RACHEL MACFARLANE - Strange Vitality
March 12, 2016
TUSSLE MAGAZINE: What were a few challenges while creating your thesis exhibition, how did they differ from your usual day to day studio practice?
RACHEL MACFARLANE: Creating a thesis exhibition is difficult. On one hand, there is pressure for it to be cumulative of your most successful work in a program. On the other hand, it should be work you want feedback on. At Rutgers our thesis exhibitions are really early in the last semester. We have many critics, visiting artists, students and faculty come through the exhibition. It is a fertile moment to get responses to your work. So one challenge was determining how much risk to take, which work to present and how. I took the riskier route or at least it felt risky to me. I focused the install on a series of work that was new - the mask pieces. I also showed my first animation and my first self published artist book. These were scary but exciting decisions. It worked for me and allowed me to think about installation in a different way. I began to think of the book and animation as keys to the work, and viewers seemed to feel that way too.
I would say that diving into digital ways of making images has been the biggest change in my working habits. The digital imagery is the foundation for both the book and animation. I have always referenced virtual types of space through painting language. Yet, this was the first time I paired the paintings with digital imagery.
TM: You have deep roots in the Banff residency programs, may you expand on the influence on your work?
RM: The Banff Centre is an incredible place. I have been fortunate to have secured a job there working as an Advisor during the summer. It is a unique job within the Community Services department. I am able to make work and live on campus with the resident artists. This summer will be my fourth year. It taught me that the most important ingredients to make strides within your own work are time and space. I had been living in Toronto for 10 years when I started to go there for the summers. Taking away the bustle of the city for a 3 months is amazing. It allows me to delve into research, and develop a daily routine of painting.
The centre is full of supportive staff and resident artists. The community is inspiring and gets you motivated to make work, and think differently. My favourite part though is exposure to artists outside of visual arts. The centre is full of writers, musicians, composers, dancers and filmmakers. I love dance and music so seeing productions throughout the summer is such a privilege and joy. It is really the most nurturing place in an the most serene and beautiful setting. It is as amazing as everyone describes it.
TM: In the body of work for your thesis show you are playing with a portrait or mask / figure? Were these also constructed first?
RM: Figuration is something that has been under the surface of all my work. During undergrad and all through highschool I was obsessed with rendering the body. My early favourite painters were Francis Bacon,Edvard Munch, Edgar Degas and Lucien Freud. I was interested in the grotesque and how it presented itself through the body. So this series doesn’t at all feel uncomfortable for me. However, it is definitely new and could seem slightly disparate from my previous work.
The mask series came out of my desire to really focus some work on figure relationships. They arrived, as most of my work does, through the process of making. I had made a painting last year called ‘Bad Camouflage’. It was a chartreuse green mask that I had made as a maquette and just floated off the wall. I painted from this simple object as reference. All the work begins in a physical construction. The painting really freaked me out. The effect of this more trompe l'oeil space, the pun in the name, and the figuration was all exciting but also terrifying. What was I going to do - make mask paintings? It seemed cliche. But the painting kept haunting me. I had a visit with Carroll Dunham and mostly talked with him about how that painting was disturbing me. He told me to follow it, that I had to make more and just see where it took me. Why would I abandon it? It could always be just left in the studio if it did not work. So I made more.
The mask project became about asking, 'How far can I stretch the figure ground relationship' and 'How far can I push the recognition of a face?' The series combines my interest in the painting as both a window and an object, association, and disguise as illusion. It is a project that is definitely not finished but has rather just begun.
TM: Why do you construct your paintings as maquettes before painting?
RM: The construction of maquettes begun as a solution to creating unique spatial situations. I was frustrated by trying to create new spatial architectures from combining images in the form of collage. I didn’t want another cultural narrative or other media directly interfering with the types of spaces I created. Then I realized that what became important to me is their temporal and physical qualities. Setting up a dynamic between the tangible and the virtual has become a major device in making work about illusory politics.
The maquettes are simply objects contorted to my needs. They begin through material play. I can manipulate them to create quotidian situations of something imaginative. There is information in starting from found objects and transcribing them into formal renderings. There is something important to me in taking ready made materials and transforming them. The dichotomy I most strongly want to tackle is actually built into my process of making. I cannot get away from it if I tried. It is always in the work.
TM: There is a duality apparent in your work, between materiality and illusory may you expand on how you plan to further explore this inherent nature of painting?
RM: This duality is something that artists have been consciously pursuing since the beginning of modernism. I look to Morandi, Cezanne, Manet, and the post impressionists as examples. They worked with transcription, object reality, materiality of paint, and the illusory capacity for paint to describe.
I want to relate this type of analysis of space to our new experience of mimetic space. Our spectrum for manufactured space, objects, characters and others has widely expanded. Painting is a media that has been used to unfurl the tangles of perception. Some of what I am trying to do cannot be completely explained. I internalize the world around myself. I look at media. I experience objects. I meditate on the difference and somehow out of that I produce paintings. The most successful paintings are ones that somehow capture an uncanny feeling. The work might have the feeling of a strange fidelity, a haunting disembodiment or a spatial impossibility. I plan exploring transcription in different media, and creating more complex spatial propositions.
TM: What are your plans after graduation? (how do you feel your practice has changed?)
RM: I have a few plans set up so far. I am working at the Banff Centre for the summer again. In September I will be back in NYC. For October, November and December, I will be participating at the Doris Mccarthy Artist-in-Residence. There I will be making work for an exhibit at Nicholas Metivier Gallery in 2017. In January, I will be returning to NYC and the rest is still getting fleshed out. I’m excited about the future now that I have completed my MFA. I’m hoping to teach part time and just continue on with my work.
My work has become more clear to me. I feel less bound up in making work in a specific way and have realized that I can’t get away from my own outlook that easily. Moving into unfamiliar media has actually forced me to reflect on why painting is so relevant to me still. The biggest change is that I feel more fearless to try new strategies to make work, and to trust my intuition.
TM: How was the program, why did you choose to study in America? (may you expand on your previous education and the school and program of the current program)
RM: I had been in Toronto working for a long time, and grew up just outside of the city. I decided to come to the states to experience another art scene and meet other artists.
I love Toronto. I have a deep connection to OCADU. I went to school there an received the Drawing and Painting medal upon graduation. I’ve always felt supported by OCADU. I went on to work within the drawing and painting department for 3 years. I still feel very connected to Toronto and Canada in general. It’s important to me to feel close to the city. That’s why I’m so excited about the Doris McCarthy Residency. It allow me to reconnect with many amazing artists and people. I think too many artists leave Toronto and don’t return. I’m hoping to continue going back, and will likely eventually return.
Rutgers has been a wonderful experience. It’s an exciting time at the institution. They are starting to offer scholarships to all candidates that are entering the program. Kara Walker just joined as a Tepper Chair, and the faculty in general is wonderful. What I’ve most appreciated about the program is their willingness to listen to the student body and take action. I've experienced tremendous support from relevant professors and visiting artists. Like most programs it is what you make it. Rutgers allowed access to NYC and Philadelphia, the opportunity to intern with one of my favourite painters, Susanna Heller, and a huge studio. It was a perfect program for what I needed at this moment. It allowed me to push my work forward.