It started in Ed Pien’s drawing marathon class at OCADU. The intensive drawing class forced students to come up with a new subject every three minutes. This exhaustive schedule pushed Rachel MacFarlane to find new inspiration. In a moment of desperation, she constructed a flimsy paper sculpture to sketch. Five years later, the artist is celebrating her second solo show at Nicholas Metivier gallery in Toronto (the first being a sold out success) of paintings based on only slightly more substantial maquettes.
Listening to her describe the initial paper constructing moment as a kind of physiological and perceptual fusion, I couldn’t help but envy MacFarlane’s successful inculcation into artistic rhetoric. Sitting across from me at one of my favourite mat-leave haunts, Crafted Coffee house on Ossington, the young artist looks mature for her age. Her appearance is somewhere between hipster and professional. Curly brown hair is neatly pulled back and she’s wrapped in a warm grey sweater, a comfortable accoutrement for her purple and gold striped vintage blouse and sharply drawn black eyeliner.
I’m ill prepared for this meeting, which works in my favour. MacFarlane seems to experience another level of this kind of pre-described fusion because at one point she remarks “wow, I’m realizing things about my work that I hadn’t thought about before…” She begins by discussing her interest in the human preoccupation with the construction of space. As children we construct simulations that eventually lead to the development of our psychological schema, and as adults we allow ourselves the suspension of disbelief that gives us the freedom to enjoy all forms of entertainment media. Having left my home under the care of two industrious cleaning ladies this morning, I can’t help but muse upon my own banal preoccupations with my personally constructed surroundings.
MacFarlane’s constructions however, are decidedly non-precious. Making them out of a combination of recycled detritus and model making materials, she concentrates on using these models as catalysts for her paintings rather than works of art in themselves. The artist feels that painting gives her the freedom to explore the interaction between truth and perception in how we record information. Unlike a movie, or a sophisticated 2nd life video game where the line between reality and fiction is temporarily forgotten, the artist is asking us to explore our preoccupations with the simulated environment without forgetting their artificiality.
Looking at the work, still on exhibition for a short time at Nicholas Metevier, the subject’s dissolution into artificiality is unabashed. Classical painting techniques are paired with a blatant avoidance of convention in her work. Describing herself as “passionate about colour,” and her choices as “hedonistic,” MacFarlane combines unabashed use of pattern and texture (beyond impasto, at times paint looks as though it has been applied using a cake frosting tip) to push the work just past representational into the abstract. Just. Amid the vibrating whimsy, evidence of her still-life framework is still brazenly obvious.
The crudeness attempts to remind us that despite the increasingly believable illusion available in technology, these virtual scenarios remain immaterial. The discussion reminds me of a book on Buddhist philosophy I just finished, and interestingly MacFarlane reveals a goal for the future- to self-construct a rough habitat in which to paint. The idea is based on monastic shelters she witnessed while doing an artist residency in Ireland. She claims her art is based in reality and without spiritual undertones, but I wonder if maybe there’s something deeper lurking in that experience of “fusion” that will continue to surface as her work evolves. I can’t wait to talk to her after she’s spent some time in her future habitat…
Until then, Rachel MarFarlane’s work is on show until January 26, 2013, at Nicholas Metivier gallery in Toronto.