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Helen Rebekah Garber’s work investigates the relationships between science, mythology and mysticism often drawing resources and inspiration from the connections, parallels and intersections between. Learn more about her unique practice in the interview below.
Tell us about yourself and how you came to be an artist…
I grew up in a Yemenite Orthodox Jewish household on the border of New York City with my mother and sister. I attended The Long Island School of the Arts when I was 13, and at 16 began studying classical painting at the New York Academy and The Art Students’ League. I had a difficult adolescence and left home in my early teens, when my sister and I moved to the East Village. From CBGB’s to Moma, I was exposed to ay a vibrant and creative culture. We found acceptance and community there, and the environment encouraged me to become an artist.
I had my first solo show at the age of 22, and have worked as a professional artist since then. Several years later, I returned to CalArts because I wanted to challenge my practice beyond representational painting. This balanced my art education. I learned art history and classical technical skills in New York and I learned how to be an artist “from the wrist up” at CalArts. I think an artist is done with their formal education when they have learned enough to continue to teach themselves, and yet I like to think of myself as a perpetual student.. There are always new things to learn that will blow your mind.
Describe your work in three words...
Spiritual Codexes of Elasticity… I snuck in a preposition there
Where do you draw inspiration from?
The repeating patterns in both human experience and the natural world.
When do you make your best work?
At night. Alone.
What draws you to painting?
Painting is a sixth sense for me. I use painting as a way to digest life experiences. It’s also the least mediated art form for both creator and viewer. With enough familiarity, one learns to read paintings instead of passively viewing them.
Helen Rebekah Garber says
“Everything I make is fully realized as a vision before it is physically created.”
What is your creative process?
Everything I make is fully realized as a vision before it is physically created. I am a voracious reader and, to my husband’s chagrin, a hoarder of books and art supplies. I need a lot of stuff around me from which I can draw new associations.
How does being trained in classical portraiture play into your process, do you often refer back to those techniques?
I feel very grateful to have received a strong foundation in classical painting at a formative age. It gave me a great respect for craftsmanship and the sensual, pleasurable experience of working with beautiful materials. I use the same layering process used in creating classical work, because it’s the most archival way of building a painting. It does still inform my process, but I have also expanded my process, and I’m always experimenting and inventing new techniques. Painting has limitless possibilities due to the simplicity of the process, there is always a new angle to explore.
What messages or emotions do you hope to convey to your audience
A spirit of perpetual inquiry.
Who are some contemporaries or figures in art history who have influenced you?
Hilma af Klint, Emma Kunz, Niki de Saint Phalle, Leon Kossoff, Alfred Jensen, James Ensor, Jay DeFeo, C. G. Jung, Louise Bourgeois, Paul Klee, Dorothy Iannone, Allison Schulnik, Anselm Kiefer... In a nutshell. I also appreciate art that is dissimilar to my own, and benefit by seeing other approaches to artmaking, particularly painting.
How does your background in medicine influence your practice?
I get the best of both worlds. It was an ethical choice for me to expand my life experience outside of the art world and study nursing. As the influence of money has continued to define the contemporary art experience, I began to feel increasingly uneasy with the values being emphasized. I volunteered as an inpatient art instructor at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and it made a profound impact on me. I had no math or science background before, having studied fine art, but I found that the intensive academic preparation and life science education opened up a new world of creative possibilities for me. It really expanded my approach to creating a unique visual language.
I get to bring new people into the world as a Neonatal Intensive Care RN, and often save their little fragile lives. Although it is an extremely stressful job, I do think that the sound of an infant’s first cry is the purest, most beautiful sound in the world. Working in medicine has made me a better overall person, much more humble and well-rounded. It has also emphasized to me how much the spirit benefits from culture and beauty and how that directly affects the body and holistic well-being.
What influence does modern culture have on your work?
All culture is a loop of humanity. Modern culture is rarely original, and although we live in a world of rapid changes, human nature is historically very predictable. I try to stick to my ethics and ideals, which can be hard to come by in this culture.
What do you listen to when creating?
I like songwriters... Townes Van Zant, Joni Mitchell, The Grateful Dead and Sixto Rodriguez. I also love a good book on tape, especially good horror or suspense while I’m working. I love Stephen King, because he is the quintessential American horror writer.
What is your relationship with social media?
I see it as a tool with positives and negatives. I’m not on Facebook anymore, but I do have an Instagram account. I use it to keep in touch with artists, see what they are doing and discover new things. While good for connecting like minded creatives, it can be a seductive substitute to real life, creating alienation and loneliness in our society. It’s a bit of a Pandora’s box and we are still adapting.
