In the most fortuitous of natural developments, Rebekah Potter's height sealed her fate as an artist. "I wanted to be a horsejockey," the 31-year-old woman says. "But I grew too tall."
Lucky for Jackson, the 5'4" artist hasn't lost too much sleep over her lost dreams. These days, she's more interested in painting horses than riding them.
Potter's inventive works can be found every Saturday at the Greater Belhaven Market or at Pearl River Glass Studio, but her journey home to Jackson has been a long one. After brief sojourns in cities from Savannah, Ga. and Tucson, Ariz. (both cities in which she studied art as an undergraduate) to Osaka, Japan, Potter found herself in Los Angeles, homeless and teaching yoga.
Potter tried to maintain her art, but with no stable space to create, her work suffered. Then, a friend sent her lots of cardboard when she was in Los Angeles, and she began crafting the first strand of what would later become her signature "bloks."
"They sold, and I was like, 'Oh my God!' I hadn't had a break in forever," she says.
Anxious to slow her life down a bit and get back to her passion for art, Potter moved back to Jackson in the spring. "My art totally got neglected for a while," she says, "but it's time to do it now."
These days, she has the bloks more perfected. After sanding down the wood, Potter draws an image in pencil, then in ink. After the drawing is finalized, she paints on the wood, then stamps a word, letter by letter, onto the bottom of the block. As a final step, she covers the block in resin to preserve the image.
"They take a while because of all the littleness," she says, laughing.
Creating the bloks allows Potter to fuse several of her interests together. They illuminate the monotonies of every day, making them more poetic than commonplace. By adding words at the bottom, Potter adds a fresh vision on items that viewers' eyes might normally skim over. Because Potter has always loved words, it also gives her a chance to use some of her writing talents, too. The bloks also allow synthesis between client and artist.
She says: "With the bloks, I can collaborate with a client. There's a formula where we'll both be happy. They get to pick something, but I still get free reign."
Collaboration is something Potter thrives on. The house she shares with her boyfriend is peppered with projects they've built together. She'll begin a project, leave it in the living room and later find that he has come in and added his own touch. The two also collaborate on handmade books. He writes children stories, and she illustrates them.
Though the bloks have become Potter's signature sale at places like the Belhaven Market and Fondren ARTMixes, Potter's portfolio extends way beyond the quirky bloks.
"When people think about my Art, with a capital A, I don't want them to think about these. They're my quirky design project. I do want them all to be individual—clean but quirky," she says. Still, Potter wants to market her larger pieces, too.
Potter's works take recycling to a new level. Potter refuses to see things as trash; rather, she utilizes even the most mundane items to create great pieces. She and her boyfriend are saving up the packaging from their six-packs of beer to create an as-yet-unimagined project, and her bloks are all painted on wood packaging that she salvages from her day job at Pearl River Glass Studio.
Her larger pieces are all mixed media: fusing objects together in a poetic juxtaposition. While in school at Arizona State, Potter concentrated on painting. After finding the works of Robert Rauschenberg—a master of found art and mixed media—Potter began adapting her own style.
"It just clicked for me," she says. She began attaching outside paper to her canvases and painting over them. Now, her mixed medias even include thread—she sews canvases together to achieve a more unique look. This use of thread came from a desire to sew her life together.
"I tend to collage images in my brain as I see them," she says.
Her early love of horses reappears in her work often, too. The power she felt riding on a "running, sweaty mass of flesh" is a charged feeling she wants to recreate in art.
Potter's works do possess a strong technical precision, but she combines these elements in a way that pushes the viewer. In "Unraveled," a bird stands defiantly on a red building dotted with 32 black windows, as a bright blue sky backs them both. Other images—swirled lines and colored paint, an old-fashioned street light and pieces of recycled paper—merge with the sky to form a collage that is both cohesive and challenging.
Other pieces stretch out without borders. The sides spout off at their own will, jutting at unlikely angles and swerving into hip-like curves. Potter uses her canvases—scrap wood or paper sewn together—as pieces of art themselves.
She says, "I'd rather have people not like my work but get a sense of exploration."
Her own exploration is important, too. The most important element of art to her is anti-stagnation. She pushes herself to keep creating new styles and pieces. Recently, she chopped old paintings into several smaller squares, producing new pieces by destruction.
Though ultimately she wants to be creating and revising all of the time, she adds, "You can't always be going through something, and when you're not, you paint bloks."
Potter relies on her intuition—her "whatever-the-hell my gut says"—to drive her creations. She watches people and animals, seeking out gestures, body movements, the "words in between words" and characters to transform into art. She explains, "If you can look at people like characters, you can quit hating people."
To allow her art to really have this impact, this positive change, Potter focuses on what she calls "superhardcore marketing."
"It's all about spreading the word," she says. Most of her customers are repeat customers, but she has been on a traveling spree lately, marketing her work in quirkier galleries across the country.
She's also taking some of her passion and translating it into changes for the Jackson art community. She wants to unite Jackson artists in a community that promotes good studio and gallery space, critiques and feedback and suggestions about the Jackson art scene in general.
She also wants to use this interaction to create more public community arts efforts. One idea she has is to get the art community together to create public art for JaTran bus stops. She also hopes to bridge the community with designers, architects and decorators.
Thank Jackson for such a unique and fun artist! I am so happy to have met Reb, as well as to "commission" a collaborative piece with her. If you know Reb, then you know that her art is very much like the artist: perky, clever, and pleasing to the eye. Yeah!
rebekah's got a web site coming in january-- rpotterdesigns.com i think will be the url. and she's a part of the Collective v.2 that's debuting near the end of january. watch this woman. she's about to rock the city.
I talked to her via email recently, and she is sooooooooooooo cool. Can't wait to see what's in store next month.