Briefly describe the work you do.
My artwork is about the built environment. I’ve spent a lot of time studying cities; how they are built, why they are built, why they change, etc. I think they reflect social and economic pressures as well as design aesthetics, continually changing, constantly providing new and fresh ideas for my research. I create two-dimensional work that is usually printmaking-based and explores myriad issues of cities. Additionally, I create small cities in a lot of different places – borrowed, forgotten spaces, hidden spaces I reveal, and spaces I create within a gallery setting. My work fuses the “real” environment with the an imagined one. I strive to freeze the viewer in a state of inquiry.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I spent 8 years working for architecture firms in San Francisco. That time and place very much influences the work I do now. I develop what I call “building personalities”, using anthroporphization as a means to convey emotional responses. I also draw a lot upon William Whyte’s (urban planner) ideas about what creates great public spaces and how art can play a role in that creation.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
What I love most about making art is….it feels great! Working with your mind and body in tandem is a very powerful feeling, much like an athlete. I was a very serious athlete well in to my 20’s and see a lot of parallels between the two disciplines. Being in the studio is one of my favorite times – I get to be with just myself and to put to use all of the things I’ve read, seen, experienced and thought about. Activating the creative parts of my brain to create something real and contemporary is my favorite part of the process of artmaking. I believe art to have an underlying goal of improving the world and making it a better place – that idea really keeps me going when I get discouraged.
Humans are social creatures, so I balance my studio time with more socially outward activities. I meet monthly with a group of artists whose mission it is to improve the arts in the city in which we live (Madison, WI). I also started something called the Little Galleries. They are miniature galleries that sit at the sidewalk. We do 6-7 shows in each gallery a year and have two up and running. It’s a fun, interesting, constantly changing project, and I collaborate with two other artists to build and run them. I also get to meet a lot of terrific artists to show in the spaces. And most importantly it is using art to improve the world and make it a better place.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I’d always wanted to do something art-related in my yard or in my home, and it all just seemed to come together with the Little Galleries. I think of the project as being public art and as a way for people that don’t seek out art to discover work that is of a smaller scale and not weather-proof (as is typical to a lot of public art). I’ve still been surprised at how many people we’ve been able to reach that don’t visit museums, galleries or art events. Most find the work approachable and are comfortable asking questions and expanding their definition of art. In ways, the project is very much about building community and neighborhood and getting to know people, as much as it is as promoting art as a valuable part in creating a vibrant place.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
I prefer to work 9-5, but lots of other things often get in the way. I do get some large chunks of time, but I also steal away any time I can get. Because my studio is now at home I can slip downstairs for as little as 15-30 minutes and get a little work done….but the small bits of time also means my studio is usually pretty messy!
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
I strive to fuse drawing, photography and printmaking to engage with the viewer as an object and/or an experience. This idea drives most of the work I make. I think with each passing year my improves. I more art you make, the better you get making it. I have distilled my goals for pieces to be more simple. I’m often simply trying to capture a certain emotion/time/experience using the vocabulary I’ve developed over years. For example, I had a serious concussion last year and in response I created a chaotic environment and blanketed a veil of quiet over it. There was a lot of tension and balance in the piece.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
My sister used to watch Fraggle Rock and I would sneak in and watch it with her. I recently started re-watching it and re-discovered the Dozers, the little guys that build structures in the middle of Fraggle Rock. Their structures are also a food source for the Fraggles. The Dozers don’t want the Fraggles to stop eating their structures because it would mean they would run out of room and would have to stop building. That got me thinking about our own cycles of construction/deconstruction a little differently.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
I really enjoy the anonymity of being an artist, and although it isn’t the easiest career it is pretty awesome in most ways. But I often think that if I had made different decisions, I probably would be doing set design for theatre or own a bakery (yep, I love the process of making bread).
Rachel Bruya works in a range of media including drawing, printmaking, photography and sculpture. She spent eight years working for architecture firms, which has an undeniable influence on her work. Her prints are in the permanent collection at Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles Center for Digital Art, Target Corporation and the University of Wisconsin Union. Rachel earned an MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2007 and a BFA from the University of Washington (Seattle) in 1998. She has taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, City College of San Francisco and the Milwaukee Institute of Art + Design.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.