It was last October. I was driving through west Texas on a camping trip and had just gone through yet another failed relationship (or more accurately an old love that failed for the millionth time after I repeatedly brought it back from the dead.) I've long found solace in singing along in the car to Taylor Swift's iconic love story ballads, and my love for her album 1989 was no different - even if, musically, it was entirely different from her earlier work.
I had been singing along to Taylor for years, with the rest of America. But in September 2015, indie-rock underdog Ryan Adams blew everyone's minds when he released a full cover of Swift's 1989 album. I fell hard and fast for those thirteen songs all over again.
I wouldn't call myself a Ryan Adams fan, with the loyalty the word implies. But I have turned up my stereo and tuned out the world to the tune of Come Pick Me Up more times than I care to admit. His music has gotten me (just barely) through some dark times - and not in a dishonest way that asks you to get back up, but in a way that says, "Go ahead and lay there in that ditch, the world can wait while you deal." I'm no music critic, but I'd say, collectively, these two musicians have literally kept generations of loners alive with their gifts. And let's face it, we're all loners really.
So there I was, driving through west Texas, wheels under me and open sky above, reeling from my recent heartache, and reluctant to repeat old habits. So I put these 13 songs on repeat (well, 26 songs if you consider the two albums.) I played Taylor Swift's 1989 and Ryan Adams' 1989 over and over and over again through those disarming west Texas sunrises and infinite sunsets.
I thought about the Ryan Adams interpretation of those songs, how he could make something so different with the same words, the same songs. I thought about my own experience in art school and how they used to talk about "permutations." The word permutation has a mathematical definition but it essentially means "a rearrangement of elements." And as I drove, as I sang and cried, ate junk food and stopped for gas, those 13 songs became something entirely different. They became paintings in my head.
When you can't get a song out of your head, scientists call that "involuntary musical images" - and that's exactly what transpired for me. I couldn't get these paintings out of my head, and for nearly 6 months they have been with me, when I go to bed at night and when I wake in the morning. The only solution is to pluck them from my cerebral cloud and liberate them onto canvas. The final step is to share these pieces with you.
I've never been more nervous to release a body of work. I realize I'm treading on sacred ground and perhaps venturing into a world I know nothing about. I hope I'm not perceived as trying to align myself with artists much more established than me, for my own gain. And above all, I hope this work does not offend those musicians or take too much from the bounty they have given. I may not know how to write a song, but I do know what it's like to be the creator of something and to feel like some people want to take what you've created and pass it off as their own, without adding enough of their own vision. I would be mortified if Taylor Swift felt cheated by my permutations, my rearranging of those sacred elements that make up her stories. I can only hope that I've added enough of my own vision to make these paintings a worthwhile addition to the human record, and just maybe keep a few more people alive with an anthem we can all sing.
I give you, Rebecca Rebouché 1989.
how to experience this collection
Firstly, I recommend, if you don't own these albums already, that you go to iTunes and purchase both the Taylor Swift 1989 and the Ryan Adams 1989 Cover album. Get to know these songs as not just songs, but stories.
I was not born in 1989, but I wanted to keep the reference to the source material. As much as I don't want to pass this off as my own, I also want to give credit where it is due. I have adopted the name of the album as the name of the collection, and the paintings are each named for the 13 songs on the album. In viewing the work you will recognize my signature style of visual metaphor and allegory. Each song has been run through my own filter of personal experience and then written in my own visual language of symbols, color and composition.
I will release the paintings similarly to how an album is released, as singles, one at a time.
As each painting is posted, it will first be available to everyone to view online, and for purchase as a fine art print through my website. All of the original paintings will be saved for an exhibition at the end. (Date of exhibition to be announced at a later date.) This allows everyone an equal opportunity to purchase the pieces they love, or the entire collection, just like music. Along the way, I will collect names for those interested in acquiring the original paintings prior to, or at the exhibition. The show is something I have a vision for, but have not secured the space to realize that vision. In my commitment to the magic and power of artful experiences, I will continue my search. But the beauty of the internet is that we can have an exhibition every day, and everyone can attend.
