Journalist: Jaquie Piasta
Please tell us about your work.
I am highly inspired aesthetically by the likes of many different artists, but primarily Antonio Lopez Garcia, Vija Celmins, Kiki Smith, Boris Zaborov, and the Flemish Painters. My work has been described as timeless, old, dark, morbid, spiritual, iconic, and honest. My work is about many things, I suppose.
I suppose if I were to describe my work, I would have to talk about the drawer beneath the kitchen sink.
You know the drawer beneath the kitchen sink? Everyone has one. It is the place where you absentmindedly shove all your little knickknacks, photographs, bits of string and paper and trash, and little treasures. You walk by that drawer every day and put another little piece of your life in there, however insignificant it seems at the time Then, a few years later, you are moving out of your apartment or doing a little bit of spring cleaning, and decide to open up that trash-drawer and empty it out. Suddenly you find yourself enveloped in this world of memories and daydreams- remembering where you found that little ball, and who you were with- that mix tape your lover gave you- perhaps your grandmothers’ scissors are there, or some old ticket to a show where you held someone’s hand and wept.
The way I think about my work is how I see that drawer- everything is there, those little pieces of my life and other people’s lives that they drop along the way. I tuck them into my pieces and am astounded over their significance later. My work is human experience from a first hand perspective.
Is your work currently being shown at a gallery? Where has your work been shown in the past?
My work is not currently showing anywhere. It has been a very full year for me from the start, so I decided to take a break for a time. I am trying to be okay with that, as I normally keep a full schedule – But I felt I needed time to reflect without time constraint. I have been tentatively seeking a space to show in October or November, but nothing definite has been set as of yet.
I have shown several places in the past, primarily in alternative spaces, as those spaces cater to my needs most generously and I feel much less constrained and pressured as I do when showing in some normal galleries. One thing I have noticed about my experience with the conventional gallery system is the difficulty one has in actually securing a show- yes; of course there are many, many talented artists each fighting for their own right to show... but from my experience, my difficulty in securing an exhibition in a conventional space is more capitalistic than competitive. I have been softly rejected several times for not making “sell-able” artwork, or artwork that is not “contemporary”. I am fine with this, but I find it very interesting. I see many conventional galleries as being patriarchal or capitalistic in this way, in that they would rather show an artist they feel would sell work than give an artist a chance although they do like their work a great deal. I used to find it frustrating, but now I just stroll the alternative space circuit instead. There are many alternative, not- for profit spaces that are feminist and anarchistic in nature that are looking for fine visual and performance artists on a regular basis to show to an underground of interested people.
A full list of galleries and alternative spaces I have shown both locally and internationally can be found at rachaelmchan.com.
What inspired you to become an artist?
I am honestly not sure. I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember, and it is really the only thing I ever wanted to do with my life. I can say that without hesitation. But I feel that if there was a person who inspired me from the womb, it was my Mother. My Mother is a visual artist- a classic New England type- but I remember being very young and playing with her typewriter while she sat and painted in the kitchen. Her paintings and drawings line the walls of my childhood. She gave me my first sketchbook, got me my first private art lessons, taught me to sew and sing and type and take pictures. My Mother was my hero and I wanted to be just like her, I am sure. I still do.
Do you feel that genders are equally represented in the art world?
And it is really very sad. Extremely talented female artists surround me, but I can see that in many cases their equally talented male partners often receive more recognition and encouragement than they. I have experienced it myself, with every partner I have had.
I think it is not right, and it is very subtle. BUT, I do not think of myself as a victim. Victimizing yourself means that you do not HAVE to achieve, because “you just never will”. And I do not have patience with that.
I do wish that when I walk into the Modern Wing at the Art Institute, I would see a piece by Louise Bourgeois, Judy Chicago, or Kiki Smith in a gallery there. But they are not there. And not many female artists are there, by comparison. I hope someday that this will change.
Until then, recognizing that this inequality exists (however subtle) is extremely important in taking steps.
What would draw more women to create art?
I read an essay once called “In Search of our Mother’s Gardens” by Alice Walker.
For these grandmothers and mothers of ours were not "Saints," but Artists; driven to a numb and bleeding madness by the springs of creativity in them for which there was no release. They were Creators, who lived lives of spiritual waste, because they were so rich in spirituality-which is the basis of Art-that the strain of enduring their unused and unwanted talent drove them insane. Throwing away this spirituality was their pathetic attempt to lighten the soul to a weight their work-worn, sexually abused bodies could bear.
The essay is inspiring in many ways, but in the context of this question I am reminded of the importance of womancraft. Until recently in history, women were not allowed the same artistic release as men- women could not comfortably paint, sculpt, or draw- they could not show in galleries. Women were expected to be wives & mothers and do housework, and Art was considered work for a man to do.
These women, our grandmothers, great grandmothers and so on, were expected to endure abuse, painful childbirth, violence, loveless marriages and hard work without any emotional or artistic release. So, they took the crafts they were allowed- quilting, looming, sewing, weaving, embroidering and needle pointing- and made them into an art form. Their crafts sang of their life experiences and channeled their emotions in ways that only art therapy can give release. And they did it together when they could- it was a communal activity. They were given as gifts, used as barter. Under the radar of society, women made art and taught their daughters to make art, and taught them their history through imagery and handwork.
With that said- I feel that if women understood how close we are to our ancestors when we create work, how the fabric of artistic society & even contemporary kitsch stands on the crafts and aesthetics of our grandmothers, and that it is our responsibility to share our work with one another and pass our stories on to our daughters- I feel more women would make art.
I don’t think enough women understand how important making art is to our gender.
Because I am a Woman Artist, my work is primarily about my female experience through self portraiture and work concerning the community/environment I surround myself with. Through my studies on gender, neurology, womancraft and art history, my work has a very distinctive and honest take on my experience with domestic violence, depression, societal & social interactions, anxiety and anger. Those who know me or follow my work know that my art pieces are primarily about my own experiences, not invented experiences. Attending one of my exhibits is like walking into the mind of an individual, a feminist, a woman that has a story to tell. We all have stories that deserve to be told.
Do you identify as a feminist? Why or why not?
Yes, of course. I identify as a feminist because I have opened my eyes to the dangers of patriarchy in society and I believe that in order to solve our deep-seated gender, sexual, racial and political issues we need to dismantle the roots of our Patriarchal and Capitalistic heritage and return to that which is a Matriarchal, Anarchistic outline- which I believe is a far more peaceful strategy.
Just to be certain I am understood, when I say “Matriarchy” I don’t mean the rising of women above men in status. I simply mean a more ‘feminine’ and natural state of being. The inverse of Capitalistic, if you will. A more Maternal way of viewing the world.
What do you like the most about Chicago?
The acceptance I have found quietly here. I know Chicago is not perfect by any means, but as a person that grew up in a small town in the mountains of Connecticut, I have been accepted into far more of a wide range of communities aside from artistic movements.
Who inspires you the most?
The people who have carried me through the most crippling moments of my life.
Please share some parting wisdom with us.
Keep a journal.
Walk to your place of self reflection as often as possible.
Discover new ways of seeing.
Never forget how to listen.
See the interveiw at http://www.examiner.com/article/interview-artist-rachael-mchan-is-a-chicago-treasure