In Conversation: Rachael Tarravechia and Marissa Graziano

Rachael Tarravechia. Cleanse. 2021. Acrylic and glitter on canvas, 72 x 60 in. Image courtsey of the Artist and LAUNCH F18 (New York).


Rachael TarravechiaWish You Were Here


October 23 through December 4, 2021

By WM, January 2022 

MARISSA GRAZIANO: Rachael, thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions. I feel very drawn to your work both through your surface and paint application, and the conceptual framework of your practice. I’m particularly interested in how your work weaves together painting, film and installation.

In addition to being a skilled technical painter, you’re adept at curating within your work. Similar to a cinematographer, you’re controlling the color, lighting, and framing of how each narrative is presented to guide the visual perception of your painting and the overall atmosphere of the exhibition. How do you think about composition and its subsequent effect on the viewer? 

RACHAEL TARRAVECHIA: Composition is probably one of the most important factors in a piece that I think about. The layout will dictate the energy and visual flow of the painting. Lately, I’ve been tweaking the perspective a tiny amount, where all the lines and angles of the furniture and room seem correct at first glance, but feel a little off. This should make the viewer apprehensive about what will happen in the scene. There’s enough of a perceptible shift to create an ominous atmosphere. In previous, older works, I would also include as much pattern and stimuli as possible to create a manic environment. These works are much more curated and tell a stronger narrative. Now, when I include an item in a piece, it’s there to add information. I don’t want to give away too much, however, because the mystery and speculation behind what’s taken place is half the fun.

MG: I’d like to talk more about the framing in your work, both within the 2-dimensional plane of the painting and the sculptural casting of a soft pink glow on the walls from the fluorescent paint that adorn the edges of your canvas. Can you speak about your decisions around these framing devices?

RT: All of these paintings are based off of photos that I took while traveling, and take on a cinematic personality with dramaticized lighting, and color schemes. The borders that frame the scenes are referencing any sort of device we watch entertainment on--whether it be a TV, laptop, or theatre screen. By containing these images, there is a bit of fantasy that is left. Film and television are real life adjacent. The two inform each other in a really interesting cycle, but are definitely not the same. We look at film and television for social scripts, and how to act, talk, and dress, but they’re a reflection of what’s going on socially and politically also. Horror films specifically reflect society's fears at the moment. Throughout the decades we’ve seen fears that range from skyscraper sized insects caused from radiation, zombie apocalypses that the government cannot stop or protect us from, demonic possession and poltergeist stories with a growing radical Christian movement, and slasher films as a reaction to the satanic panic, where the teens who party and sin are inevitably slayed, and the virgin girl is the lone survivor. These scenes that are painted in Wish You Were Here are from my life, and from my experiences, but have an added dash of magic and horror. The sides of the canvases are coated in luminous opera pink, and cast a halo around the paintings onto the wall. The pink haze radiates from the painting, making it feel alive, and like it has an energy to it.

Rachael Tarravechia. Lady. 2021. Acrylic and glitter on canvas, 48 x 48 in. Image courtsey of the Artist and LAUNCH F18 (New York).

MG: The tone throughout the paintings of Routines, Sweet Nothings and Fragolina feel distinctly different from the larger paintings which are grounded in a real, albeit re-interpreted, space. There’s a ‘teen dream’ quality to these smaller works that evokes feminine horror archetypes of 80s and 90s film. What is your relationship to these objects and the tropes they elicit?

