Rebecca Ness on Inventing Art Tools, What She’s Reading Now, and Cat Fashion

Rebecca Ness, Ana, 80 x 90 inches, oil on linen, 2022

Like many ArtDrunk studio visits, it all began with a DM…Since first seeing Rebecca Ness’ work a couple of years ago, I’ve fallen for her ability to bring quotidien spaces and experiences to life in a way that is dreamlike, yet palpable and relatable. I can feel the crowd in the bar, and it looks like one I may have begrudgingly squeezed into on a recent Friday night, yet the perspective and proportions are always somewhat off-kilter and slightly surreal. This past summer, after exchanging a few instagram messages, I made my way to Ness’ Brooklyn studio, where we talked about her process, our jewish mothers, and her incredibly cute cats.

—Taylor Zakarin


What’s been your path through the art world? Any milestones you were particularly excited about? 

I was very lucky that in my hometown there was an after school program called the Acorn Gallery School of Art, where I started taking classes at 6 or 7 years old, making oil paintings and drawing from the figure. I then received my BFA from Boston University and my MFA from Yale. Add in some amazing professional partnerships and a few shows, and here we are today! The biggest personal milestone of mine to date is when the Yale University Art Gallery acquired a painting. Before my interview at Yale, I anxiously wandered around the art gallery and fell in love with Martin Wong’s “La Vida.” Now my painting is hanging in that very room! Life is weird.

How did you know you wanted to be an artist?

It’s the only thing I’ve truly ever felt called to do. I don’t have the career stress that comes from being good at multiple things! It’s always been art.

Rebecca Ness, Night out at Boobie Trap,  90 x 60 inches, oil on linen, 2022

Your work captures and highlights the ordinary – but playfully subverted – often with various different angles and saturated colors. What do you feel these choices convey about the “everyday” subjects you choose to paint?

I attempt to be quite democratic with my eye; giving dirt, string, crayons and books the same amount of love and care that I give eyes, fingernails, smiles, and skin. I’m interested in what happens when we aren’t blind to the details and visual noise that surround us, because it’s the details and environment that really tell the story.

You paint flesh with such affection and care – it’s a visceral experience seeing your work. When I was in the studio, it really felt as though I could see the foot extending out of the canvas into our space. Can you talk about your process for this style – and perhaps about your discovery process that led to it?

Mickalene Thomas was one of my visiting faculty teachers at Yale. I had been struggling with how to make the skin feel like there was a person underneath. In one studio visit, she really encouraged me to seek out unconventional tools, to become a bit of an inventor. I found these cake decorating/ceramic tools that create this throbbing crosshatching when I scrape the tool through the wet paint. I think of it as creating the motion of the small veins in our bodies pumping up and down, even when we’re completely still.

Rebecca Ness, Heartbreak at Gingers: Smoking Area, 90 x 80 inches, oil on linen, 2022

What is your favorite museum/place to see art in New York?

Okay I know this is predictable, but the Met. I’m constantly searching for that just-hopped-off-a-schoolbus and entering a museum on a field trip vibe: the joy of it all! My cup is completely filled at the Met; I can see beautiful oil paintings as well as Ancient Egyptian art, a fascination of mine ever since I was a kid.

Favorite thing about your studio?

My mini fridge, constantly stocked with cheese sticks and Diet Pepsi at exactly the right temperature.

Favorite place in New York City?

Ginger’s Bar, playing pool (badly).

What is the last thing you read?

I’m finishing the “Price of Salt” by Patricia Highsmith right now. I’m also listening to the audiobook of “Time is a Mother” by Ocean Vuong and “Meaty” by Samantha Irby.

What does the art world need less of?


What does the art world need more of?


Friends can usually find you…

Taking photos of my cats in insane outfits I buy online.

An artist you’re currently thinking about?

Edward Hopper. I’m also thinking of renaissance painting, and how to create divine light in a gay bar.


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