Under the Radar: Rebecca West Fraser
Years of sculpting, printmaking, and painting at New York’s Alfred University art department fueled a sense of wanderlust in Rebecca West Fraser. So, after graduating last May, the Charleston native celebrated by traveling to France for three weeks. Now, back home in the Lowcountry, Fraser feeds her travel bug by exploring the dream worlds of her collages. “I can create the places that I fantasize about,” she says. “I become the creator of a dream landscape mixed with humans, machinery, animals, and graphic designs.”
Fraser creates an alternate reality in her large-scale paintings and collages, working with the push and pull of contrasting colors, shapes, and composition. Scouring thrift stores for decades-old National Geographic magazines, books, and encyclopedias, she looks for images both visually pleasing and contextually oppositional, or, as she says, “unfamiliar and alluring, something aged and different than our loud, rapid lifestyles.”
Her collage process begins with the simple act of cutting and pasting. Then, she scans images of objects, such as rope and chain, to create a sense of depth. Finally, she edits and maneuvers the pieces digitally and prints the compositions on watercolor paper. Oftentimes, these collages serve as inspirations for her dynamic, layered paintings.
In Viewfinder, bright lines direct focus to three veiled women dressed in vivid stripes, two of whom peer out toward a pair of cameras in the foreground. If combinations like these impart any kind of message, Fraser says, that’s up to the viewer. “Some people think my pieces make political statements, when in reality they’re just journeys through unknown worlds I’ve created,” she explains. “To avoid a specific narrative, I create a flow and balance of equal context and composition. Most of my pieces have an odd juxtaposition of imagery that blurs the surreal nature of reality.”
If it sounds like Fraser knows her way around art-speak, that might be because she was raised around it via two of the city’s art luminaries—her mother is batik artist Mary Edna Fraser and Dad is classical painter West Fraser. But there’s no doubt the younger Fraser’s an original in her own right. One stand-apart signature is how she creates patterns with lines. “I like mixing something unexpected with clean, crisp lines and shapes,” she says. In Play Time, for instance, pastel lines create a tent under which children feed birds. The tent is in turn held in the hands of an upside-down girl while blue fighter planes intersect the two worlds.
Fraser hopes the viewer will join her voyages. “I am able to live something that I will never be able to experience in real life, so I paint it,” she explains. “It’s an imaginary world that I play with until it bears my own imprint and voice, until it becomes something completely different, and ultimately, familiar.”