Interview With Rubi Cassidy

The lovely Rubi Cassidy is an urban life and lifestyle painter who draws inspiration from the dynamic ambiences and atmospheres encountered in everyday images. We recently sat down with Rubi at her workspace in the May Street Studios.

What is the first piece of art you remember making?

There’s no one piece that I’m conscious of. Making art is something I’ve done since I was little and has been a constant throughout my life. Growing up on a farm as the only child in an extended family, I was encouraged to make art as it was something I loved doing…. and kept me out of the grown ups’ hair when they were busy!

Aside from being an artist, you are also a former flamenco dancer and teacher. Do you find there are any similarities between the two?

There’s certainly a level of discipline consistent across art both art and dance. All creative acts are really only a small part inspiration and the rest is down to application. If you don’t apply yourself and work at it, you can’t hope to get better.

What is it about a scene or place that inspires you to pick up a brush?

What often catches my eye is the interplay of light on a scene, and above all it is the ambience of a place that strikes me most strongly. I’m attracted to pleasing compositions and the dynamics of light.

You frequently paint en plein air (in the open air). Could you describe the experience of painting outside the studio?

It’s usually a two-part process where I’ll scout around, make sketches or take a few photographs and then complete the work in the studio. I’ve done some paintings that related to live music venues, where I’ll make sketches of the performers and the audience, developing some into paintings at a later date. You have to work quickly in these situations as there’s a limited time frame, though I find working quickly a more intuitive process which can lead to more dynamic works than longer poses.

What is the strangest thing that has happened to you painting plein air?

It certainly attracts some curious bystanders. I once had two elderly Chinese gentlemen who were very interested in what was happening stop for a chat –though we hit a bit of a language barrier! They were really delightful though, and very respectful.

What are some of the challenges of painting en plein air?

In terms of the challenges, weather plays a huge factor. Painting in the wind can be a disaster! Sometimes it happens that a really appealing scene is just not feasible to sit down and sketch – the space may be too limiting or the light too transient. At times it’s necessary to return to a site several times, which can lead to obstacles like cars being parked where you don’t want them to be!

What is the average day in the studio?

I usually have planned what I want to work on for a particular day. If it’s smaller paintings I’ll work on them two at a time. If something’s not working I’ll take a break and change gears, like switching to drawing.

What materials and/or tools do you prefer to work with?

For the most part I work with oil on canvas, sometimes oil on board. I start with a coloured base, often applying several layers so that the canvas is already quite rich. Priming the canvas this way is something I’ve done as long as I can remember. I came to it instinctively and find it gives the work a much more luminous quality.

Can you tell us the inspiration behind some of your recent projects?

I’ve been working on a series exploring Arcadian themes using images of Aphrodite, Pan and Eros – it’s quite a departure from my urban life scenes. Around the time of Valentines Day, I thought it would be novel to do a series of cupids in cages, not unlike how children collect butterflies and beetles in jars. It’s titled ‘On the 14th day of February, my true love gave to me…’. I’ve also always had an interest in figures, though don’t always feature them heavily in my work. I’ve recently done portraits of two fellow artists who work in the May Street studios. Knowing them, I thought they made for great subjects.

What is something that people are surprised to discover about your art?

That I have different styles, or what they perceive as different styles at least. I find it boring to stick to one style – why limit yourself?

Some of your works are quite classically Impressionist in terms of their treatment of light and colour. I’ve heard it said Impressionists paint with their eyes rather than their heads, or that emotion plays a lesser part in the process. Do you agree?

No – I mean you are emotionally involved from the start. For an image to appeal to you in the first place suggests you are somehow emotionally invested in it. If it doesn’t grab you, what are you doing it for?

What are some upcoming projects you’d like to share with us?

One of my works, ‘To Buckley St’, was selected as a finalist in the current City of Kogarah Art Prize and I’m hoping to have an exhibition early next year.

Words: Lauren Castino