Arts in depth

speaks to artist Rachel Goodyear about her fairytale inspired work

Rat King by Rachel Goodyear, copyright: the artist

Rat King by Rachel Goodyear, copyright: the artist

In light of the release of Tim Burton’s creepy interpretation of Alice in Wonderland, 2010 seems set to be the year of twisted fairytales.

The theme has even infiltrated the world of fine art, with the recent success of Northern Arts Prize Nominee Rachel Goodyear. Goodyear’s works are, at first glance, both charming and childish, yet on closer inspection, there appears to be something rather sinister at work.

Goodyear picks up on centuries’ old “cautionary tales, tales that involve a lot of brutality”, which she claims “have all been censored out over the years.” Her illustrations reference the grisly tales of the Brothers Grimm, not the Hollywood glamour of Disney, bringing these stories to the attention of a modern and decidedly adult audience.

Goodyear has become increasingly popular over the past 12 months, becoming well known for her unusual drawings. Earlier this year, she featured in the group exhibition ‘Unheimlic’ at the Nunnery, London. The title literally translates as unholy, a reference to Freud’s notion of the uncanny, a phenomenon in which repressed childhood feelings resurface, causing the familiar to unexpectedly appear somewhat distant. In many ways, we might best describe Goodyear’s drawings as uncanny. Her habit of taking a familiar childhood topic, and removing what can only be termed as the ‘Disney-spin’, allows us to see it for the fairytale was designed be: a sinsiter warning about what happens to naughty children who disobey the rules of society.

There is something almost subversive about Goodyear’s practise, particularly in the stark contrast between her delicate style and questionable subject matter. Although she maintains that this is not an artistic concern for her, she admits freely: ‘the content matter of [my] work is such a precarious balance between something playful and something quite sadistic” explaining “in the combinations of the girl figure and the animals, the relationships could be quite innocent or they could be transgressive and slipping more into a feral or bestial kind of nature”.

Bear Kiss by Rachel Goodyear, copyright: the artist

This careful selection and juxtaposition of contradictory content and method is intrinsic to the work’s reception. “The way they are drawn in that small scale intricate way is what is very important for drawing the viewer in,” says Goodyear. “Once you’re up close and personal and being intimate with them – that’s when you sense something quite macabre; something not quite right. It’s part of the whole process”.

Goodyear is clearly fascinated with testing the boundaries of drawing as a creative medium and in her words, “subverting what a drawing could be till you look at it”. Goodyear took part in the show ‘The Intertwining Line’ back in 2008, exploring just this; drawing as a subversive art form.

“It was about exploring the process of drawing and subverting the notion of drawing, how drawing on paper relates to something more filmic or something more animated,” describes Goodyear, “[creating] a static image which still has a sense of movement.” To a large extent, this is what she, herself both aims to do and achieves through her art.

Although technically a mixed media piece, Rat King, recently on display at Leeds City Art Gallery (right), is “an investigation into what happens when a drawing starts to slip off the paper and starts to invade your (real) space”.

Reminiscent of Cornelia Parker’s Breathless installation at the V&A or an image found inside a zoetrope, Rat King is an almost 3D drawing. Despite being exhibited flat on an illuminated plinth, there is a definite sculptural aspect to the piece. “The sense of space on paper is very much imagined space,” says Goodyear. “A white bleak atmosphere, a void, a blank canvas to image some environment onto.”

Though she is recognised for her drawings, Goodyear has worked in all different types of media during her career as a visual artist. Before breaking into the big time Goodyear would create spontaneous sketches and paintings during her 9 to 5 lunchtimes, converting coffee stains on the backs of paper bags into pictures and scrawling on receipts.

“I originally started with the receipts and stamps – a lot of those were being made whilst I was working. I had a few jobs – I was a cinema usher and worked in a book shop, using the paper bags as my sketch books, drawing whilst I was having coffee on my breaks. They kind of played this huge role in my work in a way because they fit into my life. I’ve not rejected that way of working but I’m careful not to back myself into a corner where I was only known for making drawings on receipts or these little ephemeral bit of paper. It’s still part of my work and I still work in that way.”

Later this year, Goodyear will be leaving behind her urban lifestyle to take up residency in the Canadian Rockies. “I will have a chance to explore a new environment, and to get close to some wildlife – elk, wolves, coyotes, maybe some bears, or maybe not quite so close to them!” she laughs.

Rachel Goodyear will be opening a solo show of her latest works at the Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London, next autumn.

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