Rebekah Rubalcava on Art, Surrender and Her Dreamscapes

by Rubén Palma
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Rebekah Rubalcava (b.1996), is a self taught oil painter. Personally cathartic her art is steeped in her subconscious dream world, her work gently divulges secrets of personal symbolism, intrusive thoughts, romanticized experiences and highly emotional narratives. Rebekah’s compositions feel delicate, dreamy and theatrical, at times disconcerting and ominous, hinting at a greater narrative that extends beyond the canvas.

Hi Rebekah. Thank you for sitting down with me. First question that I always ask. How does a regular day look like for you in Arizona?

It’s a pleasure, thank you for having me. Honestly? I have no clue but it usually involves a nap at some point.

Alright, so I know you taught yourself how to paint. Who were your inspirations ? And when did you know that you wanted to pursue being an artist?

My biggest inspiration is my father. He is a fantastic artist and craftsman and owns his own sign crafting company and I always looked up to him. It was monkey see monkey do and we would paint together often. I always had a natural inclination toward creating and ever since I could hold a pen or pencil I was marking whatever surface I could!

What really made me pursue art was when I was in middle school I wanted to be a fashion designer or work in movies. So I would just carry a sketchbook around obsessively and just draw what was in my mind all day and night until I passed out. I went to a charter high school for art and I just explored every artistic outlet that I was drawn toward and the one that stuck was visual art. I just loved putting what I felt on paper. Writing was a close second as I’ve always been better at writing my thoughts out than I have been with speaking.

Has coming from a religious background influenced your work?

I’d say yes, I love spiritual symbolism. I love the nature of religion and spirituality and I love that it always feels slightly ominous and daunting considering the teeter and acceptance of life and death. It’s actually how my entire perspective on life is. So I’d say it’s been deeply influential. It’s my entire outlook.

With that in mind. Can you tell me about your use of symbolism??

I love to use personal symbolism in my art, it makes it fun for me. Most of the time I don’t know why I do something, but after awhile in retrospect I realize what it meant at a personal level and it’s very cool. Some of my favorite symbols to use are broken nails, fruits, insects etc. Broken nails kind of coincide with the idea of “the great work”, being imperfect in the human incarnation while striving for ascension and more than the physical. Fruit is really symbolic to me as well, it’s about harvest and abundance as well as indulgence and sexuality. Theres so much to play with when it comes to fruit. I think most of my pieces always have deeper symbolism than they let on, most of the times I don’t realize it til long after the piece is out of my studio.

Can you talk to me a little bit about the dreamlike fairytale world in your paintings. Where or what is that place?

It’s definitely in my head. I love sleeping, and I’ve had intensely vivid dreams and imagination my whole life. So it’s definitely that world I’ve always retreated to in waking life and dream life. It’s also a romanticized version of my childhood and hometown. I grew up in New Mexico and the orchards and farmland were my greatest escape. I would drive everyday through the orchards and I had tons of significant memories and experiences there that I hold onto. A lot of my art and dreams are based there. I imagine myself in the orchards very often. I see dreams as your truest self. It’s the deepest part of you that’s hidden away from the naked eye, and it always frustrated me not being able to really show what was happening in my head other than alchemizing it onto paper or canvas. I usually miss or become nostalgic for the atmospheres and emotions in dreams more so than waking memories because they feel connected to something so achingly deep that I want to just share it with others and live there. I think everyone has that ache.

With that in mind, who are the women / protagonists in your paintings?

I’d say they’re mostly myself. But not myself, I’m just a stand in for everyone’s experiences it’s just my face and body as the vessel.

Going to stay on this topic for a few more questions… The various surreal scenes in your work. Most of them look like they could be from a paused movie or a dream/nightmare. My question is, how do you come up with those scenes?

It definitely comes from that cheesy internal movie or dreamscape most of us come up with in our heads. I dream journal and record a lot of my dreams and internal reflections and I still make up music videos when listening to music and theatrical scenarios in my mind more than conversations, so it comes from that. I’m also very dramatic and love a good theatrical moment and my corniness just needs to express that somewhere where people can either relate to it or make fun of it. It’s all play. And I think life is somewhat performative in that regard and art is the one place you can take an emotion and inflate it or romanticize it to filth without it being seen as weird. It’s all experiences I’ve had that I just made very romanticized and edited. Also I wanted to do storyboarding for film when I was younger and I think that definitely contributed to it.

