorphic- more like a cohesive environment as opposed to a harsh, empty, geometric container. Becoming a mom was such a big change in terms of my body and life in general, it definitely transformed the work as well. The enclosures I was making before began to morph into wombs, slings, etc. Warmer, supportive and protective places.

Your paintings on yupo paper have a wonderful sense of play and light while your work on canvas feels grounded and planned. Is the process of creating work on each material different?

The paintings on yupo paper happen much faster than the ones on canvas. I view them as something in between a sketch and a finished painting. Only in the past year or so have I allowed myself the freedom to paint freely (translucent sections of paint, visible brushstrokes) and be okay with it. The works on canvas always start with various sketches on tracing paper; I like to be able to trace over a sketch and just change one or two elements at a time. However, the paintings never end up exactly like the sketches I started with. I would say the majority of the time they end up quite differently. I think, for me at least, it’s unfair to expect that the outcome of a painting on canvas would be the same as a small sketch on paper. And the fun of it all is reacting to the painting as it happens, and being open to change. I love being surprised with the work. It almost feels collaborative, in a way. Me and the painting. Which artist has had the greatest impact on your work and practice?

There have been a few at different points in my life. I would say the first big influence and arguably the most important has been Mariam Stephan, a fantastic painter and a professor at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She taught advanced drawing my senior year of undergrad. That was the first time I really painted; prior to her class I was making detailed, realistic drawings and lithographs. I realized that in order to meet the quota for her class I had to start working faster, and the only way I could do that at the time was by picking up a paint brush. For our second critique, I had been working on a few large, black and white paintings on paper and I felt confident that the critique would go well. It did not. I remember at one point she asked me what kind of acrylic I was using and I honestly didn’t even know the name- it was just the general store brand at Hobby Lobby. She said it looked like plastic and that it was distracting, and she was absolutely right. After that I cried in the bathroom and invested in better paint. Mariam was brutally honest, but in the most loving way. I left her class feeling as though my work had a sense of direction, which I had never felt before.

What's next for your artistic practice?

It’s hard to say. Right now I’m just trying to keep it going amongst the craziness of life. I’m excited with the new direction my work has taken, and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next. I’ve been applying to more open calls lately, and I would love to have an exhibition that highlights the transition from pre-to-post pregnancy. I would also love to do a family friendly residency at some point in the near future.


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