Conversations with an Artist: Truth to Paper
We love our encounters with artist duo Rachel Hebert and Kate Nicholson. Bringing their poetry out in the world and into our shop as gratitude and holiday themed place cards to share around the table, in the form of stunningly romantic valentine and everyday declarations of love cards, as framed art, as greetings for a new year, and in other forms outside our shop—we have been captivated. The collaboration is also visual and experiential. As creatives, we understand the power of feeding off a partner; when there is trust and respect and an ability to set aside ego, it can be so incredibly fruitful. We so enjoyed understanding how much their connection has positively impacted their art.
Describe the moment you realized art fed your soul.
Kate: I remember my mother was more than a little frustrated with me when I was 13 or so. She's a painter and had spent most of my childhood learning her craft, going to graduate school and having art shows. I always admired her dedication to her art—even if I was jealous too, of the time she spent on it—and I just couldn't paint or draw the way she could.
Now, of course, I see that I shouldn't have been comparing myself to her, but then, I couldn't understand it and was really angry. She bought me a camera and told me drawing was about seeing, so maybe seeing through a camera would be a better way to start. It totally clicked (HA!). After that, I realized that when I got fussy, all I needed to do was go look out into the world for inspiration. Today, I still do that, though not only with a camera anymore. Now, after creating a business with Rachel, we really do bounce ideas off of each other, trying to bring things to each other as inspiration. These days, I find I can't wait for our studio days together.
Rachel: A moment? I can’t think of a single one, but many. As a child I spent many hours in church, and I drew on the backs of offering envelopes with little pencils that had no erasers. I think art was survival then. Later on, crying while standing in front of a Jan Van Eyck painting in Bruges, goosebumps at a Bill T Jones dance performance, exhilaration on a trapeze...so many moments. Making work—whether writing, painting, dancing or whatever form—is necessary for my health. When the flow is stopped, things get toxic!
What themes do you pursue in your art?
Kate: It may seem simple, but beauty and truth are really what draw me in. I like to create a work of art that is sort of like a gut punch. But a soft and beautiful one.
Rachel: I think our work together has a quality of a confessional—something borne of our best friend /confidante relationship. As children of a psychiatrist, artists and missionaries, there is a lot of psychological territory that we enjoy playing with. Layers of what is unseen and unsaid, sometimes showing itself in unexpected ways. And the pursuit of this ineffable deliciousness we call artgasm.
Tell us about what influences the direction for your collection.
Kate: Our first collection carried at Poet and/the Bench was all about gratitude. Not the 'grateful / thankful' gratitude of Instagram, but of the truly heartfelt gratitude for all that life throws at us. It's one thing to be thankful for all the loveliness of life, but it's a little different to be appreciative for all the hardships, all the toil. Only, for us, that's where the truth is. It's like Leonard Cohen lyrics, "Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."
Rachel: I love the idea of bringing poetry out of books and into real life. Holiday gatherings seem a perfect time to bless the experience with a little extra dose of beauty and meaning. We love hearing how people have used the cards to deepen their connections and bring more depth to shared meals, gifts, wherever.
How has your work developed over time?
Kate: Being able to collaborate with a creative partner has drastically changed they way I work. I am more able to question every step as I go and that frees me up in a strange way to let things flow. Also, working as an artist for years on end breeds a feeling of, if not competence, then doggedness.
Rachel: Working for years in the commercial art world has broken me of perfectionism. Collaboration with Kate has opened up this very interesting way of working in which the idea of “self-expression” takes a back seat to what is interesting to both of us. It ends up sounding like “what does this piece want to say?” It’s very freeing and fun. And also safer to go to deeper places with a partner!
What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?
Kate: A large paperweight that says 'play'
Rachel: ...that I found secondhand! I was going to say Kate, but she might not want to be objectified.
Do you collect anything?
Kate: Does being a pen klepto count?
Rachel: I try to collect beautiful moments!
What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve seen, read, watched or listened to recently?
Kate: I just started watching The Watchmen and Damon Lindelof is just inscrutable and I love it. I'm not a huge superhero or comic book fan, but I love the way that man's mind works. Mainly what I love is that he doesn't talk down to his audience, or over explain things. He lets weird things just happen and the audience has to reconcile it on their own...like in the first episode I watched of The Watchmen squid rain down from the sky. What the hell! No explanation, no nothing. Regardless of the backstory, he literally puts it out there as a little something extra for flavor. In New Orleans, we call that idea of 'a little something extra' lagniappe (pronounced lan-YAP). I've always loved this—just a little something extra just for fun.
Rachel: On a run recently, I came across a lone stag and walked very near behind it for some time. He knew I was there and stayed a few steps ahead but kept turning to check I was following him. I had a sense I was in a story for a moment, and he was leading me to another world. Right in Mill Valley! I went home and wrote about it later.
What advice would you give to your younger self about your artistic journey?
Kate: Just do it, already! Go out and don't give up, don't let your dreams down because right when you're at the trough of the cycle, when things are feeling dire and everything you touch seems stupid, that's where the breakthrough is!
Rachel: What she said.
Rachel and Kate's Truth to Paper poems with their depth and connection are like a warm embrace. Come experience their words in the shop!
~ Bonnie & Jeffrey