Today we’d like to introduce you to Rebecca Fish Ewan.
Rebecca, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
I grew up in Berkeley, California, raised by my dad who has, in his 82 years so far, been a bean farmer, Harvard musicology doctoral student, street musician, Shakespearean actor, pianist, golf course greenskeeper, backpacker, ultrarunner and loving pop who has taught me to see life as a fragile and grand adventure. He encouraged me to draw. He also tried to get me to play the violin, but I ultimately chose the pencil as my instrument for art.
When I was 12, I dropped out of school and moved into a commune just for kids (my new memoir By the Forces of Gravity tells this story). I didn’t return to school for three years, though I continued to draw and write (really silly poems). When I did go back, I learned animation and magical realism at Maybeck High School.
Fast forward to when I’m 30 and in a pickup full of all my earthly belongings moving to Arizona. In AA this is called pulling a geographic. I called it I’m in love with a desert rat. I can’t say no to the mullet! Of course, I listened to Randy Travis the whole way to Phoenix.
Leaving Berkeley for Arizona, becoming a professor, married person, dog owner, homeowner and mom shocked my system. In lovely ways, but my art life struggled for a number of years and I also finally faced the fact that I’m a person with depression.
Fast forward to today, a quiet morning at home, getting ready to finish drawing my cartoon letter to kids for The Rumpus. It’s one of many post-book projects.
When it comes to what’s next for my creative life, I just listen to my gut and do whatever it says. My gut likes to explore, experiment and spend a lot of time reading. I draw and write pretty much every day. I never go anywhere without a sketchbook, pens, pencils, ink, and watercolors.
My life has had a lot of alone time in it, but the list of writers, poets, and cartoonists who have inspired me and mentored me is super long. I have especially huge love for Ariel Gore, Chelsey Clammer, Joy Young, Charissa Lucille, Donna Talarico and everyone I’ve met through the network of artists and writers these amazing women have created.
We’d love to hear more about your art. What do you do you do and why and what do you hope others will take away from your work?
All my work grapples with finding light in darkness, the fragility of human connections, and the urgency of finding one’s place in space and time.
I write, draw cartoons and watercolor, but my big love is hybrid form, particularly mingling words with images. By the Forces of Gravity, pairs cartoons and narrative free verse to create memoir. I drew all the cartoons with Ticonderoga Black HB pencils because I love these pencils. I was also telling the story of when I was 12 years old, broke and had to scrounge for pencils to draw with. Drawing this story with an abundance of fancy pencils felt wrong. The cool side effect of my obsession with this pencil is I give them away as book-event swag, to let people know they can draw their asses off with this simple little pencil. And now they have one.
I also make zines and love mixing text with cartoons in these. My zine, Tiny Joys, is a mix of cartoons and odd-ball facts about things that bring me joy (and hopefully others). When you live with melancholy, humor becomes urgent. My brain seeks the funny like it’s trying to cheer itself up, and supplies me with deadpan or dry humor. That’s what people tell me anyhow. I’ve had a few hybrid form pieces published, one a watercolor/prose essay about traveling through Iceland with my Kafka finger puppet.
I also have an old rotary printing press that I’m experimenting with. So far, I make post-cards, bookmarks and business cards for Plankton Press, the imprint I founded for my zines and to someday publish hand-sized chapbooks.
Do current events, local or global, affect your work and what you are focused on?
Art can be like picking at a wound, digging out the buried trauma. It’s both the surgery and the aftercare. This function applies to communities as much as it does to an individual.
Rising sea levels, oceans strewn with garbage, species decline, escalating human population, water pollution, corporate and political corruption, child abuse, holy wars, violence against women…there’s plenty on this planet to despair over. Art can reveal this despair, but can also offer hope through its intimacy, its tactility, its rawness. Communities can nurture this kind of art.
Communities can support the development of creative minds in education. Not just by teaching more art classes, though this would be an awesome start. All subjects contain inspiration for creativity. Math is a language that can be used to describe the motion of ocean waves and the arc of planets orbiting the sun. That’s poetry. Teachable poetry. Hybridity can be encouraged in schools by eroding silos, so students can learn to see connections between language, music, physics, history…all the subjects that the 20th-century mind has spent isolating.
Communities can create public spaces that allow for flexibility. Pop-up parks are often driven by reduced municipal budgets, but their spirit encourages sideways thinking, a key ingredient for nurturing the creative mind.
Communities can support local artists. One of the reasons San Francisco had such a rich street music scene (where my dad used to play chamber music on the street when I was a kid) is because the city had laws in place to encourage busking. That was in the 1970s.
Fast forward to the here and now.
The 21st century feels ripe for inclusive, open-minded, flexible, creative and loving communities. I feel like the political chaos we are witnessing is the death scene for the patriarchy-misogyny-bigotry-classicism beast. This big archaic dragon is dying, and it’s pissed off about it. But it’s pissed and flailing about because it knows it’s weak. I can see the landscape beyond this dumb dragon, and it looks amazing.
Do you have any events or exhibitions coming up? Where would one go to see more of your work? How can people support you and your artwork?
Wasted Ink Zine Distro carries my zines and By the Forces of Gravity. It’s also an awesome place to visit to check out zines and/or participate in the many events the distro hosts. I’ll be tabling at Phx Zine Fest in October. This event is organized by a team of zinesters, including WIZD owner, Charissa Lucille.
My book, By the Forces of Gravity, is at Changing Hands Bookstore, on Amazon and available through Indiebound, any Indie bookstore (tell them to order it!) and the publisher, Books by Hippocampus.
My website, www.rebeccafishewan.com, has examples of my work and a bunch of links to my work that’s been published online.
- Website: www.rebeccafishewan.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rfishewan/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rfishewan/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/rfishewan
- Other: http://books.hippocampusmagazine.com/product/by-the-forces-of-gravity-a-memoir-by-rebecca-fish-ewan/
Personal photo by Pinna Joseph at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe