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For the past month Rebecca Dayan has been holed up living and working in the Catherine Ahnell Gallery preparing for her very first solo show, ASSUMPTION. One morning we popped by bright and early for an interview that seemed more Surprise! Wake up call! than scheduled meeting. Rebecca emerged from behind the door, rubbing her fresh eyes while gracefully apologizing in only the way a French woman can. Listening to your gut isn’t always as easy as it sounds. But if there’s one thing Rebecca inherently knows how to do, it’s just that. The French model turned actress turned painter possesses a sensibility of deep presence, alongside some serious lessons in conscious consumption. “And I don’t even know why…” she told us on more than a few occasions. But when you’ve got as much ubiquity as Rebecca, you really don’t even need to know why. “I’ve just always followed what I felt like doing.”
Can you tell us a little bit about what has led you here? The big moments in your life that have gotten you to where you are now?
It’s almost a little hard for me to reflect on that. It’s really strange because I think about things too much, but I feel like sometimes I do things without thinking ahead so much too. I kind of do things a little bit on a whim. I mean, I wanted to move to New York, so I moved to New York. I want to do something and I figure out a way to do it. Nothing was ever really planned. I’m not someone who is like, ‘Ok, this is where I want to go, so this is Step A and this is Step B’. Not at all. There’s a vague idea of where I want to go, but I kind of let myself get lost or take long detours along the way (laughs). So, I don’t know, I just kind of always followed what I felt like doing.
Do you think that’s something that you learned from your childhood? Developing an innate sense to listen to your gut and just go for it? I think that’s something that a lot of people would be terrified to do...
It is terrifying but I think I don’t really realize that I do it. Sometimes, I feel terrified like I'm always second-guessing my gut feelings. I know that I’m more like a Jungian Type... I like feeling, thinking. Intuition is last for me. My intuition’s always good but I never listen to it, or it’s really hard for me to listen to it. I behave more on feeling which is not so great. I don’t think I learned that from my childhood, but definitely my parents let us have a sense that we could do anything we wanted and always were supportive of what we wanted to do and try and, as much as they could, not impose anything on us, which I’m super thankful for. It’s a great gift and it also comes with a lot of responsibility somehow because you feel, ‘Oh, I’m so lucky to have that, I have to make something of it. I can’t just fuck around…’ Which sometimes I feel like I do. It comes from a lot of discipline and focus and work. That’s how you can do that. But that’s really hard to impose on yourself especially if you’re like me. I go in a million different directions and I have a really hard time giving a routine to myself, which is one of the only ways to be able to be creative in a productive way. I think it’s why also it took me so long to do so many things. First of all, there were so many things that I wanted to do. I don’t know that I always had the focus.
So you set your mind to do something and then you knew that deep down you had to have this routine anyway even though it wasn't natural for you to follow?
Well for instance here, doing this experience in the (Catherine Ahnell) gallery was great for me because you have a set time, a definite time which was a month long. You have a goal and it doesn’t leave much space for you to second-guess anything, which is great. You kind of learn to block out all the noise. But for instance, the first week here was really terrifying because I was hearing all these things and I was like, 'Do I even care what that person says?' I had to be like, ‘Okay, fuck it. I am not listening to any of that.’ I’m just going to do what I want to do. I feel like it's ultimately what I always end up doing anyway, but I had to come to that realization way quicker this time and trust myself more, which was great because that’s a very good lesson I learned while I was here.
Are there any tools or spaces where you feel like you can quiet down the chatter where you feel like you can have a little bit of clarity?
I mean my best friend is always trying to get me to meditate (laughs). It’s really hard. But while I’m painting, definitely. While I’m painting or while I’m doing anything that I love. Also when I’m acting, it’s all the things that I do. Um, singing and dancing for some reason also works really well. (laughs) And um, what works? I want to say just exercise, but not like just going to the gym—going for a walk or being in your body more than just in your head. So I guess that’s why I like singing and dancing as a way to quiet down the chatter.
What do you think it is about the arts that has drawn you in so much?