What influence does living in Los Angeles have on your work?
L.A. has a bizarre energy. There is a perception that Los Angeles is a shallow place due to the entertainment industry, and I think that the artists and intellectuals out here have overcompensated for that perception. This pushes creatives to be more rigorous didactically, prepared to defend their work academically and theoretically.
This can put undue pressure on naescent creativity and create an environment of institutional support for only a narrow sector of the art being made in this city.In turn, the truly rich creative energy is extremely underground here. It takes five years minimum to even start to get a feel for the richness of the art scene out here. I think this is a historic moment of change, and a great time to build a fantastic collection.
What makes you laugh?
Overly complicated artist statements and ZDogg MD
What makes you nervous?
What makes you excited about the future?
My daughter, the next blank canvas and living to be an old lady one day.
About Helen Rebekah Garber
Helen Rebekah Garber's work revolves around ideas of feminist ideology in relation to societal attitudes on nurturing, spirituality, science and medicine.
Helen Rebekah Garber is an artist based in Los Angeles, California. Her work revolves around ideas of feminist ideology in relation to societal attitudes on nurturing, spirituality, science and medicine. Garber addresses relationships between contemporary and ancient practices to create her own aesthetic and visual language system. She uses poetry, symbolic presence and prayer, often relating to her Yemenite Jewish ancestry and education in medicine, to investigate the collective unconscious and our constant state of becoming. Garber’s intricate and cerebral compositions reinterpret imagery from a wealth of sources personal to the artist, including sacred geometry, mathematical symmetry, ancient linguistics and spiritual diagrams. Garber holds a Bachelors of Fine Art from The California Institute of the Arts and has had solo exhibitions throughout New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Mexico City.
B. 1976 Lives and works in Los Angeles, California
2007 Bachelor of Fine Art/ Critical Theory, California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CA
2018 Masters of Nursing Science, Western Governors University, Salt Lake City, Utah
2018 Thaumaturgy, Denk Gallery, LA, CA
2017 The Fecund State, PØST, LA, CA
Myself When Young, Did Eagerly Frequent, Doctor and Saint, and Heard Great Argument, Cypress Llc., Westwood, LA, CA
2016 Solo Presentation, Zona MACO, CDMX, Mexico
2014 Numbers, Gallery Wendi Norris, SF, CA
2012 Spells, Spires and Other Delicate Business, Charlie James Gallery, LA, CA
2019 Doll House, curated by Kristen Calabrese and Joshua Aster, LA, CA Held in Common, 0-0 LA, LA, CA
2018 In This Together: Embracing Diversity, Castelli Art Space, LA, CA
The Airtight Garage, Big Pictures Los Angeles, LA, CA
Sweet Cheeks, Big Pictures Los Angeles, LA, CA
2017 All the Small Things, Steve Turner Gallery, LA, CA
The Twenty by Sixteen Biennial, Morgan Lehman Gallery, NYC, NY
FOG Art Fair, Edward Cella Gallery, SF, CA
Twenty by Sixteen Biennial, Morgan Lehman Gallery, NYC, NY
2015 Group Hang, Gallery Wendi Norris, SF, CA
2013 The Familiar Unfamiliar, Wonder Valley, CA
Forms of Abstraction, The Irvine Fine Arts Center, Irvine, CA
Paradox Maintenance Technicians, The Torrance Art Museum, Torrance, California
2010-12 Incognito, Santa Monica Museum of Art, LA, CA
2008 Land of Retinal Delights, Laguna Art Museum. Laguna, CA
SELECTED PRESS & REVIEWS
2018 Full Blede “The Parapraxis.” Bauman, Sacha. October 2018: Issue six. Los Angeles Times, “Where to Find Fantastic Beasts?” Pagel, David. April 17, 2018
2017 Gallery Magazine, “Helen Rebekah Garber, Wendell Gladstone and Judith Linhares” Pagel, David. December, 2017 Wall Street International Magazine, “Helen Rebekah Garber”, November 28, 2017
2016 Vice: The Creators Project, “From Abstract Icons to Metaphysical Glyphs: City of the Seekers”. Laden, Tanja J., November 23, 2016
2015 Los Angeles Times, “Mark Grotjahn at Blum & Poe: A surfeit of inspirations”. Pagel, David, June 14, 2015 South Bay Contemporary, “Abstract Visions: Information Mapping from Mystic Diagrams to Data Visualizations”. McDermott, James. California
For full CV please contact Tappan
Q. Describe your work in three words:
A. Spiritual Codexes of Elasticity... I snuck in a preposition there.