Making Misfits

A British artist expands her drawing practice, joins a band, and sounds off about Brexit.

Rachel Goodyear at her studio in Manchester, England

As any yoga practitioner knows, prolonging a pose will teach you about your body’s strengths, weaknesses, and limitations. For English artist Rachel Goodyear, 38, physical endurance gave way to inspiration. As a student at Leeds Metropolitan University in the late ’90s, she began working as a life-drawing model on the side. After lengthy sessions of posing nude for art classes, Goodyear would come home and let out her feelings through ink sketches on paper. “I was drawing these grotesque thighs because that’s where it hurt,” she says.

Goodyear's "Mountains"

Though modeling was nothing more than a short-term gig to Goodyear, something about the experience stuck in her psyche. Sourcing visuals from old photographs, books, and magazines, she creates drawings that assemble, alter, and distort figures into arrangements that are at once nostalgic and discomfiting. Rendered mainly in pencil and watercolor, many of these vignettes feature women whose bodies are revealed or concealed in awkward, unsettling, or disturbing ways. For instance, in “Afternoon” (2011), two conservatively dressed women have birdcages over their heads—while one appears annoyed by the three canaries near her face, the other is hidden by red fabric draped over surreal headgear.

Goodyear typically leaves her subjects adrift in negative space, but for her latest solo show, opening this month at the New Art Gallery Walsall near Birmingham, England (through Sept. 3), she concentrated on atmosphere. Dripping, painterly washes set the stage in the work: from the gurgling navy shadow looming behind a woman with sea urchins for eyes, in “Over her Shoulder” (2017), to the whisper of gray delineating the walls around a standing woman wearing a red gown, her face obstructed by a pointed black mass, in “Mountains” (2017). Goodyear describes a “halo” effect, where the precise lines of human silhouettes meet fluid backgrounds. “It’s like these two different worlds,” she says. In addition to the drawings, Goodyear, who dabbles in animation and sculpture, designed a site-specific installation around a three-screen animation titled “Oracles,” in which veiled forms float across hazy landscapes.


Detail in the space


Currently based in Manchester, Goodyear has steadily received recognition across England, originally propelled by her inclusion in the Liverpool Biennial in 2008, and she gained traction when London gallerist Pippy Houldsworth—who counts Daniel Arsham and the Bruce High Quality Foundation among her artists—became her primary dealer. In recent years, she’s had a one-person exhibition in New York at The Drawing Center, has been featured in biennials in Austria and Brazil, and had her fourth solo show with the gallery last fall.

If Goodyear’s female characters can seem alienated in their own strange universes, the artist also tries to inject them with a sense of strength and defiance. But, occasionally, reality seeps in. After the Brexit vote, Goodyear made “Keeping Hold,” a drawing of a woman with a bird on a string, which she calls one of her saddest. “You can draw parallels to what’s going on,” she says, adding that she has always funneled her angst into the stark, incongruous worlds she creates around her misfit protagonists. Exploring a new avenue, she recently joined an all-female band whose performances reference pagan rituals and witches. “I am a small woman with a generally gentle demeanor,” she says. “But I can let go and scream if it feels right.”

Detail in the space
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