at Launch F18, NYC (through 4 December 2021)
by Danielle Dewar
The horror genre is rooted in a desire for catharsis by means of dispelling fears and anxieties that live deep within a subconscious mind. Since we often crave a controlled release of such emotions, the use of the macabre within an artist’s practice allows for a quick glimpse into a unique psyche while highlighting our collective societal fears. Brooklyn-based artist Rachael Tarravechia delivers just that in her new, exciting body of work currently on view at Launch F18 in Manhattan.
Several ornate, large-scale paintings comprise Wish You Were Here, Tarravechia’s debut New York solo exhibition. In her practice, the artist deliberately employs pointed atmosphere and narrative to evoke tension within viewers. “I wish to create environments that are pleasing to the eye but have enough subtleties within the work to have the feeling of peace slowly fade away,” reveals Tarravechia.
Previous works by the artist have featured violent iconography through broken glass and knives amongst an otherwise pristine interior scene. Seeker, from her current exhibition, boasts a chainsaw surrounded by the nostalgic backdrop of her grandmother’s guest bathroom. According to Tarravechia, the composition in Seeker is twofold in depicting both physical and emotional violence. Having faced a personal reckoning in this exact bathroom, she alludes to a former struggle with disordered eating and the illusion of control that kept her in it. This sentiment is underscored through Tarravechia’s choice to include weaponry so prominently in this work.
Thematically it is no surprise that the media she enjoys also informs the direction her work takes. As a horror fan herself, Tarravechia recognizes the importance of setting and composition when aiming to garner a targeted emotional response. Devoid of human subjects, quiet isolation pervades the idyllic scenes in her paintings. Often finding herself alone amongst a plethora of alluring environments, an interesting dichotomy presents itself that has inspired her to recreate feeling content amongst the discomfort of such isolation.
“I find it extremely interesting how much fear informs our everyday decisions and life choices. In this series of paintings, I want to highlight that feeling of fear, but cloak it amongst ‘prettiness’,” Tarravechia states. Inspired by her travels in 2019 to Japan and beyond, Tarravechia invites us to revisit her memories as an uninterrupted voyeur of her self-referential postcards in Wish You Were Here, on view through December 4th.
I recently caught up with the artist to chat about her current solo exhibition. In our conversation, Tarravechia speaks about the memories and inspiration that influenced this body of work, preparing for the show, and personal meanings behind her recurring motifs.
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Danielle Dewar: Have your perceptions and memories of the spaces you painted in Wish You Were Here changed throughout the course of your creative process? If so, how?
Rachael Tarravechia: It’s kind of a mixed bag — some of the memories have rosied over time, and others feel like they’re tarnishing. But I definitely have more clarity after reflecting on them by taking the time to translate my feelings with paint. Thinking back to the moments that inspired each painting, I feel very cognizant of exactly how and why I was feeling what I felt in the moment. I can place myself back in these spaces and imagine a camera zooming out. I’m finally able to see and understand more around me. In my mind it feels very cinematic and romanticized. Some of the paintings feel like they’re from a drama. Some from a suspenseful thriller. Some from a horror film.
Dewar: Wish You Were Here is about your travels in 2019. Can you recall a favorite memory during this time and where it took place? Is this reflected in any of the works for the show?
Tarravechia: One of my favorite memories is the story behind Lady. In 2019, I took multiple trips to Japan while working for Kaikai Kiki. Behind the studio and up a steep hill, there was a farm that grew vegetables, and a greenhouse full of flowers. The farm even had a shiba named Momo who was always outside and would go crazy for head rubs. The farmers ran a tiny soba restaurant on the farmland, and they were only open four hours a day. Often we’d go there for our lunch breaks. One day I ran ahead of my friend up the hill so I could have a few minutes to take in the scenery before going inside the restaurant. There was no one around and the air felt calm and eerie at the same time. While circling the greenhouse and peeking in, I thought about the hypocrisy of a glass structure in terms of privacy. I felt alone, but I knew I could still be seen. I quickly snapped out of a daze when my friend caught up, and we went to go eat. The border of Lady depicts hopping bunnies, which decorated some of the woven place mats inside of the soba restaurant. That day was filled with a lot of warmth, but my experience alone by the greenhouse felt like a chill up the spine.
