Elizabeth Houston Gallery
New York, NY, USA
30 January – 16 March 2019
The transformation of architecture into something magical and otherworldly permeates Rachel Hellmann’s Boats on the Ceiling. The work consists of a combination of two-dimensional paintings on paper and three-dimensional wooden sculptures made with acrylics on poplar wood, all adorned with brightly colored linear patterns that occupy the intersection between geometric rigor and surrealist illusion.
Transformation happens throughout different levels of the work, especially in sculptural pieces. The most apparent transformation is the material one: wood, is already a transformed material, having gone through different cycles in its natural and artificial states. The physical aspect of the works also contains elements which rest on the level of dialogue with the person in front of it, with strong architectural and, consequently, experiential components. Three-dimensional sculptural paintings are fully painted on the back and sides and, as a consequence, physicality shifts depending on the point of view of the observer, who has to physically move to fully investigate the piece.
Hellmann recreates prism-like transparencies in both formats, which contribute to the illusionistic experience, like light bouncing off a wall and color shifting in space. The play between actual space and illusion is explored along with the slipperiness between dream and memory. Painted transparency is, in itself, a parallel of memory: layers of painted space mirror the layers of memory.
In fact, Boats on the Ceiling is the concretization of a recurring daydream Hellmann had as a child; the church she attended with her family had a wooden, beamed ceiling that fascinated her. In her daydreams, the rectangular segments of the ceiling would quietly break apart and they would morph into rafts: there was a flood happening and people needed to escape.
The language of music informs Hellmann’s creative work. What it does is give clarity of language to works that are abstract, making them accessible. Pitch and frequency help articulate the concept of vibrancy coupled with geometric rigor in a way that implies a sensory connection. Strong memories come from vibrant experiences, and vibrant experiences are rendered in vibrant colors. Ambitious color-play explores the ties between memory and sensory experience, with contrasting yellows, greens and purples vibrating with the friction between the abstract and concrete.
What can be done in a minimal language is an important question surrounding the conceptual component of Hellmann’s work. While the actual construction of her pieces is quite complex, on both a conceptual and formal level, one of the simplest ways to create form is through a fold, a bend or a crease, and she uses bends and folds as essential components of her three-dimensional works, which follow the shapes and dynamics of origami or, even more, kites. Kites bend space and activate the air, and their potential is not apparent until air is around them, and, much like kites, her works achieve their full expressive potential once they physically occupy their surrounding space.
Rachel Hellmann lives and works in Terre Haute, Indiana. She holds an MFA from Boston University and a B.F.A. from the University of Dayton, OH. Her work has been exhibited widely both nationally and internationally at a variety of venues including the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, MA, the University of Maine Museum of Art in Bangor, ME, the Danforth Museum of Art in Framingham, MA, and the Elmhurst Museum of Art in Elmhurst, IL. Upcoming exhibitions include a solo show at the Swope Art Museum in Terre Haute, IN. Hellmann has been the recipient of the Blanche E. Colman Award for Painting, the Constatin Alajalov Award, and was awarded residencies at the Ragdale Foundation in Forest Park, IL, Platte Clove Preserve, Catskills, NY and Playa in Eastern Oregon. Her work is included in a number of collections, including the Addison Gallery of American Art, the Camterra Corporation, and the University of Maine Museum of Art. She has been a professor of art at multiple institutions and has been a visiting artist at many colleges including: MassArt, Boston, MA; Dartmouth College, and Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI.