Elizabeth "Fairy" Rathbone -- 'Untitled Work in Progress'
A few months ago, during one of those midnight pop-up hotel parties in New York City -- wherein some spoiled, rich kid rents a huge suite or private venue, I stumbled across a young woman sitting quietly in a corner in the midst of chaos. I was immediately attracted to her magenta-lavender aura as well as her fairyesque style and charming demeanor. I don't know what made me actually start talking to her, but all I now remember is her self-affirming introduction, "My name is Elizabeth and I am an artist." There was something about this declaration, I am an artist, especially coming out the mouth of this sweet girl with a Southern accent/drawl truly peaked my interest. Her declaration was followed by a brief show-and-tell of her work and I've been hooked ever since.
Elizabeth F. Rathbone is her name and the "F," I was later informed, stands for Faures (her grandmother's family name). However, in my mind the "F" will forever be the abbreviation for "fairy." The Southern drawl actually comes from the small town Clinton, Louisiana where Elizabeth honed her fairy skills as well as used her imagination to begin painting at a very young age. She further explored and perfected her craft as an art major while receiving her BFA at Ole Miss (not until this very moment have I ever uttered or typed the words Ole Miss -- but I digress.)
Fast forward a few years, and not only is she now the reigning Fairy-In-Residence in the booming and thriving art scene of Bushwick, New York, she is also receiving requests for commissions from real, live royalty -- Prince Albert and Princess Charlene of Monaco as well as Prince Brad and Princess Angelina of Hollywood have all become huge fans of her work. So you see, this young lady is not simply a fairy painting unicorns and rainbows -- she is a serious, talented and thought-provoking artist, toiling away in an art world that by its very nature, has marginalized young women just like Ms. Rathbone for far too long. Therefore as part of my Women in Art series, please allow me to introduce you all to Miss Elizabeth F. Rathbone:
1. When was the first time you consciously realized you wanted to live as an artist?
There was never a first time -- I have been creating art since I was a young child, and just simply haven't stopped. Because I create art, I live as an artist.
2. I know that as an artist your work is constantly evolving and morphing -- how would you describe this era of your work?
I am actually in between two eras right now. The era I have been in, and currently still am in to some degree, is that of a multi-dimensional, figurative dualism and emotionally expressive era. It is called Internal Conflict and displays the energetic and physical dimensions. The era I am currently breaking into is one of a darker, more imaginary era.
I am drawing inspiration from mythical fairytales, but retelling them in a darker, more adult context. I love anything and everything fantastical and magical, so I am excited to enter that world through my art.
I am also breaking into some street art right now, exploring what messages I want to portray publicly. It seems to be a good route for my activism passion. I have been working on a "I am Bradley Manning" mural, but am now changing it to "Pardon Chelsea Manning," which I am totally excited and passionate about.
3. How did a sweet girl from the south end up in the rough and tumble streets of Bushwick, Brooklyn?
Ahhh. I'm not that sweet... I knew I wanted to move to New York for the art scene, and I knew I wanted to live and work in my studio. I wasn't concerned with location, just space. So when I found the perfect studio, it just happened to be in Bushwick. I have come to love the rough and tumble here. It is real, raw and funky. I totally dig it.
4. How would you say your art has changed or evolved since moving to New York?
I think moving anywhere new, you always have an initial period of self-reflection. So, my work's evolution since moving to New York has more to do with introspective time than it has to do with the New York style changing me. I've been doing some personal shadow work since moving here, which is why you'll see some of my future work going in a darker direction. I have however been thoroughly inspired by the street art scene. It is fun, wild and free -- and I love freedom. I still feel like I have just scratched the surface of New York. New York has such an amazing range of art, it is interesting to see how far people take it. The creativity here is amazing.
5. What artists have inspired you, or influenced your work the most?
I have been inspired by various types of artists and art forms. Being from Louisiana, I was influenced growing up by the expressive and colorful jazz paintings in the streets of New Orleans. Then I went to school in Mississippi, and the blues musicians there inspired my soul to express itself more deeply. I was influenced by Oscar Kokoshka's and Joan Mitchell's brushstrokes during my extremely expressive stage. I've studied Jenny Seville's and Lucian Freud's application of paint in skin tones for my figurative work. I also just went to a visionary art workshop lead by Alex Grey a couple of weeks ago. That is where I really got inspired to dig through my imagination for subject matter. Interestingly enough though, all kinds of different musical styles inspire me the most.
