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By Leslie Fandrich // Theme: Motherhood, Feminism // Category: Creative People

Thirteen years ago, on her 45th birthday, Rebecca Darlington decided to finally focus on being an artist. She was out for dinner with her husband and three youngest boys (out of five!) and sitting near her was a woman turning ninety. Watching this woman celebrate her 90th year made Rebecca realize that anything was possible and that it might be time to get back to her roots of making fine art.

Resin bodice from the Birthing Beauty series, 2013

Resin bodice from the Birthing Beauty series, 2013

I had been feeling a bit sorry for myself for months for turning so old. I was already under pressure, from my own doing, to make sure I made good on the promise to myself to make art when I am old. I was feeling like how could I possibly become an artist now since I have already spent the better part of my life as a design professional and raising so many sons. It was life over. My body would soon be disintegrating. Then, shortly after we had placed our orders I looked over and saw this magnificent silver haired matron at a table near us, she was beautiful and regal. After our meal arrived and the champagne still wasn't lifting my mood, the table next to us burst out in a rousing happy birthday song to the matron and I saw the  birthday cake in front of her with the numeric '90' candles flaming. How silly I felt. I had just been given 45 more years. Another life to live as I pleased and I didn't have to go through adolescence or high school or college or pregnancies or diapers again! I could start making my art tomorrow. And I did.
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Rebecca grew up in a military family that travelled a lot. She spent grade school in Japan and her teen years in England. Her family supported her desire to be an artist and while she was in college she went abroad to study drawing and painting in Italy.

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I went to school at the Lamar Dodd School of Art at University of Georgia in Athens, GA from 1973-1978. Part of the program was in Cortona, Italy where I studied bronze casting. For fun we bronzed our belly buttons. Cortona was picked because it was next to the Carrara Marble mining fields. It's the finest marble in the world and the founding professor was a sculptor too.

She had great promise as a painter but after seeing friends graduate and become waitresses, she decided to transfer to the graphic design program. Her main painting instructor didn’t support her decision and seemed to suggest that her artistic integrity would be compromised by her desire to have a creative job that would allow her to pay her bills. In fact, she believes that her years as a graphic designer have given her many opportunities to conceptualize different emotions and meanings. It was a wonderful training ground for imaginative art.

Soon after graduating she married and had two sons, but eventually she divorced and moved to Midland Texas, where she met her current husband shooting a TV commercial. She was the creative director of a regional ad agency and he was the public relations writer for a political client. He lived in New York and they had a two-year, long-distance relationship before they decided to marry and settle in Cornwall, NY. After they were married she had three more boys and continued her design career as a freelancer.

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That fateful day at the restaurant changed everything for her. A second career as an artist was born, but it started out slowly. First, she had a corner in the kitchen, then the dining room table was taken over and eventually the entire living room became her studio. She made art when she could between her freelance work and responsibilities to her family. Then in 2008 she was awarded a residency in France and she left everything to focus on her art.

Prototypes for what would eventually become the Birthing Beauty series were created in France during a residency program.

Prototypes for what would eventually become the Birthing Beauty series were created in France during a residency program.

 

In 2008 I was awarded an artist residency at CAMAC in Champagne, France. I had never been to one and this was a groundbreaking event in my life. For the first time all I had to do was wake up and make art. If you’ve never been to one I highly recommend it. Of course the best thing it did was totally break down everything I had done to that point. I was unglued from the responsibilities of raising 5 sons and only had myself to be concerned about. The residency had 2 sculptors from Canada there. They were making 500 yellow bananas out of silicone for an installation they were having in France that year. Day after day on my way to the kitchen they were there making these ridiculous bright yellow bananas. Finally I just stopped and said show me how. And they did except I started making silicone breasts.
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That was the beginning of her Birthing Beauty series of clear resin bodices and embedded bronze sculpture. It’s the work that Rebecca is most proud of and that most reflects her life. Her own story is the nucleus for this work, and it is the story of many working women.

It fit all of the criteria for why I make art. It is beautiful, clear bodies of resin and gorgeous bronze twinkly sculptures poking in and out of the resin. It’s unique. I needed it to be clear so that the message it carried was obvious. Expressive. It fits that conceptual part of me that screams to get out. Birthing Beauty transforms the cultural notion that women ‘can do it all.’

