The fall issue of Segullah issue will arrive shortly in your mailbox, but we couldn’t resist giving you a preview of the beautiful paintings by Rebecca Wetzel Wagstaff that make this issue a visual feast. I love the way that she uses food and reflective surfaces in her art. Rebecca lives in Tropic, Utah with her husband, artist Clay Wagstaff, and their children. You can find more of her work at Wagstaff Studios. We appreciate the time she took to answer our questions:
How separate are you from your art?
My immediate response is “not at all– there is no division– where would I even draw the line? For me, painting is work I do, but I never think of it as a “job” or as a “career.” It’s something I need to do, and I love to do, and it’s like the natural, obvious work that belongs to me. At the same time, it is curious as I think about it, that I’ve never had a problem parting with most of my paintings, even my favorites, it’s not like they’re my babies. I think it must be because the most important part for me is the actual process of making the paintings.
Considering that, I now have to ask myself why I am not currently painting. In fact, I have painted very little since August 2008 when my 14-year-old daughter, Hannah, died in an accident. The only significant work I have completed since then is a painting for the Church International Art Competition show that hung in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City for six months this past year. It is a painting of Hannah as an infant wearing the heirloom gown in which she was blessed; a painting I actually had in mind to paint for several years, but finally felt compelled to paint it for the show.
I’ve been trying to figure out why I can’t get out in my studio and paint– I want to, and feel I need to. I stay busy all day long but seem to get things done in slow motion these days, and some things, like painting, don’t get done at all. Somehow, I’m feeling that just this new awareness that painting is not separate from me is going to help me bridge the gap that’s developed. So thank you for the question.
How has your faith shaped your art?
I feel like you could just as well ask how it has not shaped my art. My faith is so embedded in my very being, that, like my art, I don’t know how to separate it from “me.” My faith is a dominant influence in everything I do, including painting. Viewers often recognize that my paintings contain certain symbolic elements, but I never think, as I’m preparing to paint, “I want to portray this certain thing, so I’m going to use these symbols.” Occasionally someone will want me to explain the symbolism of a certain painting. I always feel uncomfortable talking about a specific painting and what it “means.” I think it’s because as I’m creating paintings, I don’t approach the process analytically with a clearly defined message– nothing wrong with that approach, of course, it’s just not how I do it. Rather I “feel” my way through the process of making the painting and the end result is truly a non-verbal expression of my ideas. Consequently, there are others who can explain my paintings better with language than I can!
What are you trying to do to people with your art?
Not a thing. This question made me smile, again, because the question had not entered my mind before, and I’m glad you asked it. The answer is a little like a revelation to me. The truth is I’m not aware of any kind of agenda in mind as I paint, or much concern with how my painting might be perceived by others. It’s all between me and the painting as I work. I certainly hope my painting can have an influence for good in the world, but truthfully that is not what motivates me to paint.