Rebeca Raney’s “RANEYTOWN” is a collection of hundreds of gouache and ink drawings and sculptures. It is also her own world, an ingenious but unaffected rainbow channeled through her childlike imagination directly to the rest of us. As Raney describes it, “The moment I started drawing every day, my practice became about what was in my head. I can always explain what motivated me to make a particular drawing, and that information, when given, can be like sharing secrets.”
We caught up with Rebeca before Basel week, check out our preview here and the full interview below. Also, check out “RANEYTOWN” at Primary Projects Gallery (4141 NE 2nd Ave., Suite 104, Miami) from Dec. 7-9, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. The opening reception will be Thursday, December 6, 7-10 p.m.
You studied painting as an undergrad, and then sculpture as a graduate student. Can you describe the transition from 2D to 3D, and the ways it changed your approach? Were you already thinking of three-dimensional objects as a painting major?
As a painting major, I showed obvious signs that traditional oil on canvas was not going to excite me for long. I started sewing and stuffing canvas and painting those. I started preferring house paint. My process now is very simple: I draw. When I find something in my drawings that I would absolutely love to stand next to, I build it. My drawings are fast and my sculptures are slow, with gravity revealing its ponderous head around every corner. Nothing I make does not wobble.
There was a “Raneytown” before, a couple years ago at Union Gallery — how is this “Raneytown” different?
“RANEYTOWN” is the name of my imagined world which keeps developing. In the original show I focused on drawing. The show at Primary Projects is my most ambitious, specifically because I created a three-dimensional population.
You worked as a nanny in New York. I did, too, and remember how wonderful it was to spend the workday seeing life through a kid’s eyes. Was this inspiring to you?
Spending time with children is inspiring because of their unique kid logic. They figure out things in really quirky, thoughtful, and innovative ways. Another thing about working as a nanny is that it’s a big honor to be invited into someone else’s family. I think of my drawings and sculptures as being part of a family.
In contrast to the last question, the childlike, cute quality of your work is obvious. But it’s not naive or innocent. You’ve said before that “cute” is a very powerful force. Can you discuss the mature nature of your work, and the concept of “cute” as very strong?
I think that it’s no coincidence that “cute” is a powerful economic force. I think that it’s attractive and because of that alone it can be very compelling. It’s important for me to draw forms that feel good. The subjects I draw are thinking and so they can be very simply drawn, but they aren’t vacuous.
As an addendum to the last question, it’s not like we can play with the structures — they’re still very much art pieces, very adult. Would you ever want to make a world that was interactive and touchable?
I like this question because technically, the art pieces are interactive. Naturally, there is the inclination to take exquisite care of the sculptures once they leave my studio. Still, I always hope that the works will end up belonging to someone who loves them. They are terribly lovable and the guys at Primary Projects who are very cool and serious can’t stop hugging them. The interns keep hugging them!
Your work seems like a direct extension of you. I guess that’s the case with any artist, but I imagine that your practice is your imagination, personified. You’ve mentioned that you’re a good storyteller, and people tend to like the work more once they know you. Can you say anything about that — the direct relationship between you and your work?
The moment I started drawing every day, my practice became totally about what was in my head. I love telling stories and the drawings I make tend to be emblematic or a fragment of a larger narrative. I can always explain what motivated me to make a particular drawing and that information, when given, can be like sharing secrets.
I want to know a little bit about the narratives of your characters. Where do they come from? The embroidery of the sculptures’ faces makes me think of worry dolls: they’re these cute, embroidered dolls, but their symbolism is powerful. They literally take the worries out of your brain while you sleep. What’s the magic of your characters?
The embroidery is the magic, because that is the work that I pour endless hours into. I think of the embroidery as a kind of thought-bubble-doodle. It took me a while to reconcile that the characters can’t reveal their brains or ideas. Sanrio characters, which I admire, tend to have blank expressions and “empty” skin. I don’t always draw mouths because my work is visual — they don’t actually make sound. They are emotional. The love hours that go into creating the embroidery and the way it creates a tapestry of blemishes makes each face unique.
Has the development of your characters — which I understand are more thinkers than talkers — at all mirrored your own personal growth?
Funny things happen when you develop your practice. For me, I’ve become a better editor. I no longer paint on canvas. I’ve been able to really keep and value what is essential. Regarding personal growth, it makes me work at being a better friend.
I read an interview you did with Bomb. You explained that you were the “good girl” as a kid, as opposed to your sister, the “bad girl,” but that ultimately being a good girl was just kind of a shell to do what you wanted. That got me curious: In what other ways did art help you create this imaginative shell that enabled you to do what you wanted, to express yourself?
Art is my ride. It gets me into places and it helps me meet people and make friends. I make sculptures, which I also consider friends. I’m fortunate to know exactly what makes me happy: drawing, sewing, fashion, and talking to people. The moment I made art my job, work and happiness became seamless. My sister and I now work together on our blog Raneytown, so the “good/ bad” girl thing has kind of been put to rest. I realize now that she simply took more risks. I’ve been in Miami for the past six months getting my show realized, and it is riskier and bigger and the most fun.