I first met Rachel when we were both asked to speak at an artist talk/presentation in Brooklyn last year. I immediately loved her work not only aestheitcally, but I loved the way she spoke about her work. Witty and insightful, contemplative and reflective, her work grabbed me right away. I was thrilled to get the chance to learn a little more about her process, how she got there and what’s up next! Enjoy!
For those that may be unfamiliar with your work, I like to start off by just letting people understand what they’re looking at, which is a combination of painting techniques and materials combined with sequined fabrics! Can you tell us a little about how and when you started to use these materials in your work? How do you choose the fabrics you use?
So I first started using fabric right after the 2016 election. At the time I was feeling very powerless and beginning to doubt my choice in investing in my education in art and my passion for making. I gained a lot of weight and outgrew this beautiful vintage sequined dress I had never gotten a chance to wear. I had bought it a few years ago when I still worked at Shanghai Jazz, a Chinese restaurant and Jazz club in New Jersey. I used to work the New Years Eve shift every year, and never got a chance to wear it. I took it out of the house and brought it to my studio, thinking one day I would bring it to Beacon’s closet to sell it or something, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It lived on the floor of my studio for about a week until I began cutting into it, creating a giant tear right down the middle. I started mixing Flashe paint with mica and began to apply it to the surface of the dress with a house painting brush. Organically this cherry red and bright chartreuse green pattern formed, and I became really excited in the way the paint changed the texture of the sequins, making it almost look like a reptile skin or shedding from a snake. I think of this piece entitled “Molt”, almost like a skin I shed of my own, and it really began my deep material investigation in sequins and textiles.
I still frequent vintage stores and estate sales looking for dresses, but now more then ever I’m interested in finding it in its raw form. I think about going to the garment district or a fabric store as an extension of the art store. I pick pieces intuitively and often times will ask advice from the people who run the shops or who make the fabrics themselves. This will push me to try different palettes and colors outside of my comfort zone. I have one store in the garment district that I frequent often and have developed a friendship with the owner. These kinds of creative partnerships or collaborations help the work evolve and grow.
I know that a lot of your inspiration comes from nature, particularly that of organisms from Costa Rican rainforests in juxtaposition to that found in NYC’s garment district. That feels like a wonderful story right there. Can you let us know why you’re so attracted to these two seemingly very different landscapes? Any good stories to tell of inspiration?
Absolutely, when I was seventeen years old I worked as a guide and caretaker at a Butterfly Garden in Costa Rica for a few months over the summer season. I was really struck by how artificial the colors looked on many of the tropical birds and insects I was surrounded by. Humans often think of natural colors as earth tones or something like a burnt sienna, but I couldn’t believe how many animals actually came in shades of fluorescent grenadine and neon slime green, colors you would often associate with the artificial or mass produced. There are approximately 10 million species of animals, plants and insects known to man and more than half of them call the rainforest home. I am attracted to both the rainforest and the garment district, for their spectacularity, excess, and diversity in saturated colors, and varying textures.
My aunt is also a seamstress and used to work at the Metropolitan Opera House in the costume department. I remember visiting her home and her studio as a small child. It was always filled with fabrics ranging from white chiffon to dramatic deep burgundy velvets and brocades. I was always fascinated by the theatricality of these materials, and wondered what these fabrics said about the person who wore them.
There’s an element of change in your work that I really love. The material allows for the work to really alter depending on point of view. A tall person and a short person standing right next to each other may see something completely different which is fascinating. What are your thoughts on that aspect of the work, does it play into your conceptual ideas or is it more an aesthetic/material aspect?
Light and its ability to change the way we see, has always been an important part of my painting practice. Many of the works I make use a multi-toned iridescent material that shifts in color as you move around it. I originally discovered this shift by chance and have since been using it intentionally. The first works I started making with these color-shifting materials I referred to as Arthropods. An arthropod is a phylum of animals that have exoskeleton, like insects or jellyfish. They represent approximately three-quarters of all known biological organisms, living or extinct, and communicate primarily with color and touch. I felt like this described my paintings; touch being the painted gesture and light or color, being the chromatic palette and touch sensitive materials I use. I also like this association to animals because the paintings kind of see you and shift in color as you approach them, a painting that can look back.
I really love that “ a-ha” moment when a viewer discovers the color and light shift in relation to the movement of their bodies. I will often intentionally install the works in places that rely on a certain amount of human movement in order to achieve this.
Your work can fall into several different “labels” so to speak from a painter, fiber artist, found object etc. Do you feel one describes you more than another, or feel compelled to explore one aspect or method more than another in future work? What do you think about these labels in general when it comes to talking about art?
I think labels are useful when trying to explain your work to others, but are often times very fluid and flexible. Primarily I think of myself as a painter but am often been labeled as a Multimedia artist, which I agree with as well. I would really love to explore the fiber aspect of my artist identity, and hope to weave and design more of my own fabrics on the loom very soon.
You’ve had the opportunity to do some great residencies; can you tell us about one or two of them and any breakthroughs or great experiences that informed your work at those?
Absolutely! I have attended the Vermont Studio Center twice and both times were pretty important for me as an artist. The first time was in 2015. I had a really wonderful studio visit with John O’Connor, who later on I studied with at Pratt Institute. He pushed me to take advantage of the time I was provided, and to create more work then I had initially planned on making. After the studio visit I engaged in this self inflicted painting marathon, where I pushed myself to make over 50 paintings in the span of a month. This dedicated time and space really served as the moment in which I fully committed myself to painting, and provided me with a new artistic community and wonderful network of international artists. I made friends with several of the other artists in residence, and am still in contact with many of them today. I am currently organizing an exhibition entitled Slime Friendz at the Armenia Art Fair with Alex Jahani, my old studio neighbor from Vermont.
Do you have any favorite female artists?
Mary Heilmann, Bridget Riley, and Lynda Benglis are probably my top three.
Do you have any upcoming shows or events that you’d like to share?
Yes, I am currently preparing for my upcoming solo exhibition with Sweet Lorraine Gallery at Ti Artist Studios in Brooklyn, NY. Please join me for the opening reception on Saturday May 4th from 6-9pm.