Rachel is an artist from Montréal who is currently installed in the heart of Acadia. She’s a graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design where she majored in fine art studio, art theory and criticism yet was always seduced by the simplicity of a pencil. Her degree was partnered with a lengthy Kafkaesque off-campus gallery internship. She was twice awarded the Joseph Beuys Memorial Scholarship and a handful of other awards she now can’t remember because clearly she never got much sleep back then.
Raised amongst artists and writers, her early experience with the administration of cultural organisms no doubt contributed to her adversarial relationship with established art world practices. Today, she prefers to remain independent. The surreal nature of her flora-rich drawings reflect the charm of her surroundings as well as the almost infuriating level of personal freedom which she now enjoys.
Hi there. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us about your work. Could you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
Let’s see, my name is Rachel M. Bray and I’m an independent artist. I’m originally from Montreal, now installed in the heart of Acadia where I have French roots which date as far back as the 17th century. Allegorical surrealism is almost a French art tradition, I like to think my drawings celebrate this.
You’re clearly a graphite specialist… what is it that you love so much about the medium? What are your favourite materials to use specifically?
I love the ever-satisfying learning curve of drawing, it never gets boring. Markings are like a rich vocabulary and something as simple as a new type of pencil can shape them into whole new visual sentences. Graphite powder itself was a mind-bending discovery for me just a few years ago. Sitting in its tiny jar in the middle of the floor, it’s like a bomb. If you spill it you’ll be cleaning it out of every crevice for years. It stains everything like Saffron but it’s also like drawing with smoke, pure magic.
I’ve heard tell of a ‘Graphite Cabal’ which sounds mysterious and exciting – could you tell us a bit more about that, and why you feel graphite is something that needs promoting in the art world?
The ‘Graphite Cabal’ is my pet name for the secret club artists join when they break from their “brand” and cheat on their usual marketable specialization to canoodle in dark rooms with a pencil and a piece of paper. The ones who feel a twinge of guilt are usually suffering from the pressures of an art market that considers drawing a lesser form of art. Drawing needs to be championed as something far beyond the mere draft version of painting. So many things are mass-produced today, a drawing that bears the mark of a human hand stands on its own with singular artistic value.
Tell us about your creative process, from the initial idea to the finished piece.
It’s cliché but I have an oddly vivid and detailed dream life. Ideas often come on like a food craving. If I think it would be fun or especially delicious to draw, I try to make it happen. I tend to photo document everything and I love collecting plant and rock specimens. This serves as reference when I’m trying to flesh out things that don’t actually exist, which is most of the time.
What is your favourite subject-matter and why?
I love leafy detailed botanicals that sprout lush over anything and everything as they evoke a free-range childhood almost entirely spent outdoors. I also love animals, insects, tentacles, tendrils and all manner of curvy and crawling creatures that make up the most potent symbolism of our collective unconscious. It all goes back to dreams. The greyscale nature of graphite lends itself well to the subject of dreams as most people’s dreams are colourless, fragmented and powdery like a drawing.
Can you tell us about a favourite piece of yours, or a favourite creative experience?
I loved drawing Quetzalcoatl a few years ago. It was entirely free-form, made up of bits and things I had collected at the beach earlier that day. It’s the evolution of the reptile broken down into specimens of various types including Carboniferous era plant fossils which are plentiful here. The whole composition twists and turns like beach winds and mating snakes. The oldest known reptile footprint fossils were discovered near that beach just months before I drew this, 318 million years old. The mind reels before a number like that.
Do you have any early memories of drawing?
I remember when a normal pencil felt about two feet long but my earliest memory is of selling my drawings. At the end of our driveway I’d flag people down with a sales pitch. I made custom “happy family” drawings old folks could put up on their fridge and show off to their friends -“As if your grandkids really do love you!” I’d say. I’d sign them with any name or variation of “I love you!” in either English or French. I had mad cynical cold-hearted capitalist bilingual art skills. Not to worry though, by the time I started kindergarden, I managed to buy my soul back.
Do you keep a sketchbook?
No, I wish I could! I’ve tried but whenever I sketch all I can think is that this could have made a really decent drawing, if only I hadn’t started it in this stupid tiny sketchbook. I don’t seem to have any patience for sketching but it’s the way I do everything. I never practice; I just do things until I slowly stop sucking.
What size do you tend to work at? Do you have a preferred scale?
I like to work very small yet I’m a giant nerd for Edo era print sizes, which aren’t always easy to frame but they’re based on beautiful proportions that lend to a unique compositional balance. My minor in art history focused on the history of pottery, which is effectively the root history of Asian culture. As such, traditions of proportion and symbolism in Asian art influence almost everything I draw today, even when it’s entirely unintentional.
What directions are you interested in taking your work in the future?
I’m currently learning how to work in porcelain. I want to take my vocabulary of marks and bring my drawings to life in sculpture and glaze experimentation. After all, drawing with graphite powder is a lot more like painting than drawing. It also lends itself to negative space compositions. This has more in common with glaze techniques than not. Porcelain will offer me the chance to add my drawings to architectural elements (like tiles) which then stand a chance of outliving their paper equivalent. I love this kind of integration; it’s like slipping art into people’s lives when they’re not looking.
Where can we see your work next? And where else can we get hold of more of your work?
This coming July 2013 I’ll be showing at Gallery 423 West in Los Angeles as part of a group show curated by artist Christopher Umana and Jennifer Mullins. I’m also on Society6 where a few of my drawings are available as prints. When it comes to sharing my work, I’m always looking for an alternative to white gallery walls. Tell me you’re going to reproduce one of my drawings in a game or on the side of a garbage truck and I’m all over it. I especially have a soft spot for independent new projects like Tiny Pencil.
Rachel is a featured artist in Tiny Pencil Issue 1, available to order here.
This interview was brought to you by The Tiny Pencil – fine purveyors of the pencil arts. Follow us on twitter @TheTinyPencil, facebook and tumblr for more artist interviews and news on our delicious new anthology artzines.