Interview with Rebecca Chaperon: transformation and the challenging experiences we so often go through in life

Whether it’s an icy blue vision of otherworldly caves or shadowy crystal-like shapes hovering over pink ponds, the work of Rebecca Chaperon never cease to capture our attention with their enchanted beauty. Her breath-taking colour palettes evoke emotion that draws us in to the pastel, geometric-filled narrative that unfolds within her paintings. Chaperon earned her BFA from Emily Carr University in Vancouver, where she currently lives, and has exhibited her work locally and internationally. Recently, the artist has just finished up a solo exhibition titled Cave Paintings at Seymour Art Gallery, featuring her new body of work that explores transformation and the challenging experiences we so often go through in life.

Join us as Chaperon discusses her recent solo exhibition, the meaning within her caves, and some music choices inspired by her paintings. 

AMM: Let’s begin with a little insight into your development as an artist.  Were you formally trained? What were some of the ups and downs in finding your voice as an artist?

RC: I got my BFA from Emily Carr University in 2002. I don’t know what I was expecting it to be like as an artist post graduation, but I was ill-prepared. Luckily for me I am persistent and hopeful in the face of rejection (as well as all the other feelings that go along with receiving rejection! ) so I just kept trying different things and showing with my friends in group shows etc.

Eventually I put a proposal in to an artist run centre called Grunt Gallery and they gave me a show. I had quite a bit of time to prepare (approx. a  year ) and had already thought a lot about the imagery (since I had written a proposal about it)  – and so I think this exhibition really changed the way I worked and made me feel really solid about what I created. In the end this was the series called Like A Great Black Fire in 2011.

AMM: I would like to congratulate you on your recent solo exhibition Cave Paintings at Seymour Art Gallery! Tell us about your new body of work exhibited in the show.

RC: Thank you! Cave Paintings is a series that will develop more over time but this first part of it definitely gave me the opportunity to explore the initial idea. These paintings are imagined worlds representing our lives and the experiences we go through that cause us to transform and grow. In this body of work I bring in ideas of the witch archetype, existentialism and transformation.

AMM: Your paintings often focus around different elements found in nature, such as icebergs and gardens.  What does the reoccurring and enigmatic ‘cave’ represent for you?

RC: In Cave Paintings I used caves as a metaphor for challenging experiences in our lives. We can’t predict the depth of a cave or how long we need to travel through it before we find an exit. In life we travel through these experiences and emerge transformed. In this series, I’ve explored how we try to recollect or predict these moments in our lives but we can never see the full picture, so the images are soft and enigmatic like a dream and obscured by brightly coloured geometric shapes like missing pieces in a puzzle.

Everyone experiences something close to this in life—a challenging and sometimes “dark time”. We all get our own cave if you will. An experience where you move through a circumstance or situation that causes confusion | apprehension | dread. Where the landscape of your world, the tangible constants that anchor us, dissolve into something absurd. But these cave passages have the potential to lead to massive personal transformation. I feel like these works celebrate that.

AMM: What materials do you use in creating your work?

RC: My main medium is acrylic paint though I like to paint on different surfaces – wood, canvas and paper. Mostly canvas. It’s great to see mediums shift – they start to inform each other (and me!) subconsciously and consciously. I just released a set of IMessage stickers in the App Store and so I can take elements from my paintings and layer them and reconstruct little landscapes all inside the IPhone message screen. What crazy times we live in! And I am really looking forward to seeing the funny things that other people will do with them. People are starting to tag me in their own compositions with these stickers. Open-source Chaperon art! But I am sure this will inspire new ideas for me.

AMM: Your use of cool blue tones in your series Cave Paintings creates a distinct atmosphere, forming a monochromatic backdrop that emphasizes to the pastel shapes present in your compositions. Can you speak a little to this colour choice and the interesting effect it creates?  

RC: YES! I wanted to use this gorgeous ultramarine blue as my main colour for my landscape for a few reasons. I had used it in a small painting the previous year called Phantom and it had this very dreamlike quality to it – it reminds me of the way a summer sky can become a very saturated blue right before nightfall. I like the idea that this is such a fleeting moment for the sky. It turned out to be a colour that looked really good in combination with the bright colours I used for the shapes. I also chose this because I wanted to make the background/landscape as monochromatic as possible and so I wanted to choose a colour that had a very dark, almost black mass tone. This means that the paint glob squeezed out of the tube looks very dark – before you brush it out. Choosing a colour with a very dark mass tone makes it easy to get the best range from dark to light when mixing with white. I used to do a lot of ink paintings so this always appeals to me. But I did cheat and add paynes grey – which is an even blacker blue. So what can I say – I’m not a purist after all! But I am a huge colour nerd. Obviously!

AMM: Your work exhibits an endless amount of breathtaking landscapes. Do you find inspiration for your scenic paintings in the nature around you?

RC: I definitely find inspiration in the landscapes I see in person but I usually don’t reference any particular place when I am creating my work.  Looking at beautiful natural landscapes or interesting geographical features gives me such a good feeling! I think that I am inspired by the emotional response they give me, so I want to emulate that with my work.

AMM: The figures in your paintings often seem like characters, as if they have a backstory waiting to unfold. What narratives live inside the worlds you create?

RC: I think the narratives are often stories about the unusual, a strange moment in time… the work I’ve made with figures shows the narratives of women who are in the middle of one of these moments. I think they have become fiercer over the years—tougher and wilder and more self-sustaining.

AMM: Can you tell us about your book Eerie Dearies, which includes 26 original illustrations of yours?

RC: Eerie Dearies is a book I made for a younger me. This book shows girls absent from school and illustrated in a series of predicaments. Inspired by Edward Gory’s Gashlycrumb Tinies but telling the strange and unusual misadventures of preteen girls. Well, some are stranger than others. C is for contagious but T is for teleportation.

AMM: Where do you feel your source of creativity comes from? Have you always considered yourself and artist?

RC: I’m an introvert so I find that my creativity comes from giving myself a lot of time to think and work alone. I also find so much inspiration in film, books, music and, of course, Instagram.  I also have a Tumblr where I spend a lot of time seeing new art-related things.

I think I considered myself an artist once I chose that path. It was after my first year of college and I had taken a mix of classes and I had to decide which classes to take the following semester and what I wanted to work toward. I’m glad I took the time to think it through. I am very determined when I make up my mind.

AMM: If your series Cave Paintings could have a soundtrack, what music would be on it?

Artist: Haloed

Collection: “Off-world”

It’s a collection of soft synthy tracks that the artist calls a “Blade Runner companion piece”. The musician sampled the original soundtrack and added in music and the unending sound of rain! It would be the perfect soundtrack to Cave Paintings.

“Frequencies from another place.

Recommended uses: meditation, dreaming, focus, catharsis, transcendence.” –haloed.bandcamp.com

Listen here:  https://haloed.bandcamp.com/

Find out more about the artist:www.thechaperon.ca

Interview by Christina Nafziger for ArtMaze Mag.