Currently on view at Canada Gallery in New York, Tracing Memory, the debut exhibition by artist Rachel Eulena Williams sees the artist striking a balance between painting and sculpture, reveling in the structure and propositional space of painting while working freely against easy classifications or limitations. Discarding a reliance on stretchers in favor of works that roam freely across the walls and set up unique geometric conversations in space, the artist’s work is a fascinating first offering at the gallery.
The artist’s works brim with the joy of thought and pleasure discovered through the act of making. Vivid colors and gentle, curving lines are dictated by a broad range of materials, including rope, fabrics, hammocks, glue and paint, rendered through loose fields of color rearranged and affixed to various parts of each work. The artist’s process relies on intuition and a raw aesthetic instinct, yielding results that feel smooth and fluid while still possessing considerable energy. Working between discourses in traditional fine art mediums and expanded notions of craft and assemblage, the artist’s works are statements on the act of making in itself, and the communication through form and shape that abstraction makes possible. Her shapes are loosely modular, circles and irregular rectangles that imply maps or schematic drawings that tie in varied external references while sidestepping easy narrative arcs. Instead, they evoke construction sites, clothes lines or quilts, structures that bear fabric as much as the images communicated upon them. Williams’ collage techniques subvert the inherent weight of her pieces: knots and makeshift tassels are wrapped or draped around the tondo’s edge; folded or slit fabric reveals a hidden blue or smoldering orange.
While an facile reading of the works might merely reference the works as expressions of form and color, her application allows a conversation on histories of abstraction, particularly an interest in the African-American ab-ex tradition, and its incorporation of varied expressive frameworks. Color unbound and taking flight, a reaction to the whiteness typical of gallery walls and grounds of most paintings, offers a similar countering to whiteness in both a literal and metaphorical sense. Tracing Memory places her as a clear heir to that tradition and reminds the viewer that placing one color against another is a choice and her choices here create power. The power of color and Williams’ nearly bodily inhabitation of materiality allow traces of memory to flow through these pieces, both as standalone artworks and as collective memory of labor and longing.
The show closes January 23rd.
Canada Gallery [Exhibition Site]