Rachel Sommer. Interview with the artist

Where are you from and how did you get involved in street art?

I was born and raised in Gainesville, Florida and took a gap year after high school to travel around Australia. It was in Melbourne, Australia, where I got into street art and began painting professionally. I just started practicing in some of the lane-ways there and happened to stumble upon a Street Art Festival one day where I met a lot of other graffiti artists which then led to collaborations and commissioned work.

What kind of music do you like? Hip-hop is considered as a base for graffiti and street art, are you into hip-hop too?

Yeah, love old-school hip-hop. De la soul, A Tribe Called Quest, the Beastie Boys, Nas, Biggie, are all some of my faves. Amongst other genres, I’m a big metal fan and I’ve seen very few metal-inspired murals, so it’d be great to see more. Actually, I recently went to a heavy metal festival called Welcome to Rockville in Jacksonville where they had a massive graffiti wall for all of the festival goers to paint on and, RISK, a well-known L.A. based graffer was doing a piece there. It was so surprising for me to see the two sub-cultures mesh so well, it’d be really interesting to see more things like that.

Do you have any formal art background?

I haven’t had any formal training, other than a couple of art classes in high school and a photography class at a community college; but I’ve been painting and drawing since I was a little girl.

Are there any differences between life (and street art) in Gainesville and Australia? 

Melbourne is such a great city for art. They have what you would call a, “Lane-way culture,” with shops and cafés and a lot of artwork. Some are service lane-ways, and are completely available for anyone to just go paint on and a lot of world renown artists paint there as well. There is a huge art-scene and industry for street art in Melbourne. It is an accepted and welcomed form of art. With a population of 4 million people, Melbourne is a much bigger city so there are more opportunities. Being an artist is really accepted there, it wasn’t hard for me to find commissioned work but in Gainesville there is just no chance. Things are just on a much smaller scale here, and there currently isn’t a street art scene yet. There are a lot of blank walls here… but I hope that will change in the future.

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Is it hard to be street artist for a girl? It is pretty hard physical work…

Yeah, it is physically demanding work for anyone but I think the main difficulty is the connotation of being a girl in the street art world. Although, I think it’s much easier now to be a female street artist… it used to be taboo and now it’s more of novelty. Graffiti began as a testosterone driven sport and street art stemmed from that, so I think the idea that only men use spray cans is still present. It’s still slightly frustrating to hear comments like, “It’s great to see a woman painting,” It’s meant to be nice but it’s just a reminder that it’s still a surprise to see a female painting. I hope, in the future people will be more surprised by the artwork being created than the gender of who is painting it.

Tell me about the difficulties of doing murals.

Each mural is a bit of a production of its own, there is a lot that goes into it before I can even begin painting. Making the client or organization happy is the most important part, and it can be difficult to figure out exactly how they want the artwork to look. There’s also figuring out payment and cost of materials, choosing paint, working outside in harsh weather conditions, location: if it’s far away, cleaning the surface before painting and taping off any edges is also a job within itself. Time-frame is very important. A lot of people want very detailed, large murals sometimes over multiple walls but can only allot a small time-frame, so that can be difficult. It’s can be challenging to make enough time for each mural when you have a formal job as well, but it’s also difficult to only work on murals as it’s not steady work, in any location; and you have to charge enough to make your payment last in between jobs but not overcharge so you get enough work.

What are your future plans?

I plan to move back to Melbourne and continue painting murals and also continue travelling to other places too. I’d be so happy if I could paint a mural in every country I travel to… I’m working on that.

Anything else you want to say?

I would just like young artists to know that it is possible to have a career as an artist. I feel like, unfortunately, it’s not exactly a respected job title in some places but that can change. Confidence is very important in this field, if you know you can do it, you can.

Read more about the artist and The Repurpose Project.

One thought on “Rachel Sommer. Interview with the artist

  1. Big Phavor

    Slammin! Awesome mural and doubly awesome (is doubly a word?) for using recycled paint from the repurpose project! Remember how we met and promptly proceeded to throw off the cops that night by the CMC? Epic memory.

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