Rachel Goodyear – They never run, only call

Rachel Goodyear – They never run, only call
24th January – 7th March 2009
Wednesday – Saturday 12pm – 5pm
The International 3

This is the second exhibition Rachel Goodyear has given in Manchester in as many months, the last one at the Cornerhouse with The Intertwining Line, where she exhibited with other artists. I meant to blog on it but never got round to it (naughty me!) Anyway, I became interested in Goodyear’s work there and decided to pop along to The International 3 to see her latest work.

Goodyear draws, in graphite and ink, small intimate pictures of people and animals, and the natural world usually entwined in ambiguous moments, that was the impression I had going to this exhibition, and my imagination wasn’t disappointed. On leaving I did a word association game in my mind to try and distil some of what I had just seen. I came up with ‘isolation’, ‘void’, ‘unprotected’, ‘suggestive’, ‘technical’, ‘mythology’, ‘miniature’, and ‘sightless’, among other words, and these words, or the impression they give, sums up Goodyear’s recent work for me.

I attended a talk that Goodyear gave at the Cornerhouse to accompany her art in The Intertwining Line so I already knew that she was interested in concepts like the void and isolation. But I think that any viewer of her work can come to this conclusion, I get it initially from the medium her work is presented in: white paper with minimal pencil or pen drawings. We get pictures of dogs, people, birds and wolfs, alone or in groups, branches reaching out, insects invading, and it becomes clear to me that they cannot be ‘isolated’, that there is always something going on, an interaction of some sort, no the feeling that is inspired is vacuum, or maybe ennui and a sense of aloneness, extenuating the space between, as no phenomenon is in isolation. I am making a philosophical point here, ‘isolation’ is a word misused in much the same way that ‘nothingness’ is misused, as, strictly being, there is no such thing as ‘isolation’ or ‘nothingness’, there always being something. It is impossible to represent ‘isolation’ one can only approximate something similar to it, say, a vacuum: that is: ‘a region containing no matter, free space’. Scientists can measure vacuums because they can be compared with what is around them (a region), ‘isolation’ on its literal meaning (‘without regards to context, similar matters’), cannot be measured and, therefore, cannot be known.

I digress, it is a bit of a bug-bear with me as I have a phenomenological theory that ‘no phenomenon is in isolation’ because no thing has ever come from nothing…………(I’ll leave that for another post); but what these thoughts bring to my impression of Goodyear’s art do tally with something she has said about her work, the unprotected nature of what she does and what she represents: “Drawing manifests itself upon paper or the manipulation of found objects, all displayed unprotected, offering no evident elevation of status from conception to display.” (from this website) We get this unprotected narrative, look at Girl who smiles at dogs, 2008, four dogs in a semi-circle (Alsations?) facing us snarling, teeth showing. There is a woman’s back, shoulders and head facing us, we must assume her condition, fear? terror? or something malevolent, “a look of ghastly, twisted satisfaction on her face.” as the exhibition leaflet says. That’s the point, its unprotected, and to a degree, sightless: when the eyes are not facing us, they are either physically missing, altered in some way or misplaced as in Making new acquaintances, 2009. This art is very suggestive, presented on the walls with no accompanying titles (though they are all titled) they can be viewed with your own fantasies in mind. The titles, when you come to them, are straight-forward, descriptive titles that leave no room to dream…….Stags with dark eyes……Girl through a hoop……….Dog digging…….yet every single image leaves questions (unprotected?), why is she doing that? what does it mean? why are they interacting like that? There is no obvious narrative.