 

This is a huge subject for me because I’ve lived it. I hid my true purpose for living. It was inside buried so deep I wasn’t sure it would ever have a life. I worked on this project for 5 years off and on. I had rough starts and stops because somewhere inside I knew the piece had to be see-thru to work. So material shopping I did. I ended up using EX-74 clear resin for the bodice and single cast bronze for the inside. I went through a lot of trials and opened myself up to a ton of new ideas and ways of making art. I loved the way it turned out but it was a long time coming.

 

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Besides her show stopping bodices, Rebecca also paints large, colorful, abstract patterns inspired by lace. She paints mainly in oil on panels, because she is hard on the surface, and the panels can hold the ColorFix primer she likes to use to create a rougher surface. She also loves working with oil sticks. When she began this series she painted through the lace, and has a huge box of lace covered in paint that she collected, but lately she has been painting the pattern that the lace makes, without using the actual lace in the work. I love these paintings, they are so vibrant and energetic.

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Rebecca works in fabric as well and has created beautiful, hanging felt “quilts” made of interconnected dancing figures. She cuts around the figures, leaving the fabric as one large piece that remains connected. At first glance it looks almost like metal, because of how the thick felt folds and hangs. It hung as a curtain over a window for a gallery show and she said the light shining through it really made it come to life. It’s a remarkable piece and she plans to make more.

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I work in a lot of different media. Some may say my only consistency is the great differences between my bodies of works. But there is a thread. Somewhere in my deep psyche are massive amounts of lacy patterns all floating through this slowly twirling sphere of thick golden shafts of filtered sunlight. That’s the essence of what I’m after in my artwork. It has to be beautiful. Unique. From the heart. Expressive. Ultimately I really like it when my finished artwork has a message. Hidden ones are best. And ones that have an A-ha or deep laugh in them.

Rebecca has a beautiful studio in a converted factory in Cornwall, NY and it was there that I first met her on the Orange County Open Studio Tour. The fourth floor houses four artists and Rebecca’s studio was the first one that I walked into. It was meticulously arranged, with a large work area in the center, plenty of wall space to hang art, huge industrial windows and lots of storage for supplies and paintings. It was amazing and exactly the kind of space that I would like to have for myself some day.

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Until the Open Studio Tour this place was really a wreck. After I moved in I came into the studio just to make art. Really attack it and get the heck out. Now I realize it was a hunt and poke kinda operation. I am thrilled to have it organized. I believe there is a magic to the place you work. I was in the Old Beacon High School Studios for a year. It was my first studio away from home. When I moved in I meticulously put everything in order. I was thrilled to have my own space to lay everything out and in order. I spent a huge amount of time looking at past sketch books studying myself. Then when it came time to make the work. Nothing. Absolutely the biggest waste of time and money. It was like the faucet had been shut off at the main. Life forced me to put things into storage for 9 months and then I moved into this space. I just dumped everything in here and began making art. It has been magic ever since. I was a bit scared that if I did a big clean up that the creativity would disappear, but it didn't. I could be happy here for the rest of my life!
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I’m so curious about the process of making art and I wanted to know from Rebecca how she can tell when a piece of art is finished and how she feels when it’s done.

To know when a piece is finished is like predicting when the world will end. I’ve killed many a project so there is a precise moment in time when that event happens. It takes stepping away. I have learned to walk out of the studio when I get close. I have to go and think in another environment and then come back after a rest to see and calculate if there needs to be more work done. When the expression cannot be expressed any better? It’s done. The trick is looking for that.
I always want more. When something has gone well for me I only want to keep repeating the same experience. The process is profoundly satisfying. To finish a piece is good, but it’s like a death. I have to go and create it somewhere else. I love being in the process.
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Rebecca has been working with a mentor for the last five years and it has really helped her focus her vision and step up her game. Christie Scheele is a successful local artist who meets with Rebecca about once a month to discuss her work and her goals. They have met in groups with other artists, over the phone and through email. It has been invaluable to have someone give her honest, no-holds barred feedback on the work she is doing, as well as help her shape goals around her art. Sometimes it’s hard to step outside yourself and really see what is needed to move forward.

Rebecca creates art for the joy of it and she hopes that her art makes people smile and opens up a new path in our hearts or our brains. She says her secret to making art is “No guts. No glory.” I quite like that.

I am so grateful to Rebecca for opening up her studio, her process and her artwork to us! It is such a pleasure to learn from her experiences and wisdom.

Learn more about Rebecca and her work: