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Brighton Journal | August 23, 2019

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‘What followed was conflict between interior and exterior worlds, fantasy and reality, nature and nurture” – Artist of the week: Rikki Tarascas

Hannah Midgley

This week we interviewed Rikki Tarascas, a bit of a renaissance man with a fascinating story to tell and some words of wisdom to share.

Featured image
© Francesca Moore.

All other images in this article
© The artist

Rikki Tarascas is a fine artist, director, performer, writer and photographer, who has worked across the visual and performing arts including film and theatre. His work as a director is visually and choreographically led and “generally disrupts the distinction between spectator and performer, not only changing space over time but also challenging audience awareness as to what is real.” He has performed and transformed in many shows, and Won the Alfred Hitchcock Script Award for his short film ‘Courier’.
Rikki has been Director in Residence of Welfare State International and Director of Performance at the Eden Project.

What have you been doing today?

“I‘ve just finished directing Bess the Commoner Queen as a Cinematic Theatre Experience. We‘ve just had our opening night to a sell-out audience in Buxton.  Bess the Commoner Queen is the story of Bess of Hardwick – one of the richest women in England during the reign of Elizabeth.

Directing this show has been a journey that I can only liken to editing a feature film whilst simultaneously directing a cross between a traditional story and a Shakespeare play. As a one-woman show it is a tour de force.

I worked with the lead actress and soprano Michelle Todd on unraveling the emotional journey of the central character while also teaching her how to operate a large puppet that plays the role of her granddaughter.”

The link to this show is available here, and a review is available here.

What did you make of the script as a piece of art?

“The text itself is a complex weave of traditional storytelling, historical fact and fiction laced with humour, with a visceral subtext. It is the story of a woman’s survival against all odds during the Elizabethan era.

I saw potential in the writing that would allow me the flexibility to achieve a theatre piece that had a cinematic quality to it. With weaving as one of the central metaphors of the play I was inspired by the tapestries, artefacts and particularly the portraits that hang in the grand Hall at Hardwick (one of Bess of Hardwick’s homes) so I decided to pay special attention to include references to some of these details in the art direction of the filmed sections of the show. I was reminded how wealthy landowners like Bess preserved their presence by having their portraits painted in oils, so I’ve used the portrait as a device from which characters emerge both on an off of screen.”

Bess the Commoner Queen’ is touring now. Rikki is Director, Co-Producer and Art Director for all Film Elements of the work.

What’s the most exciting project that you’ve worked on?

There have been three really. Writing and directing my first two short films ‘Courier’ and ‘Rocka and the Angel’, and then being commissioned by Pentabus Theatre in Shropshire to rewrite ‘Rocka and the Angel’ as a stage play with eight songs. This was a challenge – and I learned much from the process about writing for stage and screen. Then there was a production of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo‘s Nest’ the stage play which won the Audience Choice Award in Brighton Fringe in 2011. This interactive and immersive production happened over three floors of an office block with black glass windows, and was a sellout production.

What are the key themes in your work?

Portrait – Constructed Geographies

“The themes in my work constantly change. I’ve found that at different stages of my life different themes emerge. I’m currently interested in the power of painting and mark making as it is such an energetic physical process. At the heart of what I do is an interest in creating work that holds a psychological charge. Some of my visual arts work is currently part of ”Constructed Geographies’ – a new exhibition featuring seven acclaimed local artists. It will tour Sussex this winter and spring.

Locals and visitors alike are invited to uncover the true diversity of Sussex by exploring the artist’s new work, made in response to the areas of diverse heritage and population. The broad theme of the exhibition has allowed each artist to approach it differently, working to explore the rich cultural heritage of the area and draw out stories from a range of communities.

This is supported by Arts Council England Project Grants, & Devonshire West Big Local.

What did ‘Constructive Geographies’ mean to you?

Portrait – Constructed Geographies

Rikki explained that the title ‘Constructed Geographies’ suggested the theme of cultural identity:

“Aged fourteen I discovered that who I had been told was my sister was my mother. What followed from my perspective was conflict between interior and exterior worlds, fantasy and reality, nature and nurture, the inner emotional life and the rational face of acceptability. When my first son was born I felt ‘compelled’ to go to Mexico and search for my own Mexican father who I had never seen. I had very little information on where he might be or even who he was. The journey included the discovery of a twin, a deadly scorpion sting, and was followed by a tragic suicide.

Responding to the exhibition brief, I started to re-visit some of these memories and to think about some of my experiences and how they had impacted on my sense of cultural identity – this led me to think about DNA tests.”

Digital Portrait transferred to Printed Jigsaw,Glue and Saliva on Card  /
Gouache and Charcoal Portrait of Rikki Tarascas drawn by Milan Tarascas and Ryan Tarascas – transferred to digital image and cardboard jigsaw with glue and saliva on card.

“I created a triptych for this exhibition which was inspired by the result of my research into DNA testing which required me to provide a sample of my saliva. The result triggered a whole series of ideas around identity. According to Living DNA, the organisation with whom I did my test. “We are all made up of all of us”.

Self Portrait made after DNA test

Whilst undertaking the Artists Residency at DC3 residency, Rikki also explored the Seaside Road area of Eastbourne:

“I talked to many of the shopkeepers and small businesses owners in the area to collect stories and other information from their diverse and rich cultural heritages.

