June 16, 2012

Rachel Harrison's new muse: Amy Winehouse

Rachel Harrison is known for creating anti-monmumental sculpture,  crudely fabricated, off-kilter structures with materials like plywood with enigmatic photographs tacked on them. Her latest show at Green Naftali takes the relationship between artist and muse as subject, hilariously combining objects like vacuum cleaners, garbage pails and other mundane household items along with more traditionally constructed, brightly painted sculptural objects.

  Rachel Harrison, Untitled, 2011, colored pencil on paper, 22 3/8 x 27 7/8 inches.

For the first time since she has been showing at Green Naftali, Harrison has included a series of drawings, forcefully rendered in colored pencil on bright white paper. The drawings depict Amy Winehouse alongside well known characters from art history such as Picasso's version of Gertrude Stein, Martin Kippenberger's man in underwear, DeKooning's Woman, and several of Picasso's other muses. Clearly Harrison was affected by Winehouse's death last year at 28-years-old from alcohol poisoning, and the barrage of images that ensued in the media. Harrison seems to be suggesting that Winehouse, once a talented artist herself, is now consigned to the fate of artists and muses: unknowable but for the contradictory images they leave behind. This story is included in the press release:

Here is an old tale, almost certainly apocryphal, that is told about Picasso.
    A man approaches Picasso at an exhibit of his work and says with great exasperation, Why can't you paint more realistically?
    Picasso thinks for a minute and says, Realistically. I guess I dont know what that is.
    Frustrated, the man takes a photograph from his billfold and says, Look! Like this. This is my wife.
    Picasso takes the picture in his hand and looks at it. She's so small, he says, and turning the photo sideways, and so thin!
    What could this man do to help Picasso see who his wife really is? Bring him a life-size photograph? Too flat. A statue? Too rigid. How about his actual wife? But which one? The happy one? The one who is angry with him for going off to the Picasso exhibit without doing the dishes? Will the real reality please stand up?
Harrison's color is all jangly verve, giving the drawings a raw freshness and energy that's worth checking out. The images remind me of the photographs at the end of the movie The Shining depicting all the people haunting the old hotel. Harrison's drawings, both funny and moving, are evidence that Harrison, like many artists (including myself), was morbidly fascinated by the pictorial coverage of Winehouse's singular persona--her harrowing life, squandered talent, and disturbing death.


 Rachel Harrison, Untitled, 2011, colored pencil on paper, 22 3/8 x 27 7/8 inches.
  Rachel Harrison, Untitled, 2011, colored pencil on paper, 22 3/8 x 27 7/8 inches.
  Rachel Harrison, Untitled, 2011, colored pencil on paper, 22 3/8 x 27 7/8 inches.
  Rachel Harrison, Untitled, 2011, colored pencil on paper, 22 3/8 x 27 7/8 inches.
 Rachel Harrison installation view.
  Rachel Harrison, Untitled, 2011, colored pencil on paper, 22 3/8 x 27 7/8 inches.


 "Rachel Harrison: The Help," Green Naftali, Chelsea, New York, NY. Through June 26, 2012.

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