The Artist Questionnaire / № 6 / Becca Thorne

The Artist Questionnaire
9 min readFeb 14, 2024

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Colours of Dartmoor © Becca Thorne

How would you describe the artwork that you make?

I find it difficult to collectively describe what I do, as it’s so eclectic! As a relative beginner, each piece is about trying and learning something new: the techniques, tools, media, size and surfaces change all the time. Landscape is certainly a dominant theme, however it’s rarely about producing an accurate representation of a specific place: more about the impression I have of a place or landscape. The colours, light, textures, scents. Light is a significant fascination, in fact, and something I am constantly preoccupied with achieving. I want my paintings to illuminate, physically and emotionally. Each one is very much also an expression of how I am feeling at the time, and whilst I tend to favour oil paint at the moment — usually on wood panel, or linen canvas — I also love ink, watercolour, graphite and charcoal. The latter, in particular, is wonderfully expressive.

Autumn Bogland Light © Becca Thorne

Why do you make the work that you make?

That’s quite a long story and there are a number of contributing factors! I have more or less life-long c-PTSD (I have needed the support of mental health professionals since I was about 8 years old and continue to do so). I guess until I met my husband, my illness and inability to ‘recover’ shaped my life. It was just about surviving, or searching for reasons to. Ironically, when I attended art therapy in my late 20s, I was completely unable to even put a mark on paper: I was too traumatised. But I discovered trail running following the birth of our second son and it was a revelation. I’ve written, in the past, about how running — particularly in wild places — has helped me to keep moving forwards, quite literally. Then Covid arrived and I simultaneously found myself caring full-time for two very distressed boys (they both have high-functioning autism and the loss of routine and predictability was huge for them — in fact devastating for the older one, who still hasn’t been able to return to school and is now extremely unwell) and struggling with post-viral fatigue, at times so severe that I couldn’t walk down the lane, eat or talk without getting out of breath. Obviously, running became impossible. But then in April of 2022 I just began doodling, and then decided I wanted to try and paint. Initially just a twenty-minute breather each day, it quickly evolved into something that has changed my life and given me a sense of identity that I’ve never had: grounding, peace and self-acceptance. When I paint, I am striving to make something beautiful out of all of the sadness and fear. I think I somehow want to light up the lives of anyone who looks at my work: to share something with them, if that makes sense. Perhaps it’s the first time in my life that I’ve felt I have something worthy of giving. We all carry something: there is so much pain that we, more often than not, are unaware of. But there can still be beauty. I think this has become particularly poignant for me with my son’s illness. I want to show him that there is a beautiful world out there waiting for him. I watch him suffering and I don’t have the words to convey this to him, so I am trying to paint it.

Perturbation © Becca Thorne

Can you tell us about your creative process? What are the most significant practical, material, intellectual, and/or emotional processes that drive your practice?

It’s always instinctive. Even if I am using ink to draw something detailed from a reference image (for example, my recent ink and watercolour painting of the Sphinx Snow Patch), my drawing style is fairly automatic: almost a scribble, rapidly sketching and gradually filling in, feeling my way around the contours. I draw best when I’m not thinking too much. It’s very similar when I’m using charcoal. With oil painting, however, I very rarely use a reference and more often than not there is no plan at all! It evolves as I lay down the paint and wait for something to emerge, frequently going through multiple reincarnations until something feels right. I know that I’m always seeking a balance of some kind, but I’m not sure it’s something I can intellectualise. Composition, marks and colours are all instinctive and very much dictated by whatever is happening in my life and the emotions I’m experiencing.

The Sphinx, Braeriach © Becca Thorne

Can you say something about the circumstances and context in which you make your artwork? To what degree is your practice integrated with the other aspects of your life?

Again, this is very unpredictable! I have to be at home pretty much full-time, so my ‘studio’ is the corner of the bedroom. This actually works fine: there’s room for my easel and a small desk, and it means I can be where I’m needed, but equally close the door (for what it’s worth!) and have some sense of separation to focus on painting. Whilst I have learned over the years the importance of making respite time for myself, clearly painting cannot be prioritised and only happens when there’s nothing more important to do. I also find, now, that each piece has become larger and more complicated (an illustration of gaining confidence I think, as I now commit to trying more challenging things, rather than looking to finish something quickly). As this has progressed, I’ve found myself increasingly drained on completing them — physically and mentally/emotionally — and needing to take a break before starting another. I guess that’s indicative of how much of myself I am putting into the process.

Low Winter Sun © Becca Thorne

How would you describe the relationship between your work and the larger culture in which you live?

That’s a really interesting question and I’m probably going to do a terrible job of answering it, but I’ll have a go! I do often paint in response to the natural environment in which we’re living (rural Ireland), as well as places we have lived in the past (The UK, North Carolina, Western Norway). Here in the Irish Midlands, the bogs are a huge part of the landscape, history and culture. Somewhere I love to walk, photograph and paint. The changing seasons, colours, light. You are completely exposed to the weather — it’s so flat — so there is always something inherently raw and uncompromising about it. I love to feel part of the landscape itself. It is where I feel the most grounded and ‘safe’. The Wicklow mountains, also, are a wonderful source of inspiration, and then the extraordinary Irish coast: rugged, wild and enormously powerful.

Having said that, however, I would like to think that my paintings are universal. Yes, they’re sometimes based upon specific locations, but I don’t think that’s really what they’re about. They’re expressions of inner-landscapes. One of the things I love, is when different people see different things in a painting. There was a brilliant, for me quite moving, conversation between a group of local, multicultural women at my exhibition yesterday afternoon. One of them asked another what each painting made them feel and it transpired that they all felt something different. The really wonderful thing for me was seeing how uplifted they were by this, as if the paintings had taken them to another place for a brief moment. I hope that everyone can relate to them in some way.

Across Wastwater © Becca Thorne

How do you feel about putting your artwork out into the world and it being seen by others? Do the responses of audiences to your work matter to you?

I was terrified to begin with, but the work was thankfully largely ignored. Once it started to gain attention, I definitely went through a minor crisis of confidence, feeling horribly exposed and therefore not in control. As a trauma survivor that was very tricky to handle. Very frightening. But age and experience count for a lot, as well as having people other than yourself to fight for (my sons), and I felt I just had to have a go. I’m still amazed when people like what I’ve painted. I have no idea, on the completion of each piece, how it came about and always doubt whether I’ll be able to do another. I don’t know if that’s partly the lack of training and quite literally having no idea what I’m doing?! I don’t have the basic technical tools and understanding to fall back on, so every painting feels a bit like a leap of faith! And yes — the responses matter enormously. I think that’s okay though, which says a lot about how far I’ve come, emotionally.

Tread Lightly © Becca Thorne

Whereabouts in the world are you? Or if applicable, where has your work taken you? In what ways does geographical location affect or inflect your practice?

I’ve not been painting long enough to answer this in any real depth — less than two years now. We’re in Ireland (Co Offaly). I am influenced by what I see around me, but also by places I’ve experienced in the past and even those I’ve read about or seen photographs of. I’m not drawn to urban landscapes though — only wild places.

Atlantic Blues © Becca Thorne

How would you describe the relationship of your practice to money and commerce and exchange? Do you sell your work? Have you received funding for your work? Does the issue of commerce affect the nature of the work itself?

I do sell my work. It was never intentional, but someone last year asked me if one of them was for sale and it all started from there! I’m privileged enough to not need to sell them, although it has been quite special to have my own source of income, to feel I’m contributing something and to be able to provide things for the boys that might not otherwise have been possible. One thing that means a great deal to me, however, is being able to feel that I can just give them away if I want to. The more I sell, the more I can afford to do that, which is brilliant. Not everyone can afford to buy original art and the most important thing to me is that they will simply go somewhere they will be enjoyed.

Marram © Becca Thorne

On a related note, what are your thoughts and/or feelings about the commercial and institutional ‘art world’? To what extent are you involved with it, or would you like to be?

It’s a little too early for me to say! Having said that, I did have a painting miraculously selected for the Annual Exhibition of the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour this year, which was an incredible, surreal experience. I’m still processing it! I am aware that, as far as the established exhibitions are concerned, priority is always given to members and it is extremely difficult for anyone else to get work selected. But if anything, that’s just made me more determined to keep trying. And I feel it’s really important to keep doing your own thing and not try to conform (for want of a better word). Surely that defeats the purpose of creativity. If I never have anything selected again, then that’s okay. I think.

Ashen Moon © Becca Thorne

Links:

Website: artachart.com
Twitter: twitter.com/Becca3Artach
Instagram: instagram.com/beccathorneart

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The Artist Questionnaire

Questionnaire-style interviews with visual artists. If you are interested in contributing then drop me a line: d.foster[at]reading[dot]ac[dot]uk