Reagan Corbett: Pop Art's Top Gun
Reagan Corbett is a Houston based pop-artist, who is pretty much gunning for the top (no pun intended). After graduating from The University of Texas at Austin in August, Corbett launched her career in a small, bohemian studio in Houston Heights. She’s since created her brand, @Reag_Art, and has grown a substantial fan-base for her work. She's sold and shipped her paintings all over the country, and this girl is only getting started. Being in San Francisco for several months now, I almost forgot what the ambition and do-it-yourself attitude of a true Texan sounded like. Thank you Reagan for the reminder, and for sharing the story behind your work.
MO: What do you need in your creative space?
RC: Definitely music. I have to listen to genres or albums cohesively as I paint. Life of Pablo, Views... I went through a phase where I listened to Viva La Vida exclusively. I guess as athletes have their warm up playlists, I have my performance playlist. I also love the Taylor Swift 1989 album.
MO: I’m so glad you threw 1989 in there.
RC: Oh yeah, I have a thing for 80s music, it really just depends on the day.
MO: How long have you been painting? I assume since way before Pablo dropped.
RC: As cliché as this sounds, I’ve been painting and loving art since I was a kid. Growing up, I was always taking classes outside of school. I was truly obsessed, and those classes were what gave me a chance to get more art in than I could in an academic setting.
MO: So once you were taking classes, did it just click for you?
RC: The truth is, I never thought I was good at painting. I actually thought I was horrible, but I just really liked doing it! I wanted to continue practicing in college. I went to UT for undergrad, where I had an incredible teacher and mentor, Sarah Canright, who truly taught me how to paint – this woman had the magic. It wasn’t until then that I really fell in love with it.
MO: Was there a point where you started to think, ok maybe this will be what I do?
RC: In the beginning of my practice, art was for school and just something I enjoyed. But always in the back of my mind, I was thinking, what job am I going to have to be able to translate my creative energy into a career? What job is out there to put my passions into? Senior year of college I was so stressed out trying to come up with something that I could fit myself into...
MO: I feel like senior year of college, we’re all just trying to get a job, any job. It’s another thing to think about, ok what life do I want to build, from this job?
RC: Totally. By the end of undergrad, I had completed so much work and had so much positive feedback from family and friends. I thought people were just being nice, but the more feedback I got, I kind of just asked myself, why am I trying to change myself to fit into a career when there is a possibility I could do what I love every day, bringing new works into the world, as my job? That’s crazy. I have to try.
MO: And I’m so glad you did! Was that a scary decision to make?
RC: Absolutely. The idea of being self-employed and being an artist didn’t dawn on me until the very end of my senior year. When you think about being an artist, it’s always a gamble. But taking that risk has been completely worth it.
MO: What did preparing to build the start of self-employment look like?
RC: After graduating in August ’16, I took the month of September off to reset my mind and begin to set up my career. I found a studio in the Heights, which is a neighborhood in Northwest Houston – it was a very small bohemian studio and it’s the only one I could find that did a month-month rent. I thought about trying to kick off my career in New York, but wanted to get my bearings in Houston, save money, live with my parents, see how far I could run with this. By October I was itching to get back into the studio, my sketchbook was literally overflowing. That’s when you know you’re doing what you should be doing – when nothing can stop you from sketching and creating and it just all comes out at once.
MO: So you’ve been in it for about 8 months now. What’s been the most challenging part thus far?
RC: I think the scariest part about all of this is the uncertainty – and I’m not talking about the uncertainty of being an artist. It’s the daily small uncertainties of, do I even like this painting? Do I accept it as a piece of me and as a piece of art? I have to say, I’m not as worried about being accepted by others as I am about accepting my own work. This whole year is a year of uncertainty – one month I might be contacted by a gallery and a store and a magazine – and the next month I might not hear anything from anybody. So yes, uncertainty is the thing that is the most challenging, especially when you’re trying to figure out a long-term plan, and you don’t know the steps in between.
MO: What are the things that make those challenges easier?
RC: One of the things that makes everything kind of worth it, is when I finish a piece of art, a painting, and I know that I have created something and brought something into the world that didn’t exist before. I translated something from my mind, whether an image or an idea or thought. The concept of being able to create something that didn’t exist before and to share that creation with people who appreciate it as wholeheartedly and passionately as I did while creating it, is what makes everything worthwhile for me.
MO: I think that’s the coolest thing about your art and anyone’s art, that it’s really a window into your mind.
RC: It is. Even by looking at my work, or scrolling through my website, those viewers are getting a glimpse of me and of what goes on in my head. By sharing my work, I’m sharing a big piece of me, and I think that’s a piece that I really only share through art. I’ve had instances where gallery owners or other artists are a little caught of guard, maybe because I don’t exactly fit into the box of being an artist. I definitely felt like that as an undergrad at UT. It was as though I needed to be more outwardly rebellious in order to be an artist – maybe have tattoos or more of an edge. I definitely got shit on in my art classes for being in a sorority, perhaps for being “basic.” It was interesting, I thought an artist community was supposed to be all accepting, not caring what others perceived you as. And still I felt unaccepted for being that girl – it was an artist faux pas.
MO: Did you ever start to reject or question yourself or your background, after having those experiences?
RC: Absolutely not. I feel incredibly fortunate and lucky for the life that was provided for me by my parents, and no I have no reason to regret or be ashamed of the support I had from my parents through schooling and getting resources to learn to paint, and essentially become who I am. If I were to wish to experience something different, that would be me wishing I had different parents. It’s good to care about what people think, to some degree. But I genuinely don’t give a fuck about the people who pass judgement on where I’ve been or how I got here. People will try to put you in a box, and this is where self-acceptance is most necessary. It’s important to stay gracious and humble, knowing that your path is what it is - not better or worse than anyone else’s.
MO: I love that. Striking that balance between self-acceptance and awareness of others is so important, and comparison has just never been a fun thing to engage in.
RC: And now, with social media, we have to be especially cautious about comparison and expression. We have so many platforms now where we can express ourselves, but then we end up comparing ourselves. It’s regression, really. Social media is this juxtaposition of having everything at your fingertips but then also having your hands in bind.
MO: Exactly. Instagram is my worst enemy and my best friend. There is so much inspiration hiding in there...
RC: I get so much of my inspiration from imagery on Instagram.
MO: What are some of the other places you go to for imagery and inspiration?
RC: I think that fashion is such a critical form of art, and I do find so much inspiration just flipping through magazines and making old school collages. In college I would go to the fine arts library and on the top floor they have this insane collection of old fashion books and drawings. In terms of current fashion, Jonathan Saunders for DVF is a huge inspiration for me. I love Trevor Andrew and everything he’s done for Gucci. Artist wise, I’m big on Basquiat, DeKooning, David Bates, and Kelly Reemsten.
MO: Jonathan Saunders...he’s absolutely changed the face of DVF and it’s so exciting for them right now. Do you ever have moments where you just can’t seem to get inspired?
RC: Oh yeah. There are times where I go into painter’s block. Absolute panic mode. I sit down and think, ok what can I paint right now? I know I have so many ideas, but what can I actually paint, figuratively what’s going to work? I get so stressed out because I’m like, shoot, I’m out of creative ideas!! That’s a scary feeling. That’s when you’re really SOL, and the only thing that can bring me back is having time to go back and resource photos, go to a museum, find a new gallery on Instagram or a new artists I’m inspired by. I guess I have an array of sources that have revamped my imagery, but there definitely are moments where I’m lacking creative juices and need to figure out a plan a B.
MO: What do you think about the amount of young talent (we see it all over Instagram) and all the young creatives trying to find a way to integrate their careers and their creative inclinations, but also feeling the pressure to just get a job?
RC: There really is so much talent, and this is one of the most frustrating things about our generation. Everybody is so good at something, but how does that translate into a career? It’s hard because there’s this pressure to have the career paths our parents had. We need that pressure to some extent, but that was also a different time. I think everyone at some point or another is thinking, how much money am I going to make in this job? I’m guilty of that too, but it can definitely lead you astray from what you truly want to do. I feel like we live in a society where being able to financially support yourself is the foundation to following your dreams.
MO: What would you tell fellow young creatives who are in that place you were in, trying to figure out how to build their careers and make it work?
RC: It’s not easy, but it’s totally worth it. You have to power through, and everything will come together. I’m not a patient person by any means. Art definitely takes time though. I told myself, no matter what, I’m going to do this for one year, and by the end of that year, if being an artist is not working and things are not progressing, then I can try something new. I always question, do I really have this in me? Can I be successful and be someone people look up to? Then I remember, people can do anything these days, you can do it, and I think I’m going to do it too.