I’m curious about your creative process. Can you walk me through it, from start to end result, and what you aim to convey.

It’s all very confusing! I’m pretty obsessive and I am constantly thinking of what to paint next or how to better express something. I just have my notes app and dream journals and sketchbooks filled to the brim with scenarios, usually it’s from a personal experience that I want to explore and dissect. A story in my head, Or if I’m feeling something or dreamt something I just debauch the shit out of it. Movies, writing, music and photography really help me Frankenstein composition together. I’ll like a color palette from a picture online and I’ll like a feeling from a dream and a moment from a movie or a line from a song etc and it’ll just come together as a sketch idea then to canvas. Or sometimes just straight to canvas and those are usually my favorite pieces. There’s no streamlined process. Each piece is it’s own thing. I don’t really do anything truly I just let it flow from something outside of myself. There’s never a truly conscious part of creating I just let it happen. The only consistent thing I do is keep canvases prepped and primed and a sketchbook full of terrible scribbles.
It’s no real reason to convey them other than wanting to get it out of myself and have other people to escape and enjoy their internal world and romanticizing life as well. I think world building and creating another little universe is the best part of being alive and I want others to escape into them and create their own narratives and cheesy mind movies too. With AI becoming more and more advanced I always thought it would be cool to explore dreams one day like literally walk into someone else’s recorded astral journey.

What are the main themes / topics in your work? And why are they important for you to document?

I think most of it is about surrender in some form. Whether to circumstances and outer influence or your own doing. Surrendering to anger, passion, desire, comfort, love, devotion, any emotion and of course life and death. It’s that being thrown around by life as well as having control through surrender. And it’s not always as conscious as we make it out to be. Out of body feelings, I’ve always felt deeply detached from reality and wanted to convey that out of control feeling, as well as the deep internal knowing, like floating above yourself and watching yourself living, like a movie or video game. While also grounding and being in a physical body and exploring the world and reality through sensation and senses and experiences. The out of control being in control… The paradox between it all. Like being just born on earth with an old transcending soul. Nostalgic youth and summer time, feeling at home in nature. It’s all personally cathartic and I just have a need to share it and I have no clue why I just know I want my art to be a limbo between dream and reality I never want it to be realistic or too fantastical. It needs to be on the border of both.

I feel like this is a good time to ask this question and a perfect segway for the next one. Can you tell me about how you use themes in your shows?

I like to make each show feel like a movie. Each theme coincides with a lesson, memory or revelation in life that I just came to terms with and I want to sort of make each show look or feel like a dream or movie of that time in life I just faced. It’s fun, and I think people can connect to the themes. Sometimes I just like to play in that realm and want to share it with others. My next solo show focuses on themes about toxic environments, and tumultuous relationships. Knowing when to stay or leave, attachment theory, nature vs nurture etc. It’s fun to play with themes. It can really help me sink into the world I want to build.

Alright, so not long ago you had your debut solo exhibition at Rusha & Co, called “It Hurts to Know”. What’s the story behind that title?

I was going through a hard time and big internal shift and coming to terms with a lot of stuff. It hurt to know that I was the cause of a lot of my own issues as well as accepting that I wasn’t as in control over things as much as I thought I was. The pain of facing reality as it is and most of all yourself.

You mentioned your next solo show before. When is that?

My next solo show is May this year, it’ll be in London at Soho Revue Gallery. I’m very excited about it.

How would you describe a perfect day?

Any day that I can take a nap, paint, write, cuddle my cats and eat a yummy meal with my husband, friends and family is a perfect day.

Alright, these last two questions I always ask at the end of the interview. The first is: What’s your favorite movie(s) and why?

This is the one impossible question. I love way too many. Just watched The Do Over two days in a row (I can watch any Adam Sandler movie on repeat). Currently itching to watch Over the Hedge for the millionth time, but I’d say my favorite recently has been Spun…. (RIP Brittany Murphy)

The second is: What songs do you currently have in rotation?

It depends on my mood entirely. My Spotify is chaotic. But currently;

  • Eminems entire discography.
  • A Horse with No Name by America.
  • Rose In A Glass by ProvokerAre You Still A Lover by Sassy 009.
  • Bad Baby by Neggy Gemmy.
  • Highwayman by The Highwaymen.
  • That’s the Chance I’ll Have to Take by Waylon Jennings Common People by PulpRest by ghost orchard.

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