I first discovered Rachel's work on Instagram and was immediately taken by the meditative quality of her art. The way she applies pen to paper/paint to canvas is fluid and intuitive. Her larger works have a kind of patchwork quality as if each square represents a specific thought or feeling she's unraveling, with her smaller works on paper showing how she begins that process.
A few months back, I visited her at her sunlit studio to talk about how she approaches her work, her Zen practice, and the importance of looking at art in the real world before buying online.
Artist: Impossible to name just one. I recently fell in love with traditional Berber carpets (from Morocco). They combine rich colour schemes and a free improvisational approach. In terms of painters, I've been thinking of this older Italian artist, Giorgio Griffa, a lot lately. He works on raw un stretched canvas on the floor, using calligraphic marks and saturated colours. It's a very free and simple process.
Art Institution: The Met in NYC.
Season: I can't pick a single season but I love that I live in a place with dramatic changes from season to season. Even if winter sucks sometimes.
Meal: Breakfast. I never skip it.
City/Place: I spent some formative years in my twenties in Montreal, so that place will always be dear; and my teenage summers in Northern Ontario (Temagami); that will always be one of the most beautiful places in the world for me.
Tell us about your process?
I never know where to start with this question so I'll provide an anecdote instead. I bought a connect the dots puzzle book last year to bring to a cottage. The dots are supposed to turn into images, like hands chopping vegetables, a ferris wheel, a bunny rabbit, it's a whole random assortment. Each one is titled with a cheesy pun. Instead of following the numbered scheme I intuitively connected the dots in my own way so they became abstract webs, as if the thing had been haphazardly wrapped in thread. It was a very stoner thing to do though I was sober at the time. I think this has something to say about how my brain works.
What's the relationship between your drawing and painting practice?
Drawing is like breathing, painting is like using the breath to fuel movement. Drawing is sufficient in and of itself, but painting adds exciting possibilities.
Everything begins with drawing. The momentum from that activity becomes fodder for painting ideas. There's a lot of sitting around staring into space and then bursts of quick activity once an idea presents itself.
Do the patterns or similar visual elements reflect something specific?
I don't usually draw or paint from reference images. Although recently I took a bunch of images out of the Toronto Reference Library's (amazing) image collection because I wanted to study shells. I was interested in the Golden Ratio and how it manifests in physical forms.
How do you know when you're done with a piece?
It's very tricky to know. I often overwork things. It's helpful to put work away for a few months and then pull it back out; or see it in a different context, outside of the studio.
You recently spent time at the Toronto Zen Centre, how does that experience support your practice?
It's absolutely essential. Spending time quietly observing my mind and body has been really humbling. We're all basically hot messes when it comes down to it, but my time practicing Zen (and Vipassana) meditation has generated some insight and compassion into the bewilderment. I think originally I wanted the bewilderment to go away, but over time I realized it's more about learning to live with it, even enjoy it sometimes.
Do you collect art? How do you go about it and what does your collection include?
I've been lucky to trade with a few artist friends, so that's how my collection began. Recently I took the plunge and purchased a couple of things for the first time. I bought a drawing by Anton Cetin from Peter Estey Fine Art, and I bought a ceramic piece that Julie Moon made for this year's Edition (the artist book/multiples fair that accompanies Art Toronto).
What does art mean to you?
Impossible to answer. A friend recommended John Dewey's Art as Experience to me recently, a book based on a lecture he gave at Harvard in the 1930's; his perspective really resonates, which is essentially that art is an outgrowth of our response to life, as lived through sensing bodies.
Rachel's tip for art collecting:
Go with your gut. And if your gut isn't speaking to you, try and get to know it. This involves some self-education, especially looking at art in person, not just online; and reading about it, listening to artists. Most of all paying attention to what resonates and what doesn't.
Thank you for joining us and to see available works by Rachel click here.