A California native, Aubrey Rhodes began her full-time painting career in San Francisco. In 2009, an opportunity led her to Melbourne, Australia, where she continues to paint full-time, keeping residence in both Australia and the US.
“I’m fascinated by human motivation and social psychology. I’m convinced that external circumstances influence the construct of an individual’s identity, and I represent these forces in my art in the form of iconic imagery and mutated symbolism.”
Prior to 2019, Rhodes’ work dealt with such challenging issues as child abuse within the Catholic Church to the violent relationship between Hindus and Muslims. Her signature style of figurative painting upon a densely collaged background worked to create a narrative with an open ending, a story that begins and ends with hope for a world built upon human kindness, awareness, independent thought and personal responsibility.
But Rhodes grew restless with adhering to an expected style and explored a new direction in 2019. Rather than collage physical bits of words and photos onto her canvas and then paint over them, as she’d done in the past, Rhodes spent the last three years painting a collaged composition directly onto the canvas, combining different eras and conflicts seamlessly as though all existed on the same time plane. The result is a technique that works to evoke a sense of time repeating itself and heightens the self-reflective nature of the artist’s work.
Aubrey Rhodes graduated from USF in 2005 with an MFA. Before painting full-time, she taught fiction-writing workshops at the University of California, Berkeley. Her work has been featured in a number of newspapers and well-known magazines in both the US and Australia. She has been published in the prestigious New York Studio Visit Magazine three times since 2011, and her painting, “Envy Me,” was chosen as issue 14’s cover-art. A selection of her work is currently on offer from Art Equity Gallery in Sydney, Australia, and The Kenneth Paul Lesko Gallery in Cleveland, Ohio.
Below are some of the artist’s thoughts on the process and origins of her latest painting, “Birds,” which took her 3 years to complete. It is charcoal and acrylic on canvas and measures 2 meters x 3 meters.
The Process of Making Beautiful Horror:
“I didn’t set out with a plan or intention for this painting. It was the opposite, actually. I wanted to evolve beyond the collage work that had become my signature style. The world and my life and circumstances and environmental influences had changed over the years since I finished my last collage series. It was time to get out beyond the comfort of routine and the predicability of practiced process. I was searching for change.
Originally, I’d planned to have this massive canvas (2 meters by 3 meters) in my studio to scribble on when I got frustrated with other paintings. A massive sketch-pad of sorts. But oddly, this thing started emerging. The largest woman on the right came first. I saw her in a photo somewhere; she wasn’t the subject of the image, just a portion, I think, but it was her expression that stuck with me, and for reasons I can’t explain, found its way to my canvas. Her expression spoke to me about privilege and status and class and entitlement and oblivion. The other women came along, one by one, adding to the silent conversation, deepening it.
When the canvas was covered by the women’s portraits, I still felt something was missing, an element I wanted to express but didn’t know how to articulate or even quite what it was I searching for. There was a noisiness to this painting — laughing, screaming, talking, mouths open; emotions have voices — I wanted to bring that forward, the rawness of it, and also express an even more basic animalistic nature that runs through us all. In women, it can be supportive and united, but it can also be competitive and jealous, cruelly gluttonous in the face of another’s suffering, and it’s something that seems ingrained in us. Primal. In our nature.
It was then that I knew I needed an animal element in the painting. The play on the word ‘birds’ came first, a slang term for a woman. But I also liked the noise I sensed in the chaos of flapping wings flying in random directions — creatures that could work in harmony, fly in unison, but also destroy their own. Making them white doves, symbols of love, as well, added another level of beautiful horror to the composition.
I composed my palette around a colour scheme I’ve always loved from a painting I adore: Rothko No. 14, 1960. Of course, I used other colours as well, but it was the orange, the eggplant, and the blue that started it all. I wanted the luminosity of that colour combo, and the blue was important for the symbolism of the ‘Virgin Mary’ that the woman in the head scarf references.
There’s so much more to this painting. I could go on and on, but I don’t like to go too far because I risk alienating the viewer if he or she doesn’t see what I see. I’ll leave it here to say that this painting marks a major change in my painting career. I learned so much throughout this process. My future work will forever be improved because of this journey. It has taken me 3 years to complete. That’s one-third of my daughter’s lifetime right now. Hard to believe.”