By way of Rachael Wren’s works, one starts to understand that geometry can be tender, uplifting, and oddly soul-stirring. Her grid-like structures are not about defining boundaries; they are about life’s intersections. When Rachael Wren paints those overlaps, she opens a window for us to learn how to navigate them. It’s up to the viewer to read between the lines and determine what informs our own landscapes.
Rachael Wren’s work is part of the group show “Depth Perception,” co-curated by artists Morgan Everhart and Mel Reese. On view at The Yard City Hall Park in New York City through March 5, 2022, the show features works by the curators and Traci Johnson, Andrew Keiper, and Andrea Caldarise.
Co-curators Everhart and Reese spoke with Wren about balancing the ordered and the random, personal construction and the natural world and the richness that comes from bringing opposites together.
What characteristics of landscapes do you incorporate into your artwork? Conversely, what characteristics of landscapes do you consciously refrain from depicting in your art?
My paintings explore qualities of the natural world through the language of geometric abstraction. They evoke an experience of landscape space, light, and atmosphere within a grid-like structure. I am drawn to moments in nature when form and space seem to mingle, when edges disappear and atmosphere becomes all-encompassing—fog playing between tree branches, light shining through clouds, the veil of a snowstorm, or the fading colors at dusk. In my work, hints of landscape emerge and then dissolve into layers of subtly shifting color and mark. I aim to echo the feeling that being in the landscape elicits, rather than depicting an actual location.
How do you find these moments where edges disappear and the atmosphere becomes all-encompassing? Do you need to visit the outdoors? Or do you find them in other ways? In other words, are they inspired by actual experiences, purely imagined spaces, or appropriated imagery?
The paintings always begin with a memory of an actual place or experience. I went to graduate school in Seattle, and I often think that the dense, ever-present atmosphere there seeped into me and still informs my paintings. More recently, I have spent quite a bit of time in upstate New York, and seeing trees there change in different seasons has impacted my work. But I don’t have to go far to find inspiration. A misty morning in Prospect Park or the fading colors at dusk in my Brooklyn neighborhood can spark ideas for a painting. The small moments usually speak to me most.
Who do you make your art for and why?
The impulse to create a new painting often begins with an idea, image, or color relationship that I want to make visible for myself. Ultimately, though, I make my work to share with others, to impart a particular experience that is related to being in the natural world. I think of my paintings as places the viewer can enter into with both the mind and the body. They have a breathing quality, a quiet vibration created by the push and pull of mark and color. Each painting is built up slowly, with many layers, and that time embedded in the work invites viewers to slow down in front of it too, the way one might stop and breathe deeper upon being in nature.
Have you ever been interested in painting the vibrations of urban landscapes?
I am not interested in depicting the city per se, but I am often inspired by the colors I find in the urban landscape. New York City has amazing sunsets that I can see from my apartment in Brooklyn. And there have been many times that I’ve been struck by the color of the Triboro Bridge in relation to the sky behind it—it changes a lot at different times of day and in different kinds of weather. I’m always looking intently at my surroundings, so I can’t help but be influenced by wherever I am.
Do your paintings help you escape where you live, being NYC? Or does it help you reconcile it?
I love living in New York City, and don’t feel the need to escape. There is something wonderful about having the energy and vitality of the city right outside my studio, while inside I work to create paintings that have a different tempo, a softer vibration. For me, the two coexist. The way time works in my studio and in my paintings is unlike the rest of my day-to-day life, and I’m grateful to have both.
Is there something your artwork is recontextualizing or possibly exposing?
My work combines landscape and geometry, which are not generally thought of as elements that go together. I see them as two ways of navigating both art-making and life. Geometry, which is connected to drawing for me, references the ordered, the rational, and the intellectual. Landscape, which informs and inspires the color in my paintings, speaks to the random, the emotional, and the intuitive. The richness comes from bringing the two together.
The focal elements in your works are often vertical, which is counter to the horizontal lines that landscapes often abide by. Could you tell us a little more about this?
I think of the verticals as trees and I’m interested in what it feels like to navigate the space around and between them. Equally important to the verticals, is the square shape of the canvases, which is also not typically associated with landscape. For me, using a square emphasizes the geometry in the work and heightens the idea that I am making my own constructions—related to, but ultimately separate from, the natural world.
Could you share the process and intentions of creating one of your artworks in the show? (Please share the title of the artwork)
In all of my paintings, I begin with both a particular structure, or composition, that I want to explore and an idea about color that comes from something I’ve observed in nature. In Locus, one of the pieces in the exhibit, the structure is an X, two perpendicular rows of six receding verticals that cross in the middle. The colors came from a memory of the strange kind of light that happens before a thunderstorm, where the sky turns dark and the light looks yellow/green.
What is some advice, feedback, or reflections that you would like to share with other artists?
As a painter, my experience and understanding of the world are formed through and deepened by my connection to my work. I have found that if I go too long without painting or drawing, I don’t feel fully present in my life. For me, working consistently is best—a few hours in the studio every day is much better than one or two long days each week. But I know many people who prefer to work in bursts—times of twelve hour studio days, and then times “off”—and that is equally viable. The most important thing is to figure out what works for you and do it, so that you keep making work. Lean into what your natural inclinations are, rather than fighting them. And within that zone, push yourself as far as you can go.
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or events?
My upcoming solo show, “Still It Grows” at Rick Wester Fine Art in NYC runs from February 10 to April 2, 2022.