Internal Chaos -- Artist's self-portrait series
6. Much of your work to-date is based on self-portraits, can you explain why?
The majority of my work is not self-portraits, but because they are usually the most intense, they seem to stand out the most. When you paint a self-portrait, you are expressing yourself on the deepest level. I actually cringe at the thought of painting self-portraits, which is also why I do them. It is the most self-exposing and vulnerable subject matter an artist can share. I painted a series of five of them when I was blocked regarding what I wanted to express, and they helped me break that block. That was over two years ago, and now I am painting my first self-portrait since then to break way for a new era. Self portraits are extremely scary, but perfect for digging within to find out what you truly want to express in any given moment.
7. As a painter, can you explain what it feels like when you stand in front of a blank canvas?
It is exciting, exhilarating and nerve-racking! I feel a huge build up of creative energy that is about to release. It is intense, but fun and freeing. It is actually one of my favorite parts of the painting process because there are no expectations, restraints or accidents. It is simply movement and expression.
8. Can you explain your particular and unique style of painting?
I paint in a very broad range of styles -- from abstract expressionism to realism. I think my most interesting style of painting came through in my Internal Conflict paintings. In these, I combined my expressive style with a streak of realism going through. Expressive brushstrokes display an abstract, emotional, and spiritual dimension, while realism offers you a description of the physical and material world. Since both dimensions exist, I wanted to display them in one painting. This way, I can portray what is happening on an internal and external level.
FivePointz Mural of Bradley "Chelsea" Manning
9. How does a fine arts painter find herself now contributing to the iconic FivePointz street art genre?
I wouldn't strictly categorize myself as a fine arts painter. I am just a painter, who happens to paint paintings that can be considered fine art. I am truly inspired by the street art genre, and as a lifelong painter, I am going to paint in every different avenue that I find inspiring. Street art is totally cool, and totally different from the fine art you see in galleries. There are no rules to be followed... actually, it seems rules in street art are made to be broken. It is simply self-expression free for the public to see. I wanted to paint a mural of Bradley Manning in support "him," free speech and peace. Since starting it, Bradley has come out as a female, preferring to be called Chelsea Manning. I am changing her into Chelsea this weekend. I am more than happy and honored to show this hero respect and love.
10. I know for a fact you are starting to garner the attention of a great number of prestigious art collectors, celebrities as well as important gallery owners -- do you find this attention daunting or do you welcome it?
Haha... This question gives me nervous laughter, which means the answer is both. I welcome the art collectors completely, because their support and business enable me the means to expand my art and live my life in a way that nurtures my creative expression, I am a bit more hesitant when it comes to galleries. I know there are a lot of negative aspects and questionable intentions when it comes to the art world, so I refuse to choose a gallery until I feel absolutely sure and safe within its energy, people and intentions. Overall though, I am beyond excited to enter into the next stage of my career.
11. One collector in particular that fell in love with your work is the renowned Australian based collector, Stephen Pelligrino. How did you convince this posh collector to come to your studio in Bushwick?
There really wasn't much convincing. I met him and showed him my work; before I knew it he was a collector. After seeing his interest, I could tell he had a passion for art, so I invited him and his lovely girlfriend to check out my studio while they were in the city. They came the very next day. It all seemed very natural when it happened, but rethinking the story, that was very cool!
12. If you could have a work commissioned by anyone living or dead who would it be and why?
I would have to go with the greatest artist/mind I have ever studied: Leonardo da Vinci. His mind and spirit have always fascinated me, and if I could have the honor of knowing that a mind that great wanted a piece of my art -- well, nothing is better than having the appreciation of a great mind.
13. Wine or spirits? And why?
(Nervous laughter again) I just stopped drinking alcohol about a month ago! My favorite drink of the moment is Kombucha.
Studio Visit with Elizabeth Rathbone, Bushwick, New York
photos courtesy of elizabethrathboneart.com