Artist Spotlight: Rebecca Kolsrud

Playful. Awkward. Irreverent. That’s how we’d describe painter Rebecca Kolsrud’s portraits of anonymous women she discovers by combing through old photographs or books. Though these women remain nameless, Kolsrud captures little subtleties and gestures that manage to offer a glimpse of their personalities (or at least who we imagine them to be). With a new show at New York’s JTT Gallery slated for later this year, we caught up with the LA-based artist to talk about her work and her secret desire to be a Sears photographer.


Has LA always been your home base?

Yes, I was born and raised in LA, more specifically the San Fernando Valley. I went to NYU for my undergraduate degree and UCLA for my MFA. 

Talk to us about your subjects; who are they?

The Yackety Yack Girls came from my father’s 1969 yearbook. I fell in love with the photographs of the sorority girls, each smiling and posing awkwardly. Body language, hand gestures and props distinguish each girl’s unique talents and traits, as well as represent each sorority distinctly. The discrepancy between these images and historical images of the time (Vietnam, Woodstock, the first moon landing) cast these girls in a different light. This discrepancy is what motivated me to paint them. Over the years I have collected yearbooks from all different eras and places, as well as studio portraits, glamour photographs and school photographs. I have catalogs and family photo albums, and have staged models to create my own scenes as well. In my studio I have thousands of photographs of people I draw from for my work. (Sorority girls are just one of many groups I have painted.

Is there a common thread that your female subjects share?

The women I paint are linked because they are each part of a particular group. I look at each group rather unscientifically, but still through a sociological lens. I research the time period I am working with and collect an archive of photographic images and drawings. Then I find specific details in the fashion, makeup, hairstyles and postures of the time to reconstruct in a series of portraits. Together, the many women present an archetype of sorts, a surrogate for a type of women I see in the world today. I am ambivalent about portraying specific details from my source material, but I am deeply invested in the psychology of the subjects. Besides sorority girls, other groups I have painted include stand-up comediennes and brides. All investigate cliché, expectation and the unfolding of time spent with an individual.

What are you currently working on?

I am working on a series of paintings of women who reenact and role-play historical and fantasy events. LARPers is another name for this social group. I am interested in women who create their own realities through fashion and gesture. With the sorority girls, it was more about subtle body gestures and fashion choices; with the role-play women, these gestures are much more theatrical. Many make their own costumes, combining components from completely different time periods. For example, one may have Roman armor over a medieval dress with a generic pirate sword. Others are completely true to historical detail. I am interested in both the flexibility and the novelty of this world.

Where are your favorite places, both in LA and elsewhere, to see art?

LA has always been a great place to see art, but a lot is changing right now, in a very exciting way. The artist Laura Owens put on an incredible show of her new paintings at Mission Road, a new space she opened in partnership with Gavin Brown in the Boyle Heights neighborhood. And one of my favorite stores, Ooga Booga, is doing a pop-up shop as well. Also in the Boyle Heights area are Night Gallery and Control Room, two other galleries opened by young artists. And in Chinatown there is Tif’s Desk, a project space in Thomas Solomon Gallery.

Would you say you have a favorite artist?

I love artists whose work has humor, some of my favorites being Cindy Sherman, Martin Kippenberger, Philip Guston and James Ensor. 

If you weren’t a painter you’d be…

A Sears portrait photographer in the 1950s.