Artist Interview: Rebecca Hiscocks

Rebecca Hiscocks produces intricate drawings using a layered, almost collage like process of composition. Using a pen instead of a scalpel, she explores the innerworkings of both the human and animal body. Her detailed work reveals the beauty in what would otherwise be rather dark, unsettling images. Last year she created a piece for the Wellcome Collection to accompany their exhibition Infinitas Gracias. Rebecca was one of a number of illustrators asked to produce a modern day ‘votive’ (small paintings of miraculous moments of deliverance) based on stories sent in by visitors to the Wellcome. In this series, one of Rebecca’s pieces; Love Conquers All, interprets the story of a lady who was led to believe depression would define her existence, addressing her mental rejection in allowing this define her. She explores both the frailty and strength of the human body and spirit, and the power of self-healing.

‘Love Conquers All’, 2012

Firstly, when and why did you become interested in anatomical drawings?

I couldn’t pinpoint anything specific, I think it’s the outcome of a number of factors. I’ve always had a general interest in why and how things work and I like taking stuff apart to see what’s going on, how the body works is a bit of an extension of this. Working for Damien Hirst certainly contributed, and living in London meant I spent quite a lot of time drawing in the Hunterian, at the Wellcome collection and visiting attractions such as the Old Operating Theatre, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum.

'Upper Torso', 2012

How do you feel the form of your work contrasts with its subject? I like the way these creepy looking, macabre, individual images are brought together to form what looks like heraldic symbols, or Victorian miniatures.

I feel that the form and the subject are interchangeable. Much of my source material is inspirational for it’s subject and compositional ideas, cartography, heraldry, religious iconography and the work of anatomists such as Vesalius and Gamelin. These references sit harmoniously together due to their elaborate attention to detail.

How do you decide on the Latin mottos that feature in your works? What is their significance for you?

The Latin phrases are generally an indication of the narrative of the illustration and my reasons for using them are 2-fold. From a purely aesthetic point of view I find it tricky to use text within an image successfully. I feel that for my work English text would be too much of a focal point, it’s telling the viewer too much about the piece straight away therefore detracting from other areas of the image and disabling a more personal interpretation. The other reason is simply that medical and scientific terminology is generally in Latin, and these are areas that I am primarily referencing.

'Breathless', 2012

'Medical Bird', 2012

Which artists are your primary influences and why?

There are so many, but I have edited them down to these few. The artists whose influence appears most obviously in my work, alongside the references to anatomists, would be Albrecht Durer and Gustav Dore their work is just mind-blowing. With regards to contemporary artists; Laurie Lipton, Paul Noble and Russell Crotty, because they produce work that is obsessively detailed, almost painstakingly so. Working with interesting and varied subject matters, their artisan approach has pushed drawing back into the realm of Fine Art. I also refer to painters working within the ‘Low Brow’ art scene such as Kevin Llewellyn and Michael Hussar. They are fantasy realists who reference the compositions and techniques of High Renaissance and Old Master painters. For pattern, I find Thomas Hoopers ‘Book of Lines’ essential reference material, and for their ethereal romanticism, beautiful colour pallet and use of paint; Peter Doig, Henning Kles and Kaye Donachie.

Rebecca’s Studio

Would you like to talk a bit about your process? How does a work grow from conception to completion?

I like to produce a body of work on a selected theme, for example, I did a series of work which had it’s origins based in psychogeography. I walked randomly across London and on returning home plotted my journey on a map, I researched into historical landmarks on the route and from this created my illustrations. The result was a portfolio of 10 diptychs that you could follow as a slightly macabre guided tour of the capital.

Sketchbook

In terms of process I look at the individual facets within the narrative and separately draw each element. I then photocopy everything, sometimes changing the scale or reflection of a drawing, cut them out and play with composition until I get something I’m happy with. At this point I can choose whether I want to use the image as an original illustration, in which case I redraw the whole composition, or reproduce the image as a print, in which case I expose the image on a screen or solar plate.

'Boneless Abdomen', 2012

How did that contrast with the pieces you produced for the Wellcome Collection?

I used the same method to create the illustrations for the Wellcome Collection, piecing together significant elements to form a cohesive composition. I loved doing the ‘Votives’ project as I very much enjoy working from a narrative, especially those with a medical aspect. Coupled with the fact that so many of the stories were examples of where people had triumphed over adversity and were such personal messages of thanks, made them all the more special. I only wish I had had time to do more, I got some great feedback from the subjects.

'Blue Baby', 2012

And finally, what can we look forward to from you in 2013?

I am currently working on a large diptych in oils which references creationism and evolution. I have also started a number of cross-hatched pieces which are of a larger scale, again around a similar theme. In 2013 I am working on updating my portfolio, carrying on lecturing and taking part in more exhibitions. I am currently in the process of organising a London show with Curio Collective whom I have shown with previously.

'Pray For Us' (Work in progress)

For more of Rebecca’s work, or to purchase an original or print for yourself, see her Portfolio on our website.

To see more of Rebecca’s work for the ‘Infinitas Gracias’ exhibition, go to the Wellcome Collection.