Rebecca Stevenson is a British artist whose specialism is wax, an ancient sculptural medium. The history of wax is extensive, from the lost wax processes used in bronze sculpture dating back to the Egyptians in antiquity and its use in the creation of Roman death masks, through to the wax portrait pictures of the 16th and 17th centuries, and as a medium for anatomical models from the 17th century onwards. In all instances, wax is related to the body and to the ephemerality of flesh. As such, it constitutes the perfect medium for the Memento Mori or Vanitas.
Rebecca Stevenson’s work plays explicitly with these historical allusions, both in her processes and in the resulting sculptures. Her imagery finds its roots in the Baroque Vanitas, referencing in particular the Dutch painting tradition of artists such as Jan Weenix or Jan Davidsz de Heem, with tables stacked with fruit and game, and flowers glistening with water droplets. Stevenson’s practice takes these motifs and reinvents them in technicolour. Her animal carcasses or human busts are cast in layers of resin and wax, and given a finish that looks almost sugar-coated. She then slices these open in a surgical manner to reveal a cavity, into which she embeds the wax cornucopia. There is an exuberant relish in the pleasures of the flesh, almost sickly sweet in its excess. It is as if these miniature gardens of earthly delights were the fruits of mortality.
Sitting in contrast to her colourful wax pieces are bronze works that repeat her imagery in more muted tones. The traditional patina and hushed darkness is suggestive of age and the passage of time. The bronze, with its allusions of permanence and authority, provides the perfect foil to the coquettish wax sculptures. Far from the lively exuberance of colour and the lightness of the wax, they constitute a weightier and more sanguine take on the Memento Mori. They are what remains once the flesh-like wax falls away.
Rebecca Stevenson graduated from Chelsea College of Art & Design in 1998 and the Royal College of Art in 2000. Her solo shows include ‘Fantasia’ at Van der Grinten in Cologne, ‘Innocents’ and ‘Carniflora’ at Mogadishni in Copenhagen, and ‘Exquisite Corpse’ at DomoBaal in London. Recent group exhibitions include ‘So Beautiful It Hurts’ at James Freeman Gallery, London; ‘B.A.R.O.C.K’ at Schloss Caputh, Potsdam and ME Collectors Room, Berlin, curated by Mark Gisbourne and Margret Eicher; and ‘A Sight to Behold” at Van Der Grinten, Cologne. Stevenson’s works are held in the Olbricht Collection, the Maramotti Collection (Collezione Maramotti), and the Kraft Collection, as well as in numerous private collections internationally. She lives and works in London.