RT: I use the items in Routines and Fragolina everyday, and constantly keep them on me as well. I’ve always thought which slasher film trope would I be? Do I have what it takes to be a final girl? Or am I the girl who trips and is gutted? Who has sex, so therefore dies? The dumb one? It's strange feeling that I am simultaneously all of these tropes, but also none of them. The goal for these paintings was to feel overly feminine. So pink and girly that it feels too sweet, kinda like a toothache. Just like in these horror films, women in real life are set up to fail, and will inevitably experience emotional and or physical violence. The painting Routines shows a line of used lipsticks that have been worn down to the grooves of a person’s lips. In my bedroom, lined up right next to my mirror, is where this line of lipsticks live in real life. Every morning I put on a swipe of chapstick, and then layer a swipe or two of color on top. It’s part of the mask that I wear everyday and take off every night before going to bed. However, when I do wear it, I get unwanted looks, or people assume I’m at the skatepark for boys instead of actually skating. Somedays, however, I don't put it on. And then I’m “tired” looking. Sweet Nothings conveys this idea of unwanted attention, and the inherent violence that’s tied with femininity by depicting a green chainsaw with cursive text saying “sweet nothings” across it. It’s the kind of script that would be on a heart shaped Valentine’s Day box of chocolates. Myself, and so many of other women have experienced unconsentual sexual encourters. Although Heathers wasn’t a direct influence for this piece, Heather Chandler’s quote “well fuck me gently with a chainsaw,” did go through my head a few times as well. To riff off the seemingly “sweet” sentiment of the cursive text “sweet nothings” on the chainsaw, Fragolina is a small painting of a lighter, with the same cursive text sprawled across it reading “fragolina,” which means little strawberry in Italian. It’s a pet name often used for little girls, similar to “angel,” or “honey.” A sweet name that is rooted in innocence, but is used in adult relationships. The relationship between purity and being an adult woman is a balancing act society expects from us, but is almost impossible to do. 

Rachael Tarravechia, Wish You Were Here. October 23 - December 4, 2021. LAUNCH F18, New York. Image courtsey of the Artist and LAUNCH F18 (New York).

MG: Often in cinema, black and white tiling is used as a nostalgic device to disorient viewers’ perception of time and space. I’m thinking specifically of the ‘Red Room’ from the television series, Twin Peaks, in reference to your installation. How does viewership of the paintings change with the addition of this new immersive element?

RT: I actually rewatched Twin Peaks while working on Wish You Were Here! Going back to the idea of shifting certain points of the perspective in the composition of the paintings to elicit an apprehensive feeling that either something bad has just taken place, or is about to, the black and white tiling throws yet another wrench into the perspective field. My studio also has black and white tiling, and when I move from working on one canvas to another, I sometimes think that as I’m wheeling my stool over to a new spot, I’m teleporting to another place in time. The tiled floor acts as the bridge between each timeline the scenes in these paintings exist in. I hope that while the viewer is walking through Wish You Were Here, they feel that separation from reality and the outside world.

MG: The idea of the voyeur has always been fascinating to me, especially in thinking about its place within a painting. Its success hinges on understanding how to evoke titillation from the viewer, followed by shame in self-recognition. How do you stage this response within your narratives?

RT: This idea goes back to my growing fascination with how COVID-19 changed all of our relationships with social media, and the spaces we were tied to. The threshold between private versus public became much thinner. With people staying at home, we saw more of their home lives exposed. Their bedrooms are in the background of Zoom calls. Sometimes I felt like I was watching a movie. And then I think about how all of these snippets into people’s lives are shared. Maybe even when we’re alone, we don’t want to feel alone. Even if we don’t know exactly who may be watching. In these series of paintings, I planted specific items within each piece that would hint that someone had just vacated the room. In Lady, there’s a sharp pair of shrub shears laid out on a ledge. Cleanse and The Water is Getting Cold are both set in a public bath house, so it’s a little eerie to have no one around. They feature a red light illuminating a dark, long tiled hallway, and a drawn bath with burnt cigarettes that were mashed out, with a lit heart shaped tea candle, respectively. Seeker really taps into the idea of the voyeur, even with the title referencing the children’s game hide and seek. This painting is of my grandma’s guest bathroom, and a decent amount of the painting is of the bathroom mirror, which is giving the viewer information that they otherwise wouldn’t be aware of. There’s a large chainsaw on the table, leaving the viewer to decide if something horrible has just happened or is about to happen. All of the settings for these paintings rely on the idea of taking place in a backdrop that is both public and private. A glass greenhouse where you’re visible anywhere inside or outside of the structure, a public bathhouse, a guest bathroom in a private home. You’re getting a glimpse into something that you probably shouldn’t see.

MG: Lastly, what’s next for you as we head towards the new year? 

RT: I have a solo show with Tchotchke Gallery that opens early January 2022. My studio is starting to fill up with new works about my recent trip back home to the Carolinas. There will even be a couple of sculptures. These works feel really personal, and I am excited to share them! Stay tuned! WM



Whitehot writes about the best art in the world - founded by artist Noah Becker in 2005. 


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