I met Rebecca Chung ’11 in her common room to find her seated on what was once a bland stock sofa now tastefully covered in black and a patterned, wine-colored velvet. The room was well decorated, but an unusual face took up the bottom half of a window: It seemed to be a poster of Brad Pitt realistically doctored to show flamboyant makeup.
“We call it ‘Drag Pitt,’ actually, and it shines through the window at night if the light’s on, which is amusing if you’re up near Fitch then,” Chung said, adding that Pitt’s new look was inspired by that television classic, RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Perhaps fortunately, “Drag Pitt” is nothing like a centerpiece of Chung’s impressive portfolio, which includes expertly rendered work from personal and academic projects executed in most media offered by the College’s studio art program.
With an eye to technique, Chung has explored such ideas as religion, identity, darkness and light in part by employing and testing common graphic language. While her particular style is a campus standout, Chung emphasized that she does not wish to be stereotyped.
“People try to pigeonhole me a bit as a horror artist or macabre, but that’s not what I want my work to be called,” Chung said. “I like darker things, especially in art and music. Aesthetically, it appeals to me. I’m not negative about it; to me, it’s just central to being human.
“I’m not trying for shock value,” Chung added. “I don’t think that’s the point.”
While Chung sits in a common room surrounded by art that is largely not her own, she is no stranger to campus exhibition. Displays of her work on campus have included subtly colored paintings of rabbits with twisted guts; images of female figures vomiting up something from inside and even sculptures of objects caught in processes of burning, melting and drilling. Competent and well-composed, Chung’s work is recognizable and includes many elegantly executed splashes of ink.
Currently, Chung is doing an independent study to try to bring together the content and the style of her work. While it’s too early to tell precisely, Chung foresees a greater thematic focus on religion and feminism while reconciling her stylistic preferences.
“There are conflicting interests especially based on what people say about my work. It’s often labeled ‘graphic,’ but I don’t want that to be my genre. I like graphic novel illustrations and fine art painting. This independent study is going in both directions to try to combine the two and see if I can do both.
“I love both worlds,” she continued, “but they tend to exclude each other. Fine art tends to look upon graphic novels as low art. It’s good that I’m deciding my [overall artistic practice] at this point because it might be my last year before I start working.”
Upon graduation, Chung plans to pursue a career as an artist, a career that she is “pretty realistic about” generally.
“Yeah, I’ll probably have to take on side jobs like illustrations,” Chung said. “People glamorize the idea of an artist too much. It’s just not plausible any more to live like that.”
Her fine technique, then, is something Chung can count on, particularly in the world of 2D art.
“I hate conceptual art,” Chung said. “It’s not that I hate art that has an idea, but lately I’ve seen so much art valuing ideas over execution. People often accuse me of being a traditionalist, but I don’t think you can be an artist if you don’t have the visual language. Art doesn’t have that awe-inspiring thing it did back in the Renaissance.”
The concepts found in Chung’s own art reflect current themes important to her stages of artistic life.
“They are things I’m dealing with personally, like being a woman,” she said, “and I’m Christian, which I know sometimes surprises people, but my art is dealing with that and parts of other personal circles coming into the art. I wouldn’t say my art is autobiographical. I try to extend it to larger scale than myself.
“Feminism is important and interesting to me,” Chung said. “I have [been] accused of being misogynist[ic] with my work, and how I represent women is sometimes misinterpreted. The images are more of a reflection of how I feel personally and deal with struggles like gender.”
Chung spent the spring semester studying fine art in London at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, an experience that made her totally re-evaluate her artistic life so far.
“I went through some disenchantment while abroad, questioning my art and whether I’m actually good,” Chung said. “I go through a phase every two years or so when I start hating what I’ve already done. In London, I was immersed in sort of the actual art world and feeling insignificant.”
Far from stopping her, though, the experience re-engaged Chung with examining her work, and she has no plans to quit.
“[Back] in high school,” Chung said, “I came to the realization that art was something I needed to do [and] that I was just not as happy doing anything else.”