I first met Rebekah Younger back in the Fall of 2010, when she was teaching a Shambhala Arts Workshop at The Brunswick Shambhala Meditation Center in Brunswick, Maine. I have since taken three other classes with her. I am always interested in how we as artists ﬁnd our way in the studio, what inﬂuences our work and how our practices change over time.
Below are excerpts from our ongoing conversations in person and by email. These reﬂect not only her own artistic journey, but her deep understanding of the Shambhala Buddhist teachings and how that has impacted her life and work.
Judy Perry: You have explored different media in your studio work to create your own path. I think that’s a huge part of the process that no one ever talks about.
RY: Yes, I have been a printmaker, painter, ﬁber artist, photographer, entrepreneur, gallery owner, picture framer, installation artist, interior designer, ﬂower arranger, teacher, minister; all have informed my work and been part of my creative life. I think there is little understanding that what you really need to know how to do is how to create, period. In which case it doesn’t matter what you’re doing; your whole life – everything you do – is part of your art. You say I’ve done many different things, and I continue, because to me everything in life is my medium.
JP: How did you come to the discovery that you had to integrate everything?
RY: I think it was a gradual dawning over the arch of my career, that certain media lent themselves to certain forms of expression. I always enjoyed working in ﬁber and 2D media, with photography at the core either for reference material or later in and of itself. The emphasis shifted at different points in my life as I changed internally.
It was at one Open Studio in Oakland, (California) when I had it all on display: knit garments, paintings, photography, that I realized I didn’t need to limit myself. So what if people thought there were ﬁve different artists exhibiting? I could be that expansive.
JP: Do you see a connection between painting and knitting?
RY: I think all my work is informed by painting and graphic design. I approached my knits as canvases for an expression. Initially designing intarsia work with simpliﬁed imagery using different colored yarns as my paint, but later moving the surface design beyond the knitted stitch with bleach and dye after knitting. Even my photography has a painterly aspect to it. Each media informs the other. In grad school I did a series of pieces examining the blurring of boundaries between painting and photography, particularly as most curators and audiences are reviewing all imagery digitally.
JP: Was color the thing for you?
RY: Yes, color’s always fed me in terms of any kind of work I do. I’m not a monochromatic person. Color and graphic design. My early work in school was printmaking. I was more interested in form, shape and color than I was in line, although that’s shifted some but not a great deal.
JP: So, certainly there’s a connection between patterns and wood cuts and that kind of process.
RY: Well, I have the technical side of me that enjoys production, or has enjoyed production – I’ve agreed to cut that out of my life a little bit because it’s really taking its toll on me physically, but the repetitiveness of certain processes, working in editions, working on things that take several steps, technical steps, that have to be thought through to accomplish – there is a part of me that enjoys that. I think it’s good with entrepreneurship because I actually do like working with numbers sometimes too.
JP: I’m kind of the same way. I can do ‘the numbers’ and I like ‘process’ because you get into a different frame of mind with it and it lets things percolate, I think.
RY: Yes, I ﬁnd it very meditative at a certain point too.
JP: And it’s also productive.
RY: At the same time.
JP: You don’t ﬁnd those qualities in a lot in artists. Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to me that there is that sort of both sides of the brain thing happening.
RY: Yes, my husband’s that way too. He does electronic sculptures. He is an electronic engineer, he’s very much into the numbers and mechanical stuff but at the same time he has this aesthetic, this expression and always saw himself as an artist. I think it’s not as rare as we like to think. I think that’s one of the myths.
JP: I suspect you are right – I think artists have a lot of skills that we just haven’t identiﬁed, or we don’t acknowledge them, we just do all these things and we don’t recognize what we actually are able to do.
RY: Right, right.
JP: It turns out that there are really valuable skills that are applicable in other areas.
RY: Sure, yes. And I think there’s also a laziness that shows up in people wanting to make the claim that “I’m an artist, so I don’t have to think about these other things.” Where it’s not necessarily that they can’t, it’s just they opt out.
JP: That stereotype of the ﬂaky artist is strong.
RY: Yes. And while I don’t think ﬂakiness is an essential ingredient, I do agree that having this elasticity of mind to have a sense of spaciousness is important and it’s not really quiet spacey, as it is expansive in vision. And I think that they get confused and people like to consider being ﬂighty and being kind of ﬁckle as being equivalent, but it’s not quite the same. You can’t have the rigidity on either end. If it is too spacey, too out there nothing ever gets accomplished, it’s all loosey-goosey vision.
For me, what I think excites me the most about creating is how to bring thought into form. And so that means ultimately I have to be able to ground it and bring it into something. To me, the artwork is not complete unless it has some sense of physicality. It doesn’t mean that it has to be physical but it has to have some sense of impact on a physical level. I moved to clothing the body as art on the body as a way of moving it out of the gallery and now I’m moving into interior work so that I’m no longer even interested in creating the art itself but just creating the environment for people to appreciate their world.
JP: The notion of ‘appreciating your world’ comes from Shambhala teachings.
RY: I am so dedicated to the Shambhala Art™ teachings and to my own practice as I say in terms of contemplative design and so forth, because people, when exposed to it; do respond to it; to that open space; to the harmony and so forth when it arises. They aren’t given as many opportunities for it as they used to. And so there is a role for art and artists. There is a role for artists to come in and how do we consciously design spaces to have that level of humanity? To consciously design materials (with the clothing I design), it’s got to be comfortable. It’s got to feel good, it’s got to make somebody feel good in it. How do we get that kind of attention to the experience, the experiential and the phenomenological aspects of what we’re doing?
