Interview with Featured Artist Rebecca Wagstaff

wagstaff1The 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.

wagstaff2Considering 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.

wagstaff3I’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!

wagstaff4What 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.

About Shelah

(Editor-in-Chief) lives in Salt Lake City with her husband and six kids. She has a BA in English Teaching from BYU, an MA in American Culture Studies from Washington University in St. Louis, and an MFA in Creative Writing at BYU. Her work has been published in Dialogue, the Mormon Women Project, Irreantum, BYU Studies, and Segullah. When she’s not writing or wrangling, she can often be found running through the city in the pre-dawn darkness.

17 thoughts on “Interview with Featured Artist Rebecca Wagstaff

  1. Oh, Rebecca. I am so, so sorry about your daughter. It’s not surprising to me that the only significant piece you have completed since Hannah’s death is a painting of her as an infant. My guess is that you may have to do many, many more paintings of Hannah as you work through your grief. God bless you. Your art is magnificent. Thank you for sharing with us.

  2. What beautiful work. I’m so excited to see this new issue of the journal. And please accept my deepest condolences over the passing of your daughter–may God be with you as you walk such a difficult road.

  3. My dad was born and raised in Tropic! You probably know some of my relatives that still live in town. Your art is stunning – thank you for sharing it as well as your pain from your daughter’s death. My best wishes go to you that you may find the strength to paint and create again.

  4. Rebecca- I have to say have been enamored with the watermelon piece since I first saw it. Probably because I love the representation of children’s work in it (I used childrens art as part of my graduate research) You have such a nice tight clean mastery of your medium.

    I am very sorry for your loss. I cannot even begin to comprehend how difficult that would be. I went through a period of 7 miscarriages in 3 years. It was a really hard time, it interrupted my art but then came to a place where it allowed me a way to make beauty and memory out of the struggle. Hoping for peace and clarity in your return to the studio.

    Thank you for sharing your talents and insights into you as an artist. I look forward to getting my issue.

  5. Rebecca- I am so sorry about your daughter. Grief does make a person move in slow motion. May God bless you and your family. Thank you, thank you for sharing your talent with Segullah.

  6. Rebecca– I went to your website searching for the portrait of your daughter in her blessing dress. It doesn’t seem to be there? Where can I find it?

  7. thanks for the link, Michelle. I’d intended to look it up this morning, but my overzealous candymaking experiment got in the way.

  8. My issue came in the mail today, and it’s so beautiful. Thank you for your art. I love the idea that we are not separate from the things we create. And I am so sorry for your loss.

  9. amen to #10. Just opened my new issue and the cover brought tears. I’m so sorry to learn of the grief you have endured, and so grateful for the beautiful art you create.

  10. I don’t have my issue yet, but the art here is simply captivating.

    I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank you for being willing to share.

  11. Rebecca, I was moved by your story and your beautiful paintings. Can’t wait to get the new issue of Segullah. I am so sorry about your daughter’s death and the grief you must be feeling. I hope you find your way back to the studio and that in doing so you find peace and comfort.

  12. Rebecca, I’m stunned at how profound it is that “Passageway” is the one piece you’ve done since your daughter died. You may have known or even intended this–I couldn’t help thinking of how your daughter has now traveled through that passageway in the other direction. In that light, I was struck by this phrase in your write-up: “the orderly nature of the passage and the governing hand of God.”

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