I never thought about that! It’s really strange. I never really asked myself why I’m attracted to someone or something or doing something. That’s just how it is. What is it about arts that drew me? I don’t know. Ever since I was a kid I’ve been surrounded by it. My parents were taking me to museums all the time and we had art around. Since I was a child I’ve always been surrounded by beautiful things . I know it sounds stupid to say but there was always a sense of aesthetic. My parents really raised us having a sense of your surroundings even though when they first started, they didn’t have that much money, but everything was always hand picked by my mom and dad and they both always dressed well. I think it was a natural thing. I’ve always drawn since I was a kid ... I was not a sports kid so much. I really wanted to be a dancer. I would have loved to be one, but when I started ballet, I had no discipline whatsoever. It did not work out at all. It’s the only one regret I have. But it was more going to art classes when I was a child and theater and all that rather than sports. I was in music lessons and stuff. It’s just how it was. I don’t know. I never really asked why.
You're an actress, a painter, a photographer. Do you feel like you get different things out of all your different creative outlets?
Yeah, of course. All of them are for me. It would be complete bullshit to say that I’m just doing that for myself. I mean obviously, I’m showing it to people, but in the moment when I’m creating, when I’m painting, it’s more than that. But what I get out of it is that I stop thinking or I stop questioning myself so much. I mean not stop thinking, obviously: I stop this on-going chatter. It becomes peaceful.
Can you tell us about the moments when you feel you are at your truest and most happy?
Again, I think when I stop second-guessing. I think it’s when I’m really in the moment of whatever it is I’m doing. It can be anything. I feel like it’s almost not something that you can feel while it’s happening, it’s more like looking back on it happening thinking ‘Oh, wow, that was a great moment’. I mean, of course, you’re enjoying it as it’s happening, but you’re not thinking, 'Oh, wait, this is happening. Let me put a note down'. It’s more that you’re so there and so present in what is going on around you and with you at this moment that I feel like that’s probably it.
What is your relationship to food like?
I mean I love food. I love cooking. I think I eat pretty healthy although, you know, sometimes I don’t (laughs). I’m not so much careful, I guess, but I’m thoughtful about what I eat. I also always have things to say about what you should eat and what you shouldn’t be eating (laughs). My friends hate me for that.
What are the things that you say?
Oh God (laughs). It’s just about not eating gluten and dairy, you know, which I eat both of. No, I mean, there are certain things that you shouldn’t be doing too much of. It’s more about trying to eat different sorts foods all the time. Going to my family's in the South of France is always the best because both of my parents cook and my grandmothers cook really well. We love eating and we love making food. It’s really a big part of the way I was raised. In the summers, that’s all we care about. It's: wake up in the morning and eat, then what we’re going to have for lunch and then you have a long lunch and then it’s like, 'What are we doing for dinner?' That’s all. Every day. So, it takes up a lot of time. It’s strange because I feel like that’s really how the human life should be somehow. Getting food and making food, eating food, that should take time in your day. We live in cities where we’ve managed to reduce that to the smallest possible time, which I think has then given us too much time. I feel like it’s kind of anti-nature and it shouldn't be like that.
I love how you said you’re more thoughtful than careful about what you eat.
I’m lucky that I can eat whatever I want, but I’m really careful with sugar now. I mean I was never the kind of person who drank sodas all the time or anything. Now I barely drink fruit juices. It’s like, it's morning now and I’m just drinking water. It’s so boring, but I’m trying really hard to drink more water.
I was talking to a friend of mine recently and we were talking about skin problems. She’s American and she was I was like, 'What you eat is really reflected on your skin'. She was telling me, “When I was a teenager, I had acne. In America, they’d never tell us that it was from what we were eating. They would tell us, 'You have to scrub it out of your face. It’s not coming from inside.' " But as far as I can remember, I remember my mom being like, and granted this comes from the woman who eats the most chocolate you can think of, but she was like, 'You eat that and it’s going to come out on your face'. So I don’t know, I’ve always known that. It’s not really something that I need to think actively about. It just comes naturally, which is how I was raised.
What is it you want to leave behind and what do you want people to remember about you? What is your legacy?
I... I don’t know. That’s kind of like a terrifying thought, because first of all, I feel like everything we do is to avoid thinking about that. Everything we do is to avoid remembering that we’re going to disappear at some point. I think ultimately what I want is...I just want to experience as much as I can, be happy, and feel free to express myself. But other than that, it’s more about making sure that I made a few people around me happy, that I made them feel special, like all the people that matter to me, making sure that they feel like they mattered. That's what I care about.
By Gabby Lester-Coll • May 19, 2015
Photographer: Lianna Tarantin