Join me as I release 13 paintings inspired by 13 songs, over the coming months.
This image is the "cover" image for the collection which will be included with the body of work. I based the painting off of a combination of the two cover images from the Taylor Swift 1989, and the Ryan Adams 1989 Cover album which both included seagulls. I added a sailboat and named it "Starboard" because I liked the reference to the driver of the vessel. The right side of a sailing vessel was originally called "starboard" because it is the side from which the boat is steered. I thought it a nice metaphor for the navigation required of each of us as we sail on such deep waters as ourselves.
Number 11 on the album: This Love
I wanted to paint this sunken ship almost like a ghost that's still alive. It's at the bottom of the ocean, and you wouldn't know it, except that it's flying that kite which resembles a playing card and dangling from it is a golden key. The key is almost close enough to shore to grab it, but the ship (and the love it represents) is so far away. A memory really. So it is, with that kind of love, that comes and goes, is good and bad, comes back from the dead, but is broken.
Number 9 on the album: Wildest Dreams
This piece is about how the memories of a past relationship can follow you around, and tempt you back with delicate strings that pull on you somewhere deep. The fires that first made the flame are the ones that will destroy you if you stay too long in the landscape of dreams. “You see me in hindsight tangled up with you all night, burn it down. Someday when you leave me, I bet these memories follow you around.” It’s all there in the song. When I painted the final flame, I knew it captured the dichotomy of heartache and allure I was going for.
shake it off
The third piece in my 1989 series is number six on the album: Shake It Off. This painting is about more than a catchy tune to rise above rumors, drama or perceived insults. It's about harnessing an inner light that not only allows you to rise above, but creates more light in the process. When I worry that people are saying unkind things about me, or that my true intentions and good nature have been misunderstood, I try to make sure I'm not bristling against the insults and letting them make me feel smaller, but instead flapping my wings and letting glittery shiny pieces of stardust frost the sky from my soaring. I try to shake it off in a way that empowers others to do the same, by shining bright.
how you get the girl
Number 10 on the album: How You Get the Girl
The imagery in this piece has personal significance for me, but I'm confident the message is universal. This song and this painting is about the gestures of courtship. It's about the way you feel when you feel like you would do anything to prove your magnetism and devotion. How you get the girl: you go and get the moon and stars, all the constellations, the infinite blue night, and you bring them to her. The night is as blue as you have been without her, and her face is the moon. When the moon is gone, the night is a terrifying abyss. But when the moon waxes, the night seems to smile again.
welcome to new york
Number 1 on the album: Welcome to New York
This painting is about more than just New York City. It’s about New York as a state of mind. The song references moving to the big city to become who you always dreamed, and being free to shine bright. I wanted this painting to have a childlike shadow-box effect that reminds you the world is a stage, and you can be the main character in your own story. New York as a metaphor means you don’t hold back, you become your best possible self and you light up the night.
Number 3 on the album: Style
This painting is about a love that exists inside a glass bottle of infinite time, where the ocean never ends, the skies are forever blue, and the stories you’ve rooted there are deep enough to last lifetimes. Danger might loom outside, red flags wave wildly on the horizon, but the canopy of branches that cork your world seem enough to keep you sailing on forever. This big ship is a bond that never goes out of style.
The release of the 1989 Collection officially resumes now. Stay tuned each Friday for new paintings from the series, throughout October, 2016.
Number 8 on the album: Bad Blood
This painting uses archetypal imagery to capture universal feelings of tension, betrayal, and reaching a point of no return. With references to Eden, and fruit of knowledge and serpents of evil, the painting captures the spirit of “Bad Blood” on the 1989 album. There is room for interpretation and speculation as to who did what in this story, and where the line between right and wrong really falls. For me this painting is about the struggle we all face in trying to do what’s best for ourselves. The two sides in this story are essentially existing inside one person. The Bad Blood can be the way you come to know something you didn’t know before, and that can’t be undone. The bad blood is the self-knowledge that means you can’t go back to the way it was before.
ALL YOU HAD TO DO WAS STAY
The next painting in my 1989 Collection is number 5 on the album: All You Had To Do Was Stay
This painting takes on a surrealist style to illustrate a line from my journal where I wrote “I built a nest in my heart but the bird left long ago.” The same rings true in the song. “Had me in the palm of your hand…” The blue skies you thought you saw out there were an umbrella I made to protect us from the storms. The love you thought you wanted was right here all along. You left because you thought the storms were in me, but the storms go wherever you go. All you had to do was stay, for one more day, and the day after that and the day after that. I remember when you lost that umbrella with the clouds on the subway. We borrowed another from the hotel lobby and you left it on the streets of New York. No matter how many umbrellas I found for your storms, you still thought the blue skies were somewhere out there. Where are your blue skies now? “It could have been easy, all you had to do was stay.”
I Know Places
The next painting in my 1989 collection is number 12 on the album: I Know Places
This painting is about the relationship that you feel would work out in the end if you could just find some place to get away. When it seems like haters are clouding the skies over your hearts, it's clear that "love is a fragile little flame, it could burn out." It's about that feeling, of being on the run with someone you love. The feeling that united, you could go anywhere, and survive there together. Even the scariest woods would be safer than being out in the open, vulnerable to attack. Not the real kind of attack our ancestors knew, but the kind that comes today, in the form of rumors, social media messes, lies and toxic speculation. If you could just run, away from real life, if you could just be together, you might just have a chance.
"You know for me, it's always you... And I know for you, it's always me."
For me this painting also captures the feeling that I sometimes get when I'm trying to be brave. Sometimes to be brave, I first have to go and hide. I build up my inner courage, and then return to the world blazing with my iron shield in hand. I Know Places where I can hide, where I can grow armor in the night, where I can wake to the forest and choose when it's time to fight. I painted this painting in one of those places – In my scary safe woods, where I became strong enough to share it with the world. If you can metaphorically outrun criticism and damaging negativity, you are finally Onto Something. "Let them say what they want, we won't hear it."
"They are the hunters, we are the foxes. And we run!"
The next painting in my 1989 collection is number 2 on the album: Blank Space
This painting is about the complicated nature of perception after the battlefield of a relationship has run it’s course. The quest for true love is often full of extremes, and it’s those times of triumph and defeat that become the story we tell. “So it’s gonna be forever, or it’s gonna go down in flames.” We take sides and push the envelope, trying to prove it’s one way or another, hero or villain? Which one will you be this time? Each new love is a chance to start the game over. We go into battle half-knowing that our ally will become our enemy, eventually. The irony for me always lies in the fact that with each new partner, we blindly declare a bond from the start, and charge headstrong into the front lines. When the tables turn, the clouds become swamps, and one of us walks away with the bleeding heart.
“Love’s a game, do you wanna play?”
It's often the stories we tell ourselves that are the most frightening. I'm laying them to rest so they may join the faithful departed. Fly from me dear ghosts. I want to be free. This painting is about how the process of getting over lost love feels like the bottom has been washed out from under you, your roots are exposed for all to see.
“When I was drowning, that’s when I could finally breathe.”
I Wish You Would
This song is all about all the things you wish you or the other person had done differently in a relationship. Only with hindsight can you truly see what was so special about it. My painting for this song is extremely personal and specific to my own memories. This tree holds everything I wished for. A place for hopes to live on, in memory.
“I wish you knew that, I’ll never forget you as long as I live.”
out of the woods
I live in a treehouse in the woods of South Louisiana where I painted this piece. There is much that can be said about that house, the long journey to getting “out of the woods”. But instead I’ll leave it with just this owl to speak for me.
“The monsters turned out to be just trees.”