Dewar: You’ve incorporated color psychology in your work for this show. Can you explain how you achieved this and with which works specifically?
Tarravechia: For the past year I’ve been using a heavy pink and red palette. Pink is often associated as a feminine color, and one that is soft, safe, and mellow. It was because of these societal connections to the color that people thought pink walls could help curb aggression and calm people down. In some cases, long exposure to the color made people feel even more aggression and anger. The idea that a “feminine” color being used to treat a quality often associated with men is really interesting to me. Seeker and Cleanse both lean heavily on these concepts of fragility versus violence. Out of the two, Cleanse feels more subtle in this approach — like it’s more of a warning of what’s to come. There’s a lot of blue hues with green undertones to contrast the pink and reds. I want the viewer to feel a push and pull with the contrasting colors. Like something is drawing them in, but it feels ominous enough to proceed with caution down the tiled hallway. A feeling that you should check over your shoulder.
Dewar: Which work was the most challenging to paint, whether emotionally or skillfully? And why? Which was the most fun?
Tarravechia: Seeker was definitely the most emotionally challenging to paint. The other paintings in the show depict moments from public spaces where I was completely alone, but Seeker is my grandma’s guest bathroom. I’ve been in that house so many times, and have probably spent hours in that bathroom showering, brushing my teeth, putting on makeup, but there is one specific trip up there that still weighs heavy on me. In high school, I had an eating disorder, and I spent my first Thanksgiving with the eating disorder at my grandma’s house. It was really difficult not wanting to eat anything, and being in someone else’s home for a food centric holiday. I spent a lot of time in the bathroom looking at myself in the mirror. I felt an emotional violence within myself — I hated myself and my body. In Seeker, the mirror unveils a reflection showing the viewer information about the room that otherwise wouldn’t have been seen. Two different worlds existing in one scene. Cue the chainsaw. The internal battle that was happening inside my head and my stomach was violent. A bathroom is such an intimate room, but for a lot of people. With the doors shut and all eyes off of me, I felt figuratively naked in there. It was just me looking at a mirrored, alternative reality. But it’s a guest bathroom. Other people enter and have their own emotional reckonings in there. I’d imagine there has been a lot of emotional violence in that bathroom.
The Water is Getting Cold was the most fun to paint! There are such a variety of textures in that piece, as well as perspective layers. I don’t paint nature very often, so having two circular windows as the focal point of the piece was really exciting and different. Additional items in the scene, such as the vases, and candle, and the smoldering cigarettes were fun to add in and carefully place into the environment. The Water is Getting Cold is also the only painting in the show that has rhinestones. That’s a meditative process I enjoy doing in short bursts.
Dewar: How have you enjoyed working with fewer embellishments for this show? What prompted this shift?
Tarravechia: My fingers and wrists are definitely thanking me for using less rhinestones! Placing each rhinestone one at a time is psychically taxing on my hands. But, the reason why there are less embellishments is because I’ve been enjoying painting even more. My color choices are much more specific and purposeful now, so most of the time I can’t even find rhinestones exactly matching what I want. I’ve reached a point with these paintings where the specificity in color is more important to me than the idea of adding embellishments. There is a little less fantasy in these current works, and more reality.
Dewar: What can we expect from you in the future? Any exciting forthcoming projects?
Tarravechia: You can expect an even more personal series of paintings that explore my experiences growing up in a non-religious household in the South. I’m having a solo show in early January 2022 with Tchotchke Gallery, so stay tuned!
Rachael Tarravechia received a B.F.A. in painting from The Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Georgia in the spring of 2018. She has exhibited her work internationally in the United States, Hong Kong, and France. Tarravechia lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She is formally represented by Tchotchke Gallery.
Danielle Dewar is the co-founder of Tchotchke Gallery. She has also been a practicing artist for thirteen years with work exhibited in several shows and onsite installations. In addition to her studio practice, she has worked at blue-chip galleries in Manhattan giving her a unique understanding of the art market. Dewar earned her Bachelor’s degree in Studio Art and English Literature from The University of North Carolina at Wilmington before attending Appalachian State University’s graduate program.