Today we’d like to introduce you to Rebecca Potts.
So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
As a child growing up in the Rocky Mountains of Western Montana, I read my mom’s Anne McCaffrey collection under pine trees and spent summers camping and rafting where A River Runs Through It. I’ve been making art since I can remember, always influenced by the land and environment. I had a fabulous high school art teacher, who offered supplies and equipment (including an enlarger that I took home to set up a darkroom in my basement bathroom) to help me realize my ideas. As a teaching artist now, I strive to give that level of support to my students.
The path from Montana to Los Angeles was a winding one with stops in Vermont and Australia for college, Philadelphia and New York for work, St. Louis for grad school, and Prague most recently. I earned my B.A. in Geography as well as Studio Art, which meant a lot of map-making. I then took some time before grad school to work as an environmental community organizer and to help start a small public school. During this time, I kept making art and showing it in community spaces. New York was an incredible but exhausting place to live in my early 20’s. After a few years of working outside the arts, but making art in all my spare time, I decided to dive in headfirst and get my MFA. It was a dream to have studio space, enormous printing presses, time, and regular critiques while also assisting with teaching undergrad classes. After graduating, my partner and I moved to Los Angeles where I worked for a gallery and a few artists, did web design, and struggled to make ends meet. We then moved back to New York, where I managed art education programs in the Bronx and had a studio a few blocks from home in Brooklyn. My work evolved to include more installation using paper and found materials.
When we felt stagnated, we threw job applications at the map of Europe and moved to Prague. This move across an ocean meant deconstructing my studio and selling most of the supplies I’d hoarded over the years – out of date maps, imperfect watercolors, scraps of vinyl and cloth, beads, yarn, wood, and so much detritus. Two weeks before our flight, I broke my foot badly, which led to a lot of time in Czech hospitals. When I could walk again, I taught private art lessons to kids, but then got pregnant and spent more time in hospitals with a difficult pregnancy. In 2015, I had my daughter near Prague.
I sort of fell into attachment parenting because it felt right, but it also meant losing some of myself. The ideal life I read about on mommy blogs of putting my baby down for a nap while I painted in the studio was a far cry from reality. My baby slept on me. She lived on me. We struggled with breastfeeding and that nearly broke me. For nearly three years, sewing stuffed animals and clothing for her was the extent of my art-making. While mothering halted my art practice, it is also what brought it back. Inspired by the way my daughter mixed play-doh colors, I started making play-doh paintings. These have evolved from playful abstractions to the scenes of daily life here in Los Angeles. Mushing play-doh is like therapy. Working with clay re-started my art practice.
I now teach art in 2 elementary schools, maintain an active studio practice, and recently started Teaching Artist Podcast to highlight artists who teach kids.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Refinding my artist self as a mother has been a struggle. I’m feeling full of ideas and inspired now, but spent nearly three years of early motherhood not making art.
The most challenging aspect of pursuing art right now is working around a teaching and parenting schedule. Fitting in art-making in small bursts whenever possible means my process has needed to change. I keep hearing that community is everything and that it makes a difference to go to openings and get to know gallerists. Yet, openings are almost exclusively during bedtime. I’m trying to build community in a way that works for me – through a critique/support group and by taking my daughter with me to galleries on weekend afternoons. Now that we are social distancing with exhibitions moving online, networking is actually more accessible to those of us who aren’t able to physically network during evening times.
I have also found it very frustrating that many “opportunities” have a fee attached. I’ve set a very low budget for applying to shows and residencies and once I hit that, I don’t apply to anything with a fee. I do understand that these opportunities take time and resources to offer, but I wish the model was to fund that cost through sales, grants, or patrons instead of funding on the backs of emerging artists, most of whom are struggling financially. My income is just a tiny fraction of my student loan burden. I’d happily submit to a no-fee show with a higher commission because I value the venue/curator/etc. selecting my work based on an assumption that it is worthy and can sell – I value the venue taking a risk on my work.
Please tell us more about your art.
I create primarily 2-dimensional artwork focused on the environments that surround us and the female experience. My work explores our relationship to land and place through the lens of our bodies. Using materials associated with childhood – play-doh and polymer clay – I create abstracted landscapes of urban and suburban scenes, interiors of domestic life, and close-ups of the body. I mix colors precisely, rolling and squishing clay. Color evokes our sense of place, memory, and mood. These pieces highlight the everyday, the scenes we rush past, the colors we take for granted. I also see this work as advocating for the importance of play, of slowing down, of taking time to mush clay in your hands and notice the particular grays of the sidewalk and road. I look for the universal through the personal, the beautiful through the mundane.
I am also a teaching artist at two elementary schools, which means I teach TK-5th grade visual art four days per week. This year, I’ve shifted to a method of teaching that considers the students as artists and focuses on supporting them in their art practices. It’s so inspiring to see what they can do when I provide supplies, techniques, feedback, and encouragement. I have a lot of control over my curricula and I love being able to share contemporary artists with students. It’s a nice way to discover new artists or learn more about artists I know. It’s also enlightening to hear what students notice about the artwork. The shift to distance learning has been difficult as I now focus on providing project ideas and instructions that students can complete independently with very few materials.
Through my podcast, I bring together my artist and teacher selves. I interview other practicing artists who are also K-12 educators. Teaching Artist podcast is dedicated to discussions of teaching art, making art, and how those things overlap and feed each other.
Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Perseverance. I refuse to quit or give up when I have a goal in mind, sometimes to a fault.
- Website: www.rebeccapotts.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/pottsart/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rpottsart
- Other: www.teachingartistpodcast.com