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Creepy Drawings Eclipse the World of the Subconscious

Artist Rachel Goodyear's show 'Approaching the Surface' explores fragmentary memories and dreams glimpsed but not understood.

Rachel Goodyear, Urchins 2, 2016, pencil, charcoal, watercolour and ink on paper, 72 x 53 cm, 28.3 x 20.9 in. Courtesy Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London. Copyright the artist.

The rich pickings of the human psyche serve as fuel—possibly of the nightmare variety—for UK artist Rachel Goodyear's latest show, Approaching the Surface, at London's Pippy Houldsworth Gallery. Goodyear's drawings, along with her collages and animations, explore the suppressed forms that lurk beneath the conscious mind—showing us strange figures and inexplicable scenes on stark white backgrounds that look like visual manifestations of Angela Carter's subversive fairy tales.


For this latest show Goodyear further investigates the murky mind waters of the subconscious, specifically the idea of "fragments that have risen from the subconscious but are still out of reach to be fully tangible." This is the glimpsed-below-the-surface of the show's title and the illustrations show female figures, often alone, inhabiting rooms and unreal places that resonate with the fragmentary recall of memories. Sometimes they're reaching through a black portal in a wall or surrounded by carefully-balanced sculptures. They stare out at us dressed in Victorian clothes, partly obscured by hoods or unaccountable floating forms.

Rachel Goodyear, Black Hole, 2016, pencil and ink on paper, 31 x 23 cm, 12.2 x 9.1 in. Courtesy Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London. Copyright the artist.

Unlike Goodyear's previous drawings with their bare white backgrounds though, these new pieces have layered collage or washed ink surrounding the figures. "The background washes I consider to be an abstract soup from which the images are in the process of emerging or melting away." Goodyear explains to The Creators Project. "This is the area that could be seen as a mysterious landscape or blind spots in the memory. The washes themselves contain the unknown as even the process is one of discovery and chance as the ink moves over the page. Occasionally I have placed the figures in a more recognisable setting of a room, however, these are still empty and stark and become containers or rooms within the mind."


Rachel Goodyear, Face 1, 2016, pencil, watercolour and collage on paper, 31 x 23 cm, 12.2 x 9.1 in. Courtesy Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London. Copyright the artist.

The sense of emergence is ever present, whether that's memories, dreams, or psychosis. And they take influence from her interest in the mind, identity, and perception—both scientifically and in art and literature. A particular source of inspiration is American writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman's 1892 short story "The Yellow Wallpaper." The narrative features a young woman losing her mind, following her as she moves to a colonial mansion for a summer of bed rest after the birth of her child. "[Gilman's] beautiful and alarming short story offers such a convincing horror of a repressed and under-stimulated woman slipping into psychosis as she sees into and beyond the walls that confine her," says Goodyear.

In terms of literature, other works like Oliver Sacks' The Man Who Mistook His a Wife For a Hat, Margaret Atwood's collection,and Sigmund Freud's essay "Das Unheimliche"—where he defines the uncanny as something familiar turned horribly strange—are also influences. While in the visual arts Louise Bourgeois and Marlene Dumas are two key figures. Dumas for her "ability to capture and evoke so much emotion, comment, strength, vulnerability and soul within her figures through deceptively simple and bold strokes of a brush."

Rachel Goodyear, Cairns, 2016, pencil, watercolour and ink on paper, 71.7 x 52.7 cm, 28.2 x 20.7 in. Courtesy Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London. Copyright the artist.


"I do tend to find a pull towards accounts factual and fictional where there is a breakdown in reality, but still has a connection to the real world," the artist notes of her illustrations. "I like to take something recognizable and carefully give it a twist, whilst retaining enough ambiguity from which viewers can make their own individual interpretations. I enjoy plucking things out of context and rearranging them into new and slightly uncomfortable positions. I also like to inject a fine balance within my work—doppelgängers and repeating motifs have made regular appearances alongside simultaneous approaches to the playful and the sinister."

An occuring motif in the show, and in many other works by the artist, are the subjects' eyes being blinded, obscured, hooded or covered. Goodyear says it's a way to create a disconnect between viewers and subject, heightening the sense of creepiness. The eyes also have a long association with the uncanny in art and literature, from ETA Hoffman's The Sandman to Oedipus. Goodyear says she likes to tap into this association, of not trusting what you're seeing and the fear of losing your sight.

Rachel Goodyear, Seated Figure, 2016, pencil, ink and watercolour on paper, 31 x 23 cm, 12.2 x 9.1 in. Courtesy Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London. Copyright the artist.

"However, I don't see myself as blinding the subjects in my drawings so much as creating these barriers, veils and obstructions," she notes. "Each of these motifs also holds within it an ambiguity to the state of the figure—what is the purpose of a blindfold or a hood? Is it something that is voluntary or forced upon them? I see the figures within my work as having an inner strength and a defiance even if they appear vulnerable. The urchin-like protrusions in two of the drawings could be seen as blinding, but could also be growing from within, like a manifestation and a completely different kind of sight."


Rachel Goodyear, Maker, 2016, pencil, ink and watercolour on paper, 71.5 x 50.7 cm, 28.1 x 20 in. Courtesy Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London. Copyright the artist.

Tapping into the subconscious is not only present in the finished result, but also in the artist's method in creating the works, too. Goodyear says creating is a "process of collaging, both in the mind and on paper, and periods of sketching in a stream of consciousness." While drawing serves as the perfect—and a very direct—way to get ideas out and into the world.

"The immediacy of drawing is something that always excites me," she explains. "Drawing is a way for me to interpret and rearrange the world around me, to lose myself on a journey, or to simply learn to look at something through drawing studies. As I introduce more techniques there are endless possibilities laid out in front of me. I love that drawing is a language that can be applied through so many different media and approaches."

Rachel Goodyear, Girl, 2016, pencil, ink and watercolour on paper, 31 x 23 cm, 12.2 x 9.1 in. Courtesy Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London. Copyright the artist.

Approaching the Surface is on now until November 19, 2016 at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London. See more of Rachel Goodyear's work on her website here.


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