A little less conversation …
By Jessica Gledhill
Couple co-creators hold a special place in the history of popular culture. Perhaps it’s the heady mix of youth, passion and unbridled creativity that is so alluring and eludes those of us still searching for our mojo? For the record, my mojo is A-OK, but I do admit to feeling a pang of jealousy when I meet creatives who are partners in both life and art. Such was the case when I interviewed newlyweds Rebecca and Shannon Dixon at their home and studio at Avoca Beach.
Rebecca trained as an artist and works as a high school visual arts teacher. Shannon previously worked as a freelance graphic designer and illustrator, but now works locally as a tradie. As a couple they radiate more happiness and hipness than Pharrell Williams on a trip, so what’s their secret? Well, as Elvis famously sang, it may come down to “a little less conversation, a little
more action” … Painting action, that is.
Uttering not a single word, the couple have been collaborating on a series of mixed media works in preparation for their joint exhibit, which will also mark the launch of Rebecca’s bespoke jewellery business, Icó studio. While replacing words with brush strokes to achieve a more meaningful dialogue may seem perversely counterintuitive, their method draws parallels to ancient meditation and tantra practices that offer couples greater mindfulness and a deeper connection. In fact, many creative couples have “zipped-it” in the name of art, none more famously than performance artists Ulay and Marina Abramović.
Lovers and co-creators for more than a decade, Ulay and Abramović separated in the late 1980s bringing to a close their relationship and history’s most celebrated oeuvre of performance art. Or so everyone thought, until a surprising encounter between the two in 2010. During the now famous performance at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Abramović sat silently in a chair in the gallery for eight hours a day, inviting strangers to sit opposite her and look into her eyes. Ulay unexpectedly took a seat, and upon seeing him for the first time in over 30 years, Abramović began to cry and reached across to hold his hand; the video capturing wave after wave of emotion washing over the two, despite no words being exchanged.
While Rebecca and Shannon are undoubtedly like-minds, their differing art sensibilities lends their collaborative works an undeniable dynamism. When I visited their studio, one of the first pieces I noticed was a painting propped against the studio wall. My eye was immediately drawn to the loose washes of colour, haphazard paint drips and scratchy brush marks on the top half of the canvas that I recognised as Rebecca’s bold, abstract style. Trailing down the canvas, my eye skipped across a series of tight, grid-like forms, crisply painted in black, anchoring the riot of colour above and punctuating the canvas with Shannon’s quirk, nervous energy. In this sense Rebecca and Shannon’s paintings read like a how-to manual for a happy relationship; how easily we forget that valuing differences and being prepared to compromise is the secret to finding your mojo as a duo. The pair exhibited together last year at TAP Gallery Surry Hils – two of their collaborative works are pictured opposite.
Duos aside, the launch of Icó studio is a milestone for Rebecca, who has worked tirelessly to establish the business over the past 12 months. While all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place quickly, Rebecca’s personal and creative development to this point has been a slow burn.
Rebecca developed an awareness of her cultural identity at a young age when, as a primary school student, she realised her appearance was different to that of her friends. Rebecca’s mother was born in Nevis, a small island in the Caribbean, and her father was born in England. “Basically, my mum is black and my dad is white.” Rebecca says frankly. “Our family moved from England to the Central Coast when I was six. So, apart from my sister, I grew up with no one familiar around me. From a very young age I had to find my own identity … And it’s been years in the making.”
Rebecca studied a Bachelor of Visual Arts at Sydney College of the Arts where she began to explore notions of hybridity to express cultural identity through her artmaking. During this time Rebecca produced a series of Destiny Deacon-esque, tongue-in-cheek photographs that used role play and costume to subvert marginalised notions of power, race, gender and identity.
During her studies Rebecca was introduced to the work of celebrated Australian artist Dale Frank, known for his distinct technique of pouring layer upon layer of thick varnish over pigment to create abstract, almost psychedelic paintings. Materiality, rather than representation reigns supreme for Frank who, as curator Stuart Koop has stated, “does not aim to depict or represent anything through his practice; rather in a scientific sense his paintings illustrate the behaviour of different materials, in isolation or in combination with others.” For Rebecca there was both an aesthetic and conceptual connect with Frank’s work; its science of attraction and repulsion a fitting metaphor for her exploration of hybridity as a mixed race artist expressing her own cultural identity.
Working with resins, Rebecca began creating large paintings, testing the limits of the material. Describing herself as a mad scientist, and very much looking the part in head-to-toe protective gear, Rebecca experiments in her studio combining resin with wax, concrete, semi-precious stones, crayon shavings, foam, dried paint, pepper, tea leaves, copper, snakeskin – the list is endless – to achieve stunning results.
“It’s a highly experimental process. Sometimes I don’t know how I arrived at the end point, which is what keeps me coming back. You’re never done with it.” While spontaneous and immediate, Rebecca’s process is far from slapdash. Indeed, her aesthetic reveals an astonishing sensitivity to, and focus on, materials that both aggregate and combine with one another, and their inherent qualities. “I’m controlling chaos” she explains, creating jewellery which achieves an arresting balance between rawness, hardness, softness, fragility, lustre and beauty.
The Icó studio range encompasses jewellery for women, men and children, and is available online and from Honey I’m Home, Wamberal. You can also find Rebecca at Avoca Beachside Markets on the fourth Sunday of each month.