14. Rebecca Nie Interview

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1. Do you want to say a little bit about yourself and where people can find your work?

My friends call me Rebex, and my art explores the spiritual and natural world. It creates visual dialogs of dynamism between realism and abstraction and explores the self and universe. When creating, I open myself up to let go of the analytical thinking and the narratives of my life to simply and truly be with the colors. I let go of my limited self to let the lines and colors flow from a mystical space in my being and know that it is the space through which we are all connected. I want my work to transcend cultural baggage and to go beyond the backstories. My works have been collected in the US, Canada, and Asia, and I invite you all to check out my work at my website, http://rebexart.com/. You may also find my work on Patreon, Tumblr, Facebook, and Pinterest.

2. So the first question I like to ask everyone is quite simply, what’s your dream?

Wow. Where do I start? Well, let me answer it as honestly as possible. The ultimate dream I have is that we all live in a world where nobody relies on external sources to validate their ways of being, and where everybody is fully at peace with him or herself. I dream that we can all live in a world where strangers won’t hold prejudice against each other because of age, gender, skin color, country of origin, or sexual orientation. In this ideal world, our motivations stay true to our inner spark, and nobody is negatively judged for being kind.

This dream is grand, and I know that we likely won’t achieve it within a few generations. So the dream of my lifetime is simply to do whatever I can to move myself and those I interact with a little bit closer to the way I dream the world to be. Creating art is a part of this dream, as I strive for my art to bring forward something fundamental and pure within me, and to touch something fundamental and pure within the viewers.

3. How can I/we help you achieve that dream?

Thank you for asking, and there are many ways you can help. First of all, you are already helping if you agree with me that this dream is worthwhile. You may do more by staying true to yourselves, and by cultivating the way you live you life so that at least you and I can strive to live a wholesome life.

In addition to the above, you may also tell your family and friends about this dream and share my artwork with them.


4. Ok, so going right back in time to when you first starting learning to paint; you’ve mentioned that your mother taught you many things, but painting was one thing you had another teacher for. What sort of an effect do you think this had on how you interacted with painting? Do you think learning to paint as something away from the home contributed to your interest in it?

I suppose in a way this sets up painting as an activity that I associate with public life since the beginning, and it also has an impact on the sense of validation. As a child, I was obsessed with validation from my mother, and, in her words, my mother was learning art along with me. In this way, having another teacher gave me a sense of confidence and independence in my work from early on.

An additional advantage was that I received a tremendous amount of encouragement in art from my mother. As encouragement is rare in the parenting style of any Asian parents in the 80s in almost every other areas, my interests and competence in art quickly grew during the early years.

5. You’ve cited Chinese cultural traditions as a big inspiration for your artwork, but teaching and studying physics sounds like it is also a very big part of your life. When you paint, do you find that there is any interaction between those traditional themes and perhaps more scientific themes? How do you think it affects your appreciation of the objects you paint?

In general, I refrain from compartmentalizing different areas of my background, and this is particularly true during the creative process. I understand that many people perceive science and Chinese cultural traditions, or science and art, as the West versus the East, or as logic versus creativity. There is nothing wrong with this perspective, but it doesn’t speak to me or describe the way I am.

If I were to put words to it, the different traditions and training I have are similar to root systems of plants. A plant’s root may have many different branches going towards different directions, but they are not in conflict with each other. To the contrary, they complement one another, and once within the plant, the nutrients from different root branches become seamlessly intertwined, all for the purpose of nourishing the plant.

The seemingly different areas of my background work like that too. They provide inspirations and perspectives from different directions, and my mind integrates them at a subconscious level to create the unique expression I have for the love of life, nature, and all those around me.

6. In preparing for paintings you use pencil and pen to sketch the pieces, as well as sketching things you see when out and about. In what ways do you think these sketches – which could perhaps be described as bolder and with much sharper definition when contrasted to the brighter and more colourfully varied finished paintings – inform the final artwork? Do you think you allow yourself to be confined by initial sketches, or is there more of a fluidity of expression when transferring them to a more final piece?

Sketches and pencil drawings are very important components of my work in that they help me to develop the idea or the style before the brush hits the canvas, and I use them differently. I sketch to collect ideas and inspirations in a casual manner; I also experiment with patterns and new ideas as well as develop my observational skills and line work with sketches. Many of them don’t directly inform the finished paintings, but sketching is nonetheless an important part of my creative process.

On the other hand, pencil drawings are more closely related to the finished paintings since I usually create a pencil version of the idea before committing it to colorful painting. During the pencil drawing process, I refine and experiment with the composition and build a mental understanding of the delicate ways the subjects interact with each other in forms and shades. However, the final painting is not confined by the pencil drawings as I frequently deviate from them when transferring the idea to color.

7. You certainly sound like you travel a lot and take a lot of inspiration from your surrounding environment – the contrast between tropical China and Canada must have been particularly defined. In what way do you think these changes of climate and landscape feature in the way you compose your paintings? How much do you think the different social environments you have lived in have informed your work?

That’s right. Nature is a constant source of inspiration for me, and the difference between tropical China and Canada has expanded my horizons. Even to this day, I am a true Canuck when it comes to major social values, and China’s impact is much more direct. I actively study classical Chinese brush paintings to get inspirations ranging from line works to composition.

Having moved multiple times among various cultures, I am particularly sensitive to the information filters we inherit from our social traditions. An example of this is red: in the U.S. red is perceived as the color of alarm, mistake, etc., but in China it’s the color of joy and festivity. In fact, this subconscious awareness filter we all have is a topic I’m actively exploring through the juxtaposition of realism and abstraction in my work.

