Hastings artist Rebecca Youssefi

Rebecca Youssefi with her painting The Day (Photo by Ben Hamilton)

Rebecca Youssefi with her painting The Day (Photo by Ben Hamilton) - Credit: Archant

Rebecca Youssefi uses meditation, performance and oil paint to explore universal themes

Meteor Shower Over The Human Race by Rebecca Youssefi, from the Major Arcana series, 2017, oil, spra

Meteor Shower Over The Human Race by Rebecca Youssefi, from the Major Arcana series, 2017, oil, spray paint and metal leaf on canvas © 2015 Tim Nathan - Credit: Archant

With its bright colours, acrobatic subject and personal origins, Rebecca Youssefi’s painting The Day sums up what has inspired the Hastings artist and what may come in the future. Originally based on a photograph of Rebecca performing aerial acrobatics – a passion she discovered a few years ago, continuing an early love of dance – its golden colour nods towards her current fascination with the sun. And its materials – combining oils and spray paint with metal leaf work – is akin to the methods she followed for six years making her 22-strong series Major Arcana.

Sussex Life first met Rebecca in St Leonards, where she was an assistant to fellow artist Alan Rankle. Now she has her own studio in Hastings. She is one of the featured artists in Alan’s curated show Axis: London Milano 2017 at the new project space Tracce di Vapore at Milan’s Fabbrica Del Vapore, which finishes on Friday 19 January. The 31-year-old is set to return to the same space later this year with her own solo show, combining the 22 Major Arcana paintings with Origin – a performance work created Gabrielle Lewry which she premiered at Source Park, Hastings’ subterranean skate park in September, mixing live sound by Gabrielle with her own aerial acrobatic performance.

Today her main focus is painting and performance, although she did explore photography briefly in 2009 with the series 144. “I was back living with my parents after I graduated with no studio,” she says. “It was me trying to figure out the world.” The two-part photographs showed Rebecca in various guises holding contradictory statements questioning politics and received wisdom. “It wasn’t about taking a political view on something, but looking at both sides,” she says. “It was creating a space where the person looking could contemplate the subject without imposing an idea.”

The photographs were a contrast to Rebecca’s next large project, Major Arcana, which she began when she got her own flat to work in. “I didn’t know I would do the whole Major Arcana [a suit of 22 cards in the 78-card tarot deck] when I began,” she says. Having exhibited the series in London’s Underdog Gallery in 2014, Rebecca repainted 13 of her original images. “It has taken about six years to come to a point where I’m happy with every painting,” she says. “I work very slowly. My ideal situation would be to put the paintings away for six months and go back to them after a break.”

In making the pieces she combined oils with spray paint – “I like the variety of colours available” – and metal leaf which brought circles and hoops out into the foreground of the paintings. “I really love the circle shape,” she says. “It’s partly my fascination with space and planets, and also I feel it represents never-ending cycles.” Having worked under the restrictions of the Major Arcana for the past six years she is now enjoying painting in freedom. “Right now I have a sketchbook filling up with watercolours of the sun and the moon,” she says. “I get many of my ideas from meditation – a lot of my work comes from visions I have. I see the sun a lot when I’m meditating. It is the centre of energy, we rely on the sun to exist. I look at the stars a lot too – there are lots of star paintings. It’s why I love being by the sea. I go up to the East and West Hill cliffs where there’s no light pollution and look out into the sky to see meteor showers.” Having started out with very personal subject matter she wants to make her work more universal. “I’m looking at visual experiences that connect to everyone – birth, life and death. We are only here for a short time on a journey between our ancestors before us and those who come after us.”

When Major Arcana was first exhibited she created a performance with ten other performers reflecting the images in her paintings. Her latest work Origin is closer to her vision of what she now wants to achieve. “It’s about being present in my body, creating and experiencing,” she says. “When I’m performing I can forget all the other things going on in my life and become the energy of what the performance is. I feel like I’m just at the beginning – I’ve got a lot more to develop.”

For more on Rebecca’s work visit her website rebeccayoussefi.com

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