The Manchester-based artist Rachel Goodyear’s dream-like work is hauntingly beautiful. Here she offers James massoud a fascinating insight into her drawings.
A LOT OF YOUR ILLUSTRATIONS FEATURE ANIMALS, PARTICULARLY CANINES. WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE ANIMAL KINGDOM THAT MAKES IT SUCH AN IMPORTANT SUBJECT FOR YOU?
It started when I was a kid. I used to spend a lot of time looking at nature books and copying pictures of animals and rearranging them. Really similar to what I do now, except it was a lot more innocent then. Maybe it was just as gory and violent actually! That dark edge has always been there. As I got older and more interested in natural history, I started to look at the relationships that go on within nature. For example, there are some parasitic and harmonious relationships, so particular types of plants that need a certain type of fungus in order to germinate. Or parasites that feed off others. I got interested in the kinds of exchanges that go on, on both a huge and microscopic level. It’s really interesting to compare those relationships to human relationships, with others, with themselves and with the world. There are very interesting metaphors in there.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRBE THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE ANIMALS AND THE HUMAN CHARACTERS IN YOUR WORK?
I tend to work quite instinctively. So, if I were to take a starting point as say a wolf, an animal I’ve been a big fan of for a long time, its relationship with the human dates back thousands of years. Traditionally there’s something very deep rooted about the human relationship to the wolf, there’s a lot of mythology that comes out of it, like Romulus and Remus. There are so many cultures that accept this relationship to the wolf, there’s something inbuilt in us. So I take something like that as a starting point, things that I’m drawn to – wolves, deer, birds – I’ll start drawing them in my sketchpad, then I’ll study them and explore them. They just naturally find their way into my drawings and then I’ll start to refine the relationships. It starts off quite instinctively and then builds up from there.
DO YOU TRY TO GET OUT OF THE CITY AND SPEND TIME WITH NATURE IN ORDER TO IMMERSE YOURSELF IN YOUR SUBJET MATTER?
Not as much as I would like to. I try to get out to the countryside as often as I can and I did the Banff Residency, where there was a wild nature that I’d only ever dreamed of. It’s mostly at one remove, so it tends to be just me daydreaming in the studio about the wild, feral woods. There’s a kind of longing in my work so any characters that come across wild animals in my work, they don’t quite know what to do with each other. Part of that daydreaming is really important.
WHAT MOOD WOULD YOU SAY BEST REPRESENTS YOUR ART?
I’d say it’s a mixture of fun and fear.
IS IT FAIR TO DESCRIBE YOUR DRAWINGS AS UNSETTLING?
I would say so, yeah. I consider my work quite dark and playful. It’s a balance I try to keep in the work as well. I think a lot of the things I like to explore is this tension of having something that is really grotesque and violent but simultaneously really beautiful as well. I like to play with that combination of tenderness and aggression. That’s where that unsettling feeling comes from. It’s something that appears innocent, but has an underbelly, a darker element.
A LOT OF YOUR WORK FEATURES SOLITARY FIGURES DEVOID OF EMOTION. IS THERE A REASON WHY YOU PREFER CHARACTERS IN ISOLATION WITH NO REAL HUMANISTIC ATTRIBUTES?
It started off as me seeing them as almost sleep walking. The lack of ‘eyes’ in my characters has become something of a trademark now. But that’s very deliberate. If you remove the pupils then you can’t make eye contact. It’s as if an instant barrier is put up because they’re not quite there, they’re very distant. They’re working on pure instinct because they’re under a spell or seemingly controlled by something else. It’s quite scary because they’re not in control of their own actions.
TELL ME MORE ABOUT THE ‘TRICKSTER’ CHARACTERS THAT APPEAR IN YOUR WORK.
It didn’t start out as deliberately as putting the trickster in. As I read more and more mythology I started to come across more trickster characters and felt really drawn to them because I felt that a lot of the characters I’d been drawing had those kinds of qualities. The trickster is more of a personality that comes across in mythology throughout different cultures. In some he’s seen as a kind of hapless hero and in others he’s seen as quite malevolent. The thing that I was really drawn to was how he or she has a real sense of curiosity, unafraid of crossing boundaries and, because of this, the tricksters usually find themselves in tricky situations. There’s this appetite that really drew me to the trickster because in some stories they’re quite daft and carefree while in others they’re seen as a sexual predator. There’s that combination of hero and villain in there.
HOW DO YOU COME UP WITH THE TITLES FOR YOUR WORK? DO YOU THINK OF THE TITLES FIRST OR THE ART?
It’s a combination of the two, really. If I see a combination of words that I find interesting that I can pluck out of context then I’ll write them down. Some titles in the past have come from car insurance adverts! It can be as plain and mundane as that, anything that captures my eye and sparks my imagination. Sometimes the image and the title come into my head at the same time, but the most difficult ones I find is coming up with the title of a show because that has to encompass everything. That’s much more complicated and tends to be more of a collaborative effort with my boyfriend because he’s really good with words. We’ll usually sit there and have a bit of wordplay. The title of my last show, A Tethered Swarm, was one of his. We’d kind of been getting close and then one day he sent me a text suggesting “a tethered swarm” and immediately I said “yes, that is spot on!”
WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE COLOUR RED THAT MAKES YOU USE IT AS YOUR MAIN COLOUR?
It’s instantly eye-catching and has all those associations to passion and danger, so it already has those connotations. It’s a really strong contrasting colour with the graphite – the darkness of the graphite and the deep warmth of the red. I started using it without thinking years ago.
