Brooklyn based artist Rebecca Marley has a contemplative quiet nature, a warm and connective soul. Walking into her small, yet cozy, studio in Bushwick I was greeted by walls of human forms. Endless sketches, watercolors, and oil paintings lined the perimeter of the floor. In the corner there is a small desk and some shelves with a few of her homemade watercolors, other supplies, a record player, a few records, and a large wicker chair.
On the far back wall is the largest of Rebecca’s pieces, one of her first additions to the space, which includes four female figures dancing around one another, an ode to the joyous connectivity of true friendship. Covering all four walls of her studio are works dealing with the human form in a multitude of moments, some sensuous, others joyous and a few with a darker note, but every single one capturing a moment of intimacy with the self or in the presence of others.
Covering all four walls of her studio are works dealing with the human form in a multitude of moments, some sensuous, others joyous and a few with a darker note, but every single one capturing a moment of intimacy with the self or in the presence of others.
For Marley, creating art carries with it a cathartic quality. This she says stems from her past which was somewhat lacking in trustworthy connections. While there was still plenty of love in her early years in New Jersey she still carried many tumultuous feelings. “Growing up, there were a lot of different chaotic moving parts that I didn’t see in other kids homes or anything that I would relate to. I internalized a lot of that as a child. And that turned into – what I didn’t know at the time was – anxiety and just like a lot of shame and embarrassment. So instead of sharing all that with people, I would retreat into art. I also owe a lot to my mother.”
Marley still turns to her artistic practice to release, as well as a means to understand her past and certain relationships that no longer exist in her world. One of her latest works I Used to Know You focuses on her lost relationship with her sister who suffers from drug addiction. For Marley her artistic process starts with the message and ends with the technique. “I thought that a cyanotype type would be really beautiful for it because it’s a little bit hands off to, you paint it on there and then you kind of leave it up to the sun to create the textures… I thought that was perfect for the message because she’s no longer in my life and it’s kind of like it’s not up to me…disconnected from her and the situation. So, giving up control.”
For Marley her artistic process starts with the message and ends with the technique.
I Used to Know You features two nude female figures facing away from one another, almost touching but still not being able to reach one another. Much of Marley’s work with figures includes an element of touch, symbolizing the importance of connectivity and relationships. Here this is lacking as a designated sign of the distance she now feels towards her sister, whose form drips down the work, drawing further and further away. By transforming the darker periods of her life into something beautiful and expressive Marley is better able to release herself from those emotions.
Most of Marley’s art features the nuances of the nude feminine form. She strives to show female bodies in a capacity outside of the traditional motif of sexualization. For the 2021 new year she wanted to create works that symbolized renewal and hope. To accomplish this, she turned to the concept of pregnancy, or rather was inspired by the pregnancy of one of her close friends. For Marley that “energy is like nothing else in the world matters. It’s just like, this is so exciting. This is new. This is gonna be amazing.”
By transforming the darker periods of her life into something beautiful and expressive Marley is better able to release herself from those emotions.
One of her latest series entitled The Moments After also focuses on the beauty of the female body in moments of intimacy. “The moments after you’re intimate with someone, and how that’s kind of buzzy and euphoric. But also really calm and gentle and connective. So, I use the colors to highlight the energy that I wanted to convey, and then the positions as a connective experience with someone else that you share.”
It is important for Marley that the work she makes is for herself and her own emotional or artistic needs and inspirations.
It is important for Marley that the work she makes is for herself and her own emotional or artistic needs and inspirations. However, she still wants viewers to be able to connect and relate to her work, to see themselves in moments of shared human experience. This has led to her branching out and beginning to depict male forms as well. One of the pieces in her series The Moments After features two men, a way of showing that intimate connection between lovers is a universal experience. “A friend of mine, he is gay, so he was like, I love your work. But it’s sometimes hard for me to relate to. So, I feel I want to be inclusive. I want everyone to be represented. And I know I focus only on women. But I was like, I can maybe open this up a little bit.” The piece enters a new territory of masculinity for Marley but still carries with it that message of gentle reciprocity.
Marley also expresses this same theme of gentle affiliation through the support and connection found in female friendships. Another series entitled Handle with Care focuses on another darker period of Marley’s life. One in which turning to the support of her friends was necessary for her to regain herself. The use of darker watercolors highlights this sadness, yet the figures lean on one another, tenderly intertwined. Marley herself is depicted in blue watercolor. For her there is an “innate softness inside every woman.” Yet traumas have a way of hiding that softness behind a hard exterior. Most often women let this shield down amongst other women. Handle with Care pays tribute to the women in her own life that have allowed her to express her softness, vulnerability, and sadness.
Connection to the self is also key for Marley within her art. Rediscovering ourselves through experimentation and reflection.
Connection to the self is also key for Marley within her art. Rediscovering ourselves through experimentation and reflection. Her work Body Study included a nude paint session where she covered herself in acrylic paints and used her form to create feminine shapes and figures on canvas. She initially began to explore this concept during the pandemic. “I spent a lot of COVID walking to my studio from Williamsburg. And I would just spend all day all night here by myself. And those years were just more personal work…So I guess connection with others turned into connection with myself during those years.”
Marley’s work reminds us that without connection and touch to ourselves and to others we are missing out on one of the best parts of human existence.
Marley’s work reminds us that without connection and touch to ourselves and to others we are missing out on one of the best parts of human existence. The world can be such a fast-paced self-marketing ploy that we can’t recognize simple times of connection to the level those experiences deserve. “Time is fleeting, and we don’t know what’s going to happen and really taking advantage of or really soaking in those moments that are so special, even moments that are really dark, but that makes you feel so present. Because even those moments are what life is about… they can make you feel so present, raw and emotional.”
Seeking out and filling ourselves with those all-important moments where time slows down for us, moments of intimacy, the support of friends, melancholy, connection to the self, the vibrational pulse of renewal, and even times of difficulty and emotional strife. All those moments are key in experiencing the full beauty of life.