8. You’ve mentioned that you used artwork as a way to overcome the language barrier when you first moved to Canada; how has painting as a method of visual communication informed your work? Do you think this continued on to your current life where the languages of art and physics can sometimes be quite distant?

Your question is spot on, and I still use art as a way to communicate beyond language. In addition to the distant languages of art and physics, I also communicate the language of enlightenment through my artwork.


9. How much do you think you allow the undertaking of your work to be informed by more practical or physical boundaries? Do you start with an overall vision that you try to achieve no matter what, or do you think that the process of painting and the choices and boundaries presented to you informs the final piece more than the original idea?

As for practical boundaries, I suppose choosing to work mainly with acrylic paint on stretched canvas could be one. I like the non-toxic nature of acrylic paint and the fact that canvases are relatively easier to handle and to frame.

A great perk of starting from blank canvases is that the format lends itself to minimal creative constraint and that I get to start from point zero each time. I usually have a vague idea of how I want the final work to look like by the time I start painting. This idea can be just a few colors I want to use for the abstract works, or it can be more defined as in the case of the floral paintings. While painting, I simply paint and kind of “shut-off” the analytical part of my brain, and I’m usually surprised by the final work when it finishes. Fortunately, the surprises have been good more often than not.

10. You mention that you were scolded for using small brushes when you were younger. Are there any other painting habits you have developed you would like to outgrow – are there any that you are happy to have stuck around? Have you developed any new painting habits recently?

I did have several painting habits that I, fortunately, outgrew. Looking back, I am grateful that I have those habits to outgrow since it is through overcoming them that I have developed my style. I am certain that there are ways of painting I have now that I will eventually outgrow in a few years.

Now I try not to develop habits anymore because habits suggest behavioral patterns that I compulsively follow regardless of the context. Instead, I am constantly developing new techniques that I turn on and off depending on the project. A technique I have developed recently is to use a heavy body medium to build a texture layer in one color. After the first layer completely dries, I use a very dry brush to speed paint another layer of a different color on top. This technique creates a nice richness of the texture.

11. Transition seems to be a big theme in your paintings and in your world-view, which is suited to your common topics of nature and the environment. Have you ever experimented with trying to portray more urban, man-made environments and the (perhaps incorrect) assumptions of permanence they assume?

Well, I enjoy urban and man-made environments and find many masterpieces in architecture refreshingly inspiring, but for whatever reasons, directly depicting them has never given me quite the same creative kick as working on natural subjects. That said, perhaps it will come to me one day as my work and experience grow.

12. Your paintings mostly seem to be rooted in the physical depiction of things, but in the pieces you composed with the banyan tree, you’ve designed quite abstract symbols. Is this something you’ve explored in other pieces, and do you find that it’s a different creative process to design these more abstract elements?

I enjoyed creating the abstract symbols as in the banyan tree, and I have a notebook full of them. The design phase of these symbols can be seen as more precise and even more mechanical, but working on them feels very similar to working on the representational pieces. I plan to start working on a few large-scale pieces featuring those symbols and trees in the second half of this year, and they will form the Enchanted Forest Series.


13. Is there any advice you would offer to anyone starting out with a creative online project? Were there any difficulties you faced that you might warn people about?

It is a very exciting day and age for creative projects now, particularly due to the proliferation of the online venues. Nowadays, artists can directly interact with a wide variety of audience in all walks of life, and the enjoyment of art is no longer limited to erudite gallery goers or wealthy collectors. All of this progress is amazing, but we also need to be careful about some areas.

I constantly remind myself that neither exposure through the Internet nor having a lot of followers on social media make me a better artist. Creating more impactful work makes me a better artist, so I make sure to strike a balance between community building and honing my craft.

14. Do you have any other creative projects aside from art? How do you think each of your projects informs one another?

I also enjoy cooking and gardening, and I am cultivating an herb garden this year. I find the time I spend directly interacting with plants very calming, and it informs the recurring nature theme in my paintings. Meanwhile, the herbs from the garden go directly into cooking.

15. What else is going on in your life aside from your painting?

Zen practice is another area of interest, and I have received the formal transmission from Korean Patriarch Venerable Hwasung Yangil in 2013. Although Zen practice is an essential component of my daily life, Zen teaching is slightly on the back burner now. I would like to have more life experience before fully assuming the teaching role of a Zen Master.

16. Have you ever faced any work/creativity balance issues? How do you think it affected your painting? Is there anything you can suggest people do to manage their own work/creativity balance issues?

I constantly have work/creativity balance issues as a self-taught artist, since both my formal education and work experience are in the science and technology sector. I jokingly say that I’ve never had the artist’s block because I’ve never had much time to create art.

While working full time as a developer, I would make sure to reserve time for art. It started as one sketch per day. During the year before switching to art full time, I was committed to spending at least 1 hour per day in art, in addition to the 9 to 10-hour work day. Looking back, I see this period as a great preparation for making the transition from tech to art.

To anyone who is serious about pursuing a creative career, I would recommend a consistent time commitment to the vocation whether it is five-minute or one hour per day.

17. Final question: could you give an inspirational statement, within ten words, to someone who is undertaking their own creative projects?

Don’t reject yourself; let the others do the judging.

I’d like to thank Rebecca for the insight she’s offered into her creative process, and wish her all the best for the future! Please leave your comments and thoughts below, or get in touch with her through her social media, below.

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