SO WOULD YOU SAY THE LIMITATION IN COLOURS USED IN YOUR WORK WAS A NATURAL PROCESS?
I think it’s like with everything, the very start of my work is always quite instinctive and then, as I’m getting things down on paper, I’ll start to question what’s going on. There’s always that bit of me that has to allow myself to work instinctively then work out what I’m doing. This is why my studio is so messy and chaotic, in contrast to the refined nature of the finished work.
TELL ME MORE ABOUT YOUR 12 DRAWINGS THAT MAKE UP ‘THE FOREST’.
That was a result of the residency I did in Banff in the Canadian Rockies.
It was a month long residency I did at the Banff Centre, which is a big art centre and it’s situated in the most stunning part of the world, surrounded by mountains. It’s in the Banff National Park. The actual place where I was staying was very luxurious and surrounded by a forest, I’d never experienced a place like it before. Looking out of the windows and into the forest I’d think, in there are the kinds of wildness I’d only ever dreamed about through what I’d seen on natural history programmes and in nature books. It was this sense of being so close to it yet also being so far removed. I couldn’t just go out into the forest and survive because I would’ve got eaten by a cougar! This is what sparked the ideas in the drawings, there was still a sense of longing and fantasising about a feral life, abandoning all social etiquette and clothes and going out to be wild and feral but not actually being equipped for it. So, The Forest is one piece made up of 12 parts and they’re all chapters without a beginning or an end. That’s the kind of way I like to work. There’s never really a narrative, it’s just little snippets.
YOU’VE STARTED CREATING SCULPTURES RECENTLY AS WELL…
Yes, that’s still very new. That was what I introduced in the show at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It came out through my exploration of the trickster character. I’d kind of been itching for a while to let my drawings slip out of the paper. The sculptures have still got this sketchy, ghostly quality to them and I always imagined that they’d sit quite uncomfortably, so they’re still not quite sure of this new position they’re in. I still see them as drawings, just three-dimensional. So I’ve been playing around, combining them with drawings. Some of the new pieces have little graphite coloured paper that’s sort of growing out of them, so I’m just exploring this combination of three- dimensional drawings and drawings on paper, exploring space a little bit more.
YOU’VE ALSO BEGUN EXPLORING STOP-MOTION ANIMATION AS WELL, HAVEN’T YOU?
I wanted to find different ways of using drawings because the drawings I do on paper are really frozen moments. It started when I was thinking about moments that weren’t so much frozen but instead locked in an endless cycle where they [the characters] find themselves in a situation that they can’t get out of. It’s these repetitive tasks and movements that made me want to explore how to introduce this element of movement, and sometimes sound.
DO YOU FEEL THE NECESSITY TO EVOLVE YOUR WORK OR IS IT A PERSONAL CHALLENGE TO YOURSELF TO TRY SOMETHING NEW?
I think both. The work always has to evolve and there always has to be a challenge. It’s my curiosity. I love making drawings on paper, but sometimes I have a real urge to allow them to sit with a sculpture or something. I work instinctively and have to follow that desire. Only then I’ll be able to see if it works, though some don’t make it out of the studio! Every artist has to allow their work to evolve.
YOU’RE REPRESENTED BY THE INTERNATIONAL 3 IN MANCHESTER AND PIPPY HOULDSWORTH IN LONDON. WHICH OF THE TWO CITIES INSPIRE YOU MOST?
That’s really difficult. I grew up in the north-west and Manchester has been my home for 12 years. There are many things I love about living and working here and still draw much inspiration from the place. However, I have always loved London too and visit whenever I can. Having representation in both places has been really good for this.
YOU’VE HAD A BOOK, ‘CATS, COLD, HUNGER AND THE HOSTILITY OF BIRDS’, PUBLISHED BY AYE-AYE BOOKS. DO YOU HAVE PLANS FOR ANY OTHER BOOKS?
Well, the last one was Modifications of the Host, published by The Yorkshire Sculpture Park accompanying my exhibition there. That was my last publication, which wasn’t so long ago. That fulfilled what my next ambition was for a book because Cats, Cold, Hunger and the Hostility of Birds was like an exhibition in a book format. We deliberately chose for there to be no text, we wanted it to be purely visual. For the Modifications of the Host we produced a catalogue, which wasn’t just a tour of the exhibition because it also had a really good essay in it by Laurence Sillars and an artist’s interview, so it had that longevity beyond the exhibition.
ARE THERE ANY CURRENT ILLUSTRATIONS OR ARTISTS THAT YOU’D RECOMMEND?
Yes. There’s Marcel Dzama who I’ve been a fan of for a long time. He was originally part of a group called the Royal Art Lodge that came out of Winnipeg, Canada before parting and launching successful solo careers. I love all the artists that came out of this collective. Other artists I really like at the moment are Charles Avery, Amy Cutler, and Klara Kristalova. I could probably give you a massive list!
DO YOU HAVE A PERSONAL FAVOURITE AMONGST YOUR WORK?
God, I don’t know! Whilst we’ve been talking about The Forest I’ve been feeling quite emotional about that work because it’s evocative of a very special time for me, so at this moment in time I’m feeling quite warm about that piece. They all relate to different parts of my life so I can get quite emotional about all of them.
WHAT DO YOU HAVE PLANNED FOR 2013?
I have a solo exhibition at The International 3 in late March. Besides that, I’ll be busy in the studio scribbling away and continuing to explore and experiment.