Or maybe the narrative is fantastical and mythological? On the face of it, of course we’re in some sort of fantasy when we view these pictures, they’re so unreal, everyday objects (people, animals, trees, ect) taken out of an everyday context, with interactions between man and animal, incongruent relations…….ah, now we’re in the realm of myths. Traditional definitions tell me that a myth contains super-human beings, determined in an earlier age, a pre-literate age, that natural phenomenons are interpreted by such fantastical creatures. or that the myth is a theme or character-type that represents an idea. Goodyear’s myths should be treated as similes, that is the drawings, like a figure of speech, resembling one thing in order to represent something other, of a different category. We get a sense of this in the graphite scene, Cave that Coughed, where out of the white void comes a cave entrance spitting out some twisted branch on which resides a wolf, snakes, some birds, one of which is falling off. The exhibition curator, Angela Kingston, in her explanatory notes, refers to Jung’s interpretation of a dream he had about a cave: “Jung interpreted the cave in his dream as a passage to the unconscious.” She should know that this ‘interpretation’ was actually Jung’s interpretation/use of Plato’s Cave Analogy, inverted: while Plato wished to show the ‘real world’ to the cave dwellers by leading them from the cave and into the light of the sun, explaining that to begin with the brightness of the sun (true knowledge, which comes from the Forms) would make it hard to see, Jung was interested in the psychological aspects of the dark, the unconscious. Truth is to be found in the recesses, of the mind as well as in nature. (Another bug-bear of mine is that, philosophically and phenomenologically speaking, there is no such thing as the ‘unconscious’, what is meant by this word is ‘repressed memory’, it being impossible to ‘unconsciously recognise the unconscious’, no we forget conscious moments.) Goodyear provides another interpretation bringing in the thought of co-existence and evolution: how do these animals live (and evolve) together in a cave, this wolf, snake and birds?

And this is what I like from art, the posing, the disputes over meaning, but there is also beauty involved, a technical element that pleases. These are delicately drawn illustrations that show technical virtuosity, with a naturalist’s eye for detail. Close up viewing is required and this takes me back to the minimal presentation of these drawings, their focused nature: the surrounding void focusses the eye. I am also reminded of Goya’s engravings, individual moments of madness frozen in time, the sense of abuse, the implied torment that some of Goodyear’s characters go through, we see women in unnatural positions, with physical abnormalities, alien-like growths………where do we go from here? To the art gallery, I say.

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Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelite Vision

Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelite Vision
Saturday 11 October 2008 – Sunday 11 January 2009
Manchester Art Gallery

I should like this stuff, it’s medium is oil on canvas (for the most part), with a healthy splattering of colour and they even try to explore a narrative, yet Pre-Raphaelite paintings leave me cold. As a contemporary comparison, Impressionist paintings do not leave me cold and it is their lack of morality and their profound interest in representing nature truthfully (and aesthetically) that warms me every time I view them.

So, what is it about the Pre-Raphaelite’s that I’m sceptical about? A quote from Holman Hunt himself goes some way to explaining my troubles with the Pre-Raphaelite movement:

“Painters should go out….like merchants of nature, and bring home precious merchandise in faithful pictures….with something like the spirit of Apostles, fearing nothing, going amongst robbers and in deserts with impunity as men without anything to lose.”

Nothing in life is disinterested and having spiritual impulses should not necessaryly detract from a work of art, but this quote shouldn’t hide the propaganda behind such images, and nor should such “merchants of nature” be considered as representing nature truthfully, they do not, they represent a cultural imposition: not the method, just the message.

For Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelites, nature is sick – you see this in the paintings on display in this exhibition, the representation of torment that can only be relieved by the Christian promise – the colours of life are garish, there is an imbalance somewhere. This ‘sickness’ we see in The Scapegoat with its other-worldly dusk and wobbly, symbolic goat. This symbolism and ‘other-worldliness’ reaches a disturbing conclusion with The Triumph of the Innocents, this image of children fleeing Herod’s infanticide with Mary, Joseph and Jesus is disturbing, not because of the subject matter, but rather because of the picture itself: frankly the infants look demonic and this is probably an insight into the perverse relationship the British have with children. These demonic ‘cherubs’ are far removed from Botticelli’s puttos, they don’t seem to belong in the scene that is painted. While the rounded infants found in Botticelli’s work can provoke they are also evanescent, captured with delicacy.

Tom Lubbock in the Independent expressed what I felt walking through this exhibition:

“He oppresses on three fronts. Symbolism. Moralism. Materiality. In a Hunt painting, every detail signifies something. It preaches a lesson. And most oppressively it has a solid, glistening physical presence.”

His work is too ‘heavy’, especially the palette with its bold, contrasting colours. Above I said that Pre-Raphaelite paintings leave me cold while Impressionist paintings don’t. Yes Monet’s palette contains bold, contrasting colours, but he used them in a much less incongruent way, leaving a more natural impression. With Hunt (and the other Pre-Raphaelite painters) there is, I think, an unintended dissonance between their depiction of nature and their ‘moral message’ super-imposed over the paintings – unintended to the modern viewer, at least. No doubt their way of representing nature ‘truthfully’ came at the insistent call of their Christian philosophy.

All in all, I won’t deny that these paintings hold interest but they are not profound, they are too circumstantial for that, historical paintings with too much baggage that instigates their origin.