Developing from Tags to Tantra: An Interview with Rachel Budde

Budde’s work is exotic, colorful and always fun to look at.

In Interviews Main Article 3 by Eric Morrell 2010-04-06 print

Rachel Budde 'Notions Series' (2007)
Rachel Budde’s paintings are routed in a universal, but personal myth making. They range from the monstrous figures to trickster goddess figures. Budde’s work is deeply influenced by Indian Tantra painting, a traditional form of drawing Buddist figures. Budde’s work is exotic, colorful and always fun to look at. Her work can be seen next at a group show at Sloan Fine Art opening May 19th.

Where are you from and how did you get started?

I’m from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and in 2002 I went to Pratt, I came here to Brooklyn and got my BFA in painting there and then I took a year off and went to India and I studied the miniature technique and the tantra technique in India, and then I came back here and applied to Hunter and I’ve been going here since 2006 and I’m about to do thesis next semester.

Let’s talk about your first work you took seriously and how that developed into where you are now?

Way back when I was in undergrad. I was into figure painting and I got more and more interested in people like Alice Neel, who were doing these very iconic paintings, then I felt like, and not consciously, I was more and more attracted to iconic imagery and I was also kind of interested in graffiti and street art, and that’s like all about the icon, your tag, your name what image you are playing out that represents you and so I started getting into that and different kinds of technique.

You kind of got big at the street art thing for a second.

I grew up in Milwaukee my first expose to art was through my dad’s friends who were interested in car culture. They were painting on the side of vans and doing pin striping. One of the first art books I ever got was my dad’s copy of Frank Frazetta, do you know his work?

No.

You’d probably recognize it on the side of a van, kind of mythological very dramatic and like huge tits and robots and like aliens just really cool, and actually beautifully painted he was like an awesome draftsman. I was in art school thinking about accessibility and the street art seemed like a good answer to that, ‘oh I can just put art on the street,’ but then it got complicated because, well that’s a whole other talk. I think it’s interesting, but I don’t. I wanted to explore the lexicon of my images a little bit more seriously and I felt for street art everything has to be reduced so much and so I sort of fell out of that. And I looked around and saw people were putting out themselves as brands and that felt unattractive to me. But then India at the end of undergrad, maybe that’s when I felt like I was starting to make work that was kind of more reflective to what I wanted to see in the world I wanted to make things that I needed to see. And it’s not like I had resolved anything but it was like I need to go to India I need to learn something, I need to think about the images that are influencing me because then I was looking at tons of Indian miniatures and tankas and tantra painting.

At one point you went from figures to monsters.

Yeah I think that I’m interested in that kind of contradiction. I like the beautiful seductive image that also makes you really uncomfortable. Alice Neel is a perfect example of that, even Lucian Freud like I loved him when I was figure painting, it’s always this nasty kind of aspect to otherwise beautiful kind of luscious…

But we are also talking about decapitated heads, lots of limbs or…

Yeah I think that comes back to a lot of images, like big daddy Roth, like rat fink , its ahhh! like crazy rats with bones and sculls. I think that’s pop culture, it’s a way to deal with the inevitability of death [laughing]. You know punk rock because that’s another thing, that’s a huge visual – the punk rock scene. I think that I’m really interested in mythology and Joseph Campbell and everything. And I think that’s a direct, because we don’t have other rituals we don’t have myths in our lives it has to manifest somewhere. So maybe it’s sub culture. But yeah I’m still interested in that imagery.

So that’s what developed into your work now.

Yeah that’s part of it. Even the trickster grin in these images is something that might be joyful on one hand and something that is sinister on the other and off putting, really paradoxical.
Rachel Budde 'Untitled' (2010)

Let’s talk about this work.[Untitled]

I’ve been interested in iconic image. This archetype I’ve been working with, which is this goddess form, that is not necessarily something that is a body but is an image that is used as a window into something else and it goes from some recognizable forms to maybe more abstract and geometric forms. So just like that piece over there with the smile and the boobs and the triangle, I’ve been thinking a lot about how iconic, specifically religious iconic imagery functions, how it works with the viewer. It immediately confronts the viewer. And then you either identify with the figure, like you know Jesus, mother Mary, Genesh, whatever. Or there is the symbolic iconic identification which is like the cross or a yantra or something like that. So on one hand you’re like dealing with the idea of transcendence through the body and then on the other you’re dealing with transcendence through this like abstraction and it’s actually a problem of painting is like how you transform this thing that’s flat into space and how it stays. For me because I paint with gouache it’s super flat but I’m also trying to make some kind of spatial like looking up at the stars with this very flat medium.


Where did the op-art quality come in?

I think it’s a great visual metaphor, like you put these two colors together in this pattern and they vibrate. Like negative / positive space, that is the perfect visual metaphor for so many of the things that are in the world like trying to dissolve duality which is like this huge idea like east / west, male / female.

Plus little kids when they go to the Met or any museum, the kids are responding to that effect, ‘oh my god! It’s totally moving around!’ It’s kind of cool. It responds to people who don’t need to know anything about the history of art but yeah I think it’s a visual effect it and when used correctly it can evoke motion or things.

Rachel Budde- 'Cosmic Snap 2' (2010)
Lets talk about this break dancing piece [Cosmic Snap 2].

A bunch of my friends in Wisconsin are break dancers and I’ve been having these really crazy dreams lately about doing dances in public spaces. To the point where I’m dancing so hard, I’m lifting myself in the air and there is this certain ecstasy in the dance. I wanted to put this figure into like break dancing moves and then give her a little bit of bling. I’ve been thinking a lot about the symbols of masculinity and then also symbols of femininity how they are so fragile, so the bling changed at one point to these totally desirable object. And also they are the six tallest buildings in the world [laughing]

This new work is all women.

I feel like this is a way for me to do something for myself because I grew up Roman Catholic, where God is always male. I felt like a real alienation from that, so this feels natural to make these woman. I mean I have cocks every once and there are many phalluses forms. Maybe eventually I’ll move into males but now I’m not so interested in that. I’ve been really getting into the Venus of Willandorf revisiting these ancient sculptures.

So are these fertility images? Should you buy a Rachel Budde and hang it in your bedroom if you’re trying to get pregnant?

You could, sure. I think fertility is not a one dimensional idea. If you want to grow or you want to get pregnant or if you want to just be more fertile in the world. I was just thinking about when I was making those street art images and that icon that I was painting. It was black and white ink.

Sort of like Betty Boop.

That’s the one I was doing first and then I went to another, actually the head almost looks like a penis, I didn’t even realize that at the time. But that was black and white ink with linear hair, but until last week I didn’t even think I had been interested in that icon artistic trajectory, I was thinking that it did have to do with graffiti or something but I think it goes deeper than that. Maybe it’s that personal archetype because I don’t subscribe to one mythology I have to create my own. I think a lot of people do that one way or another.

Eric Morrell

Eric Morrell. Eric Morrell resides in Brooklyn, Ny. He has a bachelors in painting and a worldly degree in film and television. "Wouldn't it be great if all things were as cheap as a gallery visit," Morrell says while scarfing down coffee at a local Jiffy Lube. If you want more of Morrell, go visit his altar ego Mr. Alligator » See other writings

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