Studio Visit: Rebecca Litt

by A.L. McMichael

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Rebecca Litt’s studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn. On wall at left, “Intution” (oil on canvas) alongside watercolor and charcoal sketches at right.

This weekend, Rebecca Litt will be among the hundreds of artists in Bushwick who open their studios, inviting the public to breech the permeable boundary into her work space and process of creation. When I visited her there last year, many of her now-finished works were still in progress.

Litt drafts charcoal sketches from memory and imagination, sometimes using a mirror or photos of a space while other spaces that are, in her words, “purely invented.” Her charcoal sketches and their subsequent oil paintings tend to appear in groups. For her, “one painting tends to suggest the next one.” The experience of seeing the works as a series invokes my role as an observer of this curated world. It’s not a hostile environment, but the figures rarely make eye contact with each other or the viewer, and they often seem like interlopers in an empty space.

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From the “False Fortress” series, “Unraveled” on the wall (center), and “Vacant Lot” on the floor (both oil on canvas), surrounded by sketches.

In the False Fortress series, orange construction netting implies a “loosely narrative” structure. There’s a clear language of symbolism in these works, in the semi-enclosed space created by construction materials, a visual representation of emotional defenses. Litt muses that these are not effective, calling them “permeable barriers.” These “emotional self-portraits” such as Intuition feature brunette women who resemble Litt at a glance. Her work lends itself to psychoanalysis, and it is refreshing for an artist to admit that a work is, to an extent, self-referential, admitting to the insecurities, emotions, and thoughts that are omnipresent in the work. Surrounded by these stories, I revel in the simultaneous unease and delight in being able to empathize with work that is such a personal expression of someone I barely know.

Litt was trained in the Indiana University School of Fine Arts in a department emphasizing figurative, narrative works. But even with the figures she refers to as “characters,” her work hints at abstract underpinnings that are complicated by the introduction of figures in space. It’s as if she has turned surrealism on its head.

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From “Going Nowhere,” Panel 4 back (left) and Panel 1 front (right), both oil on panel and polymer clay.

Although the mixed-media piece is titled Going Nowhere, figures with painted torsos and three-dimensional, polymer clay feet react to their seemingly-heavy extremities with inquisitive and lively gestures. The frieze of two-sized, painted boards allows for interactions and conversations between figures, and it reflects an ideology of feet, of shoes. While Litt chalks up their heaviness to the unsophisticated clay medium, the exaggerated feet with unarticulated toes strike me as protection, a shell for the characters. I ponder my own barefoot toes that can get stumped, stepped on. But these clay, club-like feet are sturdy; they could kick back. In the end, though, they’re still bare, exposed, not really protecting the torsos but supporting them, keeping the figures together and negotiating their entry into a carefully crafted world, even while keeping it at a distance.

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Outside the studio window is a space where any people—whether artists or third-generation residents or new immigrants—are interlopers amongst the industrial, corrugated aluminum and factories and big trucks, people seem strangely biological, malleable. In these works, Litt has captured the vibrant, conflicted identity of the neighborhood at this specific point in its history.

This studio visit took place on Sunday, April 15, 2012. For a list of Rebecca Litt’s current exhibitions and portfolio, visit her website or attend Bushwick Open Studios May 31-June 2, 2013.

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