Born in Columbus, Ohio, and raised in London, painter and photographer Rachel Berkowitz has been obsessed with creativity from early childhood days on. Full of energy and talent, and supported by her parents and teachers, Rachel has been able to turn her talent and passion for visual art into her profession. Eleven years ago, she moved to Los Angeles to study at the UCLA School of Art and Architecture, where she graduated with a BA in Fine Art in 2016. Since then, she’s been part of numerous solo and group shows, self-published 3 Fine Art photography books and participated in artist residences in the U.S. and Europe.
4 weeks ago, Rachel and I met via Zoom to talk about life’s everyday inspiration, the importance of journaling in her creative process and the grounding, meditative force of nature. Enjoy!
Hi Rachel, thank you so much for taking your time to speak to me today. For people who don’t know you, could you please introduce yourself and tell us how you got into art?
My name is Rachel Berkowitz and I grew up in London, England, and I moved to Los Angeles 11 years ago to go to UCLA to study Fine Art. I have always just been obsessed with creativity. As a child I used to love movement and dance and anything that could transfer my energy. I always had so much energy and for me, energy is a way of describing beauty in the world. So, every kind of form of art I have dipped into as a child. Art History was something that I was very passionate about, as well. I used to go to museums as a kid and, as my parents are both academics, they don’t love creativity in the same sense that I did but they were very supportive on the academic level, so they would make me go to museums from the age of 5. Every week, we’d go to a different museum in London, and we’d go on trips, to France for example, where they’d make me go to all the art museums, too. Sometimes as a kid it’s a lot but I loved it.
Learning about art and learning about history was a huge passion of mine and that’s kind of what made me want to become my own artist.
Obviously, schooling played also a part in it. I went to a very academic school and the art teacher was just so encouraging, which is why right now, one day a week, I like to go to teach kids art. I feel like my art teacher made me become an artist and as an artist it’s so important to me to give that back to the community, especially to kids. There are so many schools here in Los Angeles that don’t have access to art education, which is crazy. The city of Los Angeles has this amazing budget to fund materials and to bring people in like me, and I’ve been doing it for about a year now. I’m going to different schools, teaching almost every class depending on what age group and it’s just such a joy.
It’s such an amazing thing to be able to show kids that creativity is real.
You work as a painter and also as a photographer. Could you please comment a bit on both techniques and what each of them offers you from an artistic point of view?
For me, painting is complete expression and a way to depict how I see the world in a beautiful manner. I think of paintings as music without lyrics and I like abstraction the most even though I’ve done figurative work as well. I love that I can have a concept with painting and that it’s not so direct with the viewer. So, the viewer can read about it and interpret it in their own way and that is really important to me because it’s the medium where I’m allowed to do that, whereas photography for me is like the opposite. It’s a way for me to tell other people’s stories through my lens and I use it in more of a documentary style.
So, for example, when it comes to photography, my favourite thing to do is portraiture- I love composing portraits that in one photo may be telling a whole story. I don’t use editing and I don’t use Photoshop because I believe in my medium, photography, as a form of documentary, as kind of a piece of history. So, I love setting up shots that look like they’ve been really candid but maybe everything’s controlled. My most important thing is my rapport with my subject. I’ve done a couple of big projects with photography and depending on what the topic is, it’s really important for me that the subject is super comfortable in their environment and is very very happy and expressive in what they’re doing and how they’re posing in their environment. I love being able to show that in a photograph and to inspire people with a photograph rather than a painting.
The two different mediums are so much fun for me because one is so messy and I can get lost in it. Painting is a way for me to express myself, where nothing is controlled. The other one is a way for me to capture something that is already there in a perfectionist style, where everything’s controlled.
For me, painting is complete expression and a way to depict how I see the world in a beautiful manner. I think of paintings as music without lyrics.
A recurring theme in both your paintings and photographs is fate. Could you tell us more about your fascination for that topic and about your photographic work “Modern Mystics: Psychics of LA?“
I’ve always been obsessed and passionate about this idea of fate. In my mind, I feel like maybe 50% of life is fate and 50% of life is under your control. There’s always going to be aspects where you have this pathway that you can control but there’s always going to be these different things leading into your life, and that is a topic that I feel is so relatable for everyone in every field. I love the idea of magic and I love the idea of symbolism that are related to that.
Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of art practice and art therapy. I feel like my work is quite therapeutic and has meditative qualities, so, for me the art therapy was also a way to dip into this psychogram where people use psychics as a form of therapy. And L.A. is huge in that, there’s probably a psychic on every street. I’ve always noticed it since I had come here because it’s not something that I’ve seen in other places in Europe, especially in London, and there’s all this kind of spiritual talk that some people do not feel that it relates to them.
In my project “Modern Mystics” I wanted to draw in on it from a new lands and I wanted to explore why do people see these psychics. Is it the visuals? Is it what they’re saying to them? Is it just a space for them to talk to someone or is it a space where they truly believe that they’re going to be healed from something, where they’re going to have this future prediction?
When I started this, it was during the pandemic and I felt like it was the perfect time because no one was going in to the psychics. So, I thought it was perfect because they could give me their time and talk about what they do. There’s so many different kinds of psychics: some people are mediators or messengers, kind of from the after world, some are tarot readers, others say they can read your mind… and they all wanted to be part of the project! So, we had these different shoots that, because of the pandemic, were very interesting to coordinate. It was like: okay, we have to be outside, we have to go here, we have to have a mask for this. There was a lot of technical issues with it, which I thought made the project even more amazing because it wasn’t just as easy as just walking into a psychic shop snapping a photo, getting a permission and leaving. It was more like: how can we make this an environment that you will feel comfortable in, and it can’t be your shop? The fact that it had to be somewhere else made it more interesting to me.
I’ve always been obsessed and passionate about this idea of fate. In my mind, I feel like maybe 50% of life is fate and 50% of life is under your control.