Divers Sussex @devonshircollective. Triptych by Rikki Tarascas.

The shop that particularly took my interest was the ‘African Hairdresser’ that was closed for much of the time. The window was full of beads, carved heads, and other cultural artefacts – a veritable Aladdin’s Cave. When the shop finally opened I took the opportunity to make friends with the owners. We began to share stories. I had travelled in Africa quite extensively when I was in my early twenties in pursuit of African drum patterns.
We made friends, and I recorded many stories and did a series of drawings that related to the stories. These became the foundation of what I was to go on to produce – a process-led triptych painting that incorporated hair into the texture of the paint. The stories that I was told related to cultural identities, ranging from Zulu to Barbadian, and from the tragic to the humorous. We exchanged stories about dreams, true-life events and culture.”

©  Bip Mistry 

“We talked about the stories behind names, songs, the Zulu language and its percussive quality, and the fact that Zulu has many different languages and yet everyone can understand one another. We talked about hairdressing – as ‘a punishment’, sacrifice, and the strange tricks that fate plays in life. We talked about politics and how families can become split and fragmented when politics turns to violence and people are forced to leave the countries of their homelands.

One night during the residency I had the most powerful archetypal dream that I have ever had. I dreamt of golden fish swimming against a very powerful current. The following day I told the story in the hairdressers.

The clientele, who were mainly women, began to laugh hysterically. “Why are you laughing?” I asked, as a male client with dreads sat down in one of the chairs .

“Ask him his name,” they said, “Ask him his name.”

“What’s your name?” I asked .

“Fish,” he said, “my name is Fish.”


Also shown in this exhibition was a film called’ Hoover’. The link is available here.

What attracts you to the mediums that you work in?

“The mediums that I work with vary from paint to pixels, film to theatre, sound to silence, words to pictures and poetry. Poetry can be made with many different materials. I‘m enjoying working with paint at the moment because I‘m trying to create drama and movement through mark making. I began this process through my abstract work, where discovered that I was exploring order and chaos (concepts that I‘d worked with as a theatre director of drama). I was looking to transfer some kind of energetic process on to the canvas. I found the process to be profoundly satisfying; it made me think about the caves at Lascaux in France where there are drawings of animal on the walls. I‘d read somewhere (I think in ‘The Necessity of Art’ by Ernst Fischer‘) that these drawings may have been a way of capturing the spirit of the animal, to ensure the success of the hunt.

I would shut myself in a room for hours and try to figure out what I was supposed to be doing. I would start a piece of work, and sometimes it would seem to be going nowhere so I would have to leave it and start another painting. I determined that I would stay there until something that felt satisfying started to happen. At the weekends I would sometimes sleep on the floor for a few hours and then wake up and start again – as long as I produced something it was ok. If I considered it to be no good then I would come back to it the following day and either build on what was there or over paint. When I realized that I was drawing on somatic experiences that I used when practicing Butoh, Yoga and things learned from Akido and Contact Improvisation, I suddenly felt empowered to continue. I‘m now applying what I‘ve learnt from my abstract work to figurative work.”

La Llorna. Training the actors in the use of masks. Pre-production mask try out.

Has your art been affected by living in Brighton?

There are a lot of creative people in Brighton to collaborate with, and I‘ve been privileged to work with a lot of talented artists here across a variety of mediums. In general, however, I often have to go out of Brighton to work as it’s difficult to earn money working as an artist in Brighton. I hear many people complaining about how expensive it has become to live here.

Over the last few years, several artist colleagues and I have been forced to move out of affordable studio spaces by landlords selling to property developers – this is a sad sign of the times. My work has been affected by this as studio spaces have become more expensive and smaller. It‘s made my practice harder to maintain.

Rikki on ‘underrated’ artists:

Many artists have been underrated during their lifetimes, but this doesn‘t necessarily have any bearing on the quality of their work. I’ve recently been doing some research into Van Gogh for a project that I’ve been asked to get involved with in Brixton and this has led me to looking into branding, and thinking about the – ‘Van Gogh brand’ that now exists.. In his time he was ignored. The art world – as in most areas of contemporary life – is immersed in ‘branding’ now. Art is rated in many different ways.

From a documentary that I watched recently about the art market, it would appear that there are a number of key dealers who have major control over the market place, and that their personal tastes can dictate the success or failure of an artist. Art at this level has become a form of commerce, a means of exchange, and a status transaction. When I think of underrated artists I still think of Van Gogh as a symbol of what it is to be ‘underrated‘. I know many talented artists who struggle to survive, but I wouldn’t like to pigeon hole them into any system of thinking. They are making work and that’s what is important.

Part of a series of digital images exploring the subject of Kitsch Americana. Inspired by the films of John Waters, Harmony Korine and
the recent American Presidential Election.

“I wanted to create a heightened sense of drama and surreality in this series of photographs. I shot a series of short dark comedic films featuring the same characters as further experiments. I am working towards an exhibition, which will feature some of my short films, photography and live performance.”

You can see the video here

Check out Rikkis Instagram: rikkitarascas_art_film_text – the link is available here

You can contact him on Facebook: Tarascas Art – the link is available here

Or see what he’s up to on Twitter here

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