Seeing the Unseen: Maine artist Rebecca Krupke

Rebecca Krupke talks to me in the kitchen of her parents’ home, for which she provided directions via Facebook Messenger thus:

It’s a big white farmhouse.

With an apple tree and NO porch.

The one beside us is identical with a porch. 1905 the guy built the first house wife didn’t like the layout, he built one identical with a few changes inside and she left him.

It’s details like these that abound in the Bangor-based artist’s work. Where most see an old farmhouse, Krupke sees moments lost in time; a windowpane affords a peek to lonely vistas; a dusty staircase becomes busy with stories. They’re full of bright colors, with undertones of melancholy and solitude.

“I try to capture [little moments] because they will soon pass,” she said. “I go into that with my landscapes and I definitely go into it with my old home pieces. It’s what I’m attracted to, this moment in time, catching little glimpses of things that are so beautiful but they’re not going to be here forever.”

She attributes her fervor for detail, to the greys between a story’s poles, to time spent with her grandfather, Edward Bailey. He displayed work in the first art exhibit at the then newly-opened Rockefeller Center in New York, said Krupke. She still lives among his work in her Bangor apartment today.

“[My grandfather] instilled it in me, that love of paying attention to things around you,” she said. “I grew up…[going] into the woods with him and noticing things, and he’d show me what to notice, too. I just started getting into it more.”

She said Bailey gave up his art career to raise a family, and later harbored regret about the decision: “He told me at 15 to never let anyone or anything come between me and my art.”

It was advice that stuck. In 8th grade, a guidance counselor told Krupke to skip high school art classes unless she planned on being an artist full-time. Directionless, she took the advice only to realize later the void was too great to ignore.

“The absence of art is when I first realized I was an artist,” she said. “I had this deep desire to create. It was the first time it was taken away from me. When it was missing, that’s when I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, this is what I need to do. This is my goal in life, my drive.’”

That year, she took private art lessons with Kal Elmore, a teacher at Bangor High School. “She nurtured me,” she said. “I needed her to be there to help guide me.” She’d go on to major in studio art and art history at UMaine on a full scholarship. Later still, she enjoyed residencies in Canada, Italy, and various points around her home base.

A typical painting day for Krupke begins with mental prep: “As a painter, you’re isolated, you’re working by yourself, you’re not getting feedback,” she said. “You have to get into the right mental state.”

Sometimes that means spending an hour walking through the Bangor City Forest “just to clear my head and get it ready for working,” she said. Some days are productive, while others are spent fighting whatever’s still rattling in the brain. Oftentimes, she said, listening to a book on tape or music helps, but you have to be careful—what you listen to translates into the painting. Sometimes, she’ll listen to the same song on repeat for the entire painting in order for it to maintain the same feel.

“I love classical music. I like Chopin,” she said. “Someone I listened to recently was Pat Metheny, because I saw him recently in Orono. It’s amazing how connected music and art really are. They’re pretty close friends there.”

She works predominantly in oils, because they’re easier to manipulate and less quick to dry. She doesn’t use solvents or toxic solutions. For fine detail work, she said, she uses oil-based colored pencils, a trick developed years ago when she was painting with her fingers and struggling to create detail. It imbues her work with a lifelike quality that’s ephemeral and idyllic. She said she has no intentions to stray far from her chosen subject matter.

“One of my professors told me that it’s pretty natural to get stuck on a subject,” she said, “and until that subject feels like it’s been completed and you’ve told the story that you need to tell, then you won’t move on. So I don’t know if I’ve told it yet. I want to make sure everyone understands where I’m trying to go with this. Once I feel like that’s been accomplished, then I’ll organically move forward.”

This article was originally published in Bangor Metro magazine, March 2017.