JP: Tell me how you found Shambhala Art™.
RY: I was introduced to the Shambhala Art teachings through my Ikebana teacher, Marcia Shibata. I feel blessed to have found Shambhala Buddhism, in particular, as a practice community because of these teachings by the founder, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche on the connection between art, meditation and daily life. Long before this introduction I had my own epiphany that art and the spiritual path were intimately linked. It is just that these teachings conﬁrmed and opened up an even greater understanding of why and how that is so.
JP: How do you think you came to knowing that creating is the key part of living your life?
RY: I think it’s been an ongoing trust from that ﬁrst – I mean, I always felt like I was an artist as a kid. So, but I think that it ultimately came through the various ways I’ve created. I mean the fact – I knew that I had created the ﬁrst business [The Great Frame Up & Younger Gallery] out of nothing. Created the second business [Younger Knits] out of nothing. I think even before I started Shambhala I knew that I was a creator and that all things in my life were part of the creative process.
Through my mother, I was introduced to “Creating”, a series of teachings put together by a gentleman – Robert Fritz [in the 1980’s]. It was a series of classes [on creating what you want in life] that was not creative visualization actually, it took it to a different level than creative visualizations. But it was a program that’s actually been very effective in terms of creating – at all levels of my life. He was dealing with creating as a process that one can learn and is not strictly related to artists and talent. And is applicable to anything, anywhere. And so I had taken – I had kind of picked up some of his writings and taken classes – took classes with her and then actually taught a few classes of that process. And so this kind of looking at life, in that form, thinking of yourself as the predominant creative force in your life ﬁt right in. So it’s not been too far from my mind for quite a long time. The thing that Robert Fritz was really insisting on, is that people know how to make choices. And the whole creative process is a process of choice.
JP: Decisions and details.
RY: And some discriminating awareness, being able to identify what’s in front of you.
JP: What’s working, what’s not working.
RY: Yes, and not necessarily problem solve it. I mean we create problem solvers but they’re already limited by their questions. But creators create out of nothing. They have to be willing to stay in the open space where “I don’t know anything” and see what arises. And then when things arise, because things will always arise, is to be able to determine is this the right direction or is that the right direction?
And be willing to risk that it might be the wrong direction to ﬁnd out if there is a right direction to go instead. But to be able to integrate any new information along the path to take them where they want to go. To be as – Robert talks about, to be 80% – off the track 80% of the time.
JP: Which is an uncomfortable place to be, but you learn that’s really where you’re supposed to be.
RY: Yes, because you don’t get the information you need to know if you don’t do that.
JP: That’s useful in the studio; it’s also useful in your life.
JP: Which is another thing I think we don’t realize, that what we’ve done in the studio is also really useful elsewhere.
JP: It seems to me that there is a lot of power in thinking of art in a different way, of thinking of it as more of a service or as a – like what you’re doing with the design work. That brings something to people. It gives something.
RY: I think the freedom and the power comes when you are no longer interested in your own personal story but are just interested in telling the story. Whatever the story may be.
JP: Do you think at a certain point your ‘story’ is not about ‘you’ and it becomes bigger?
RY: It can go either way, but the bottom line is that somehow one needs to connect with what one is creating is not limited at all. It can come through your own personal story and recognizing that others can relate to that story as their story or it can come the other way around where I don’t even care about my story anymore and I’m more interested in the world around me and what it’s telling me. It’s allowing for the larger vision to expand.
JP: It seems to me that a lot of your work is about looking.
RY: Absolutely. We are using our bodies not just in vision but just our bodies in general as being sensors and that’s what I do with the design process. I come in and I listen to the client, I listen to the space, I feel the space, I feel my body in the space and what does it actually feel like. Is this feeling – does this feel comfortable, is this feeling like it’s working in this setting or is it feeling discordant, is the feeling making you feel edgy and allowing myself to just be a sensor.
JP: So that’s a big part of what your focus is now?
JP: Getting people to look and experience space, takes your art practice to a very different, yet purposeful place.
RY: Yes, I’m hoping to. I’m hoping that it is, and in as much as it may act as a counter or antidote for people living in a society where they’re in constant speed and in constant overstimulation. How do you create some space around that, some gap and some sense of replenishment and renewal when you’re being bombarded with stuff that’s constantly draining?
JP: That really opens up your role as an artist and your work, so that you don’t have to make an object.
RY: And you know, I’m not new at this, I’m not new, I’ve been kind of doing this awhile, but I mean I’m not a new person doing this. I’ve very much drawn on the inspiration of Robert Irwin in his work with space. He started as an abstract expressionist painter and he continued into more minimalist work actually, [then left the studio altogether to be “in response” to the world with installations]. His book, just his biography kind of describes that process, Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees.
JP: That’s quite a title.
RY: Yes, it is – I highly recommend it if you want to understand artists and – it’s a wonderful book. It’s just very powerful.
Rebekah Younger runs the design consulting firm InSite Contemplative Design, where she works with both business and residential clients to uplift interior space using a mindful approach. To learn more about this work and to see some of her art work please visit her website: http://www.rebekahyounger.com
To learn more about the Brunswick Shambhala Center please visit: