Rachel Le Roux - visual artist and interior designer
Rachel, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey into the art world (brief bio/history/backstory)?
I was born and raised in Manila, Philippines and grew up in a mixed household – Dad is English, and Mum is Filipina. I'm the epitome of a third culture kid, growing up in an international school system and exposed to so many cultures. My art journey is a long one, so maybe I'll give you a shorter, simplified version!
Art has always been my first love. My IB art teacher was from New Zealand, and I think she was the one person who understood me the most throughout my IB art programme in high school. Through my teenage angst, I painted my sorrows away, but she always taught me to look beyond that. Yet, after the amazing first few steps into the depths of the art world, I still decided that art was not my career path. However, through my early 20's, after a failed first year of Interior Design in Toronto, Canada, I had the opportunity of a lifetime back in Manila with a solo show at a renowned restaurant, complete with media and a manager and all that jazz. But I wasn't ready. I hid my depression behind the colours of my bright, cubist style abstracts, using them to mask my insecurities in that time of my life. I used art to fill my void, so art wasn't what I needed when I decided to move to London again at 22 for a second time around. Yup, I told you it was a long one, and that was only the beginning. However, in my first year of finally grounding myself in London, I had a little solo show in a tiny café in Maida Vale, and I thought, ok, maybe this might turn around somehow!! But then life happened, and my art quickly slipped away from me. So I started my journey towards becoming an interior architect instead, focusing on primarily interior and spatial design.
After moving back to Manila as a family of three in 2009, I had some opportunities in the years after arriving back to participate in group art exhibitions and loved every moment. It was such a thrill! But, I still couldn't get back into my groove. Fast forward to 2017 – a mama to two, a wife, and at the top of my career as the interior design head at a local architectural firm with an international project in my portfolio. Still, I was in the darkest depth of my immense burnout. I hit rock bottom and lost myself in so many different ways, and I was the worst version of myself. It's difficult to fully pinpoint exactly how I fell in love with my art again in those moments, but just like that, a light switch turned on, and I think it was the healing energy that I didn't know I needed that brought some clarity back into my life. I needed my art to heal. While it may have taken some time to find its way back to me, my passion for art actually never left. I just didn't realise how deep it is etched in my soul. It's taken me 41 years to realise that!
You moved to London to study Interior Architecture. You completed BA Hons in Interior and Spatial Design at Chelsea College of Art and you took weekend art courses at Central St Martins. What was your life in London like?
Oh, life in London was wonderful, but oh so hard. I’m sure you remember what life was like there. The city is just a breath of fresh air - cold and grey but oh, so so vibrant and full of life. I love and still love London and would move back in a heartbeat. I started design school three years after moving back to London because I needed to work first – another long story! I worked behind the bar at Formosa Dining Room in Little Venice while living across the road as an Aupair for three little kids. The pub was bucket loads of fun and where I met my husband! But then, I jumped jobs because London is expensive, so I had to work 12 - 15 hours a day just to survive. I started working at a tile company in Great Portland St., and this is where my eyes started opening up a little more so while there were nights that I jumped straight from the office to the pub for my evening shift, there were also nights and weekends where I found myself with free time. So I took the leap, and I signed up for some short art courses at Central St Martins to prepare my portfolio for university, but eventually, I gave every bit of myself to my Interior and Spatial Design course at Chelsea College of Art and Design. My life in London was the most exhilarating rollercoaster ride I’ve ever experienced. I grew up and became an adult there. And when I left, I cried my heart out. I still miss it.
You decided to move back to Manila when you became a mum. What was the return like?
The return back to Manila was really difficult because it wasn’t home anymore. My family was here, but the family I built in England weren’t, and the life that I left was the extreme opposite. The person who left Manila in 2002 was not the person who returned. I was a stranger in my own country, with a Londoner mindset. We had to start fresh again, which was extremely difficult when I was going through postnatal depression that I did not acknowledge at all and that lasted at least two years. I had no work and had a new baby in a familiar place but yet also felt like I was in a strange, dystopian bubble. My husband, who is South African, had never lived here either. He was also transitioning into Manila life, but work kept him grounded. It was tough. But we got through it, and we are still here, 12 years later!
You started working for an Architectural company and you now run your own freelance Interior Design business. Tell us all about it! What was the most exciting experience for you so far?
Gosh, it's been such a great career experience. The day I started at the firm, my daughter was three months old, and my son was four. I drove off, heavy-hearted, but knew that this was my way towards growth, so I sucked it up through the tears. I was hired to run the design team for an amazing project in San Francisco. Our client was converting an old 1920's theatre into three floors of gallery space, including amazing exhibition areas and private artist studios. The top floors were the client's private residence, which was also so much fun but challenging to design. I learned so much, and a huge part of who I am as a designer is because of that project as a whole. You should check it out! Chandran Gallery on Geary Street has my blood, sweat, and tears stamped in those concrete floors and walls. Opening night in 2015 featured artist Richard Coleman and he installed paintings on the floors. I remember standing at the corner of the gallery thinking, "Oh my, I designed those floors, those stairs, that casework, chose those finishes, and I remember when it was a job site with scaffolding and debris everywhere". What an amazing, amazing moment. And then now, of course, as an artist, what a thrill to look back on and say that I designed an art gallery!
Going forward from that and going freelance, though, means I'm taking on smaller projects and, most recently, stepping away from the construction to focus on interior design and fit-outs rather than building spaces. It's tiring. I'm getting older and ideally want to focus more on eventually becoming a full-time artist. But we will see. I love designing and seeing how spaces can transform by applying design elements. That's the best part of the job.
You craved your art practice and started painting again. You specialize in figurative paintings that are absolutely incredible. You work in pencil and oil and you also create abstract mixed media pieces. What inspired you to come back to this art discipline?
Thank you, my ladies take me into an art world I never expected to experience because abstract was always my go-to, but pencils have always been my love. I have sketchbooks filled with drawings from when I was younger, and it was something that I never thought I’d get into. Pencils were also my best friends in design school, so I always had doodles alongside my technical drawings.
You know, I’m honestly not sure how it exactly started, but I remember being frustrated with my first two dancers when it came to painting the bodies. I started with the dress first and then left the body blank and never filled the bodies in. Then one day, I just thought to try my pencils for the body first, then paint the dress after. The rest is history, and they have evolved in style over the past three years.
I still do abstracts because I hate wasting paint! Some of my abstracts have oil scrapings from my dancers, but then sometimes I just want to paint with no structure and see where it goes, and those are from fresh paint, usually acrylics. It’s very freeing, isn’t it? But, there is something about the control of the pencils in contrast with the freedom but yet constraints of the oil.
Who is Rachel Le Roux right now?
Such a simple but yet extremely complex question.
Rachel Le Roux is an artist, a designer, a mama, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend. An extroverted introvert who loves to spend time alone but also loves being around people she loves, who loves to eat good food, drink wine and gin sodas, who loves to exercise, who loves to laugh but cries at everything, loves to read, loves to travel and is obsessed with the ocean. I like to say that Rachel Le Roux is extraordinarily ORDINARY with so many layers. Extremely vulnerable and fragile and strong and confident, with lots of internal baggage that needs to be healed. She is someone who is still learning to be Rachel Le Roux– the best version of herself. There’s so much more to learn …
What are the biggest challenges for you at the moment?
I am balancing all my hats. Preferably I'd like for everything in my life to coexist side by side, but it's a lot. I'm an overachiever. So I think the biggest challenge now is that I don't have enough hours to do everything between homeschooling, running my design business, running my art business, being present as a mum to my 12 and 8year old -because they understand so much more now but also having time to be present in myself for self-care. The current situation doesn't help either.
What are your plans for the future (career, parenting, art)?
I have so many plans in my head. But I need to write things down to manifest these goals.
Career-wise, I’d like to slow down. Not stop, but take on projects that fulfil me.
Parenting, my plans are to take each day at a time and remember to breathe. These are also tough times for them. Plus, I’m walking into teenage years soon. I don’t know what to expect!
Art – so so much. I want to be a full-time artist, enrol in residencies, art classes, join communities, art shows, exhibits… my plans to love what I do and be proud of it.
Who inpires you (where do your ideas come from/what artists, creatives do you look up to)?
Dancers inspire me. Movement is such an integral part of my art, and the freedom in the art that their bodies create make me close my eyes and want to paint them. Then I pretend I am them, not in a creepy way but in a sense that if I could move that way, what would I be expressing? What pain, what angst, love, happiness, passion – they become my narrative. My own story told in other faces and bodies.
What advice do you have for fellow art mums?
All our stories are all very different but yet similar, so in as much as knowing that we have our own paths to follow, we need to use the guidance of those walking alongside and ahead of us to help us grow. Our tribes are important, so choose them wisely, and they will support us through our adventure. My cousin and I always talk about skipping down a shiny yellow brick road together. We skip alone but in unison, side by side. You could glance back once in a while but don’t stare too long; otherwise, you might miss what is ahead of you. Don’t forget to be kind to yourself and fall in love with your perfect imperfections as you navigate your way down that sparkly path. I remind myself this all the time because I have the tendency to forget sometimes.