July 2019

Rachel Gracey – ‘Pacific Coast’ Catalogue Introduction

by Jane Neal (Art Curator)

‘He stood breathing, and the more he breathed the land in, the more he was filled up with all the details off the land. He was not empty. There was more than enough here to fill him. There would always be more than enough.’ Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Rachel Gracey is an artist thrilled by the power of things. A contemporary printmaker, at the core of her practice we find nature in all its undulating forms – from the roiling seas off the British Isles, to pastoral landscapes, tended parks and more recently, the rugged terrain of California. The wide open skies of this State were an obvious draw for an artist who has always been fascinated by monumentality and the respect engendered by an art work so immense its scale is utterly absorbing and the effect on the viewer, transformative.

Gracey began her career with a strong sense of the potential for physicality in art. She not only wanted to follow convention and draw in pencil, but to use materials such as wood and metal to create both lines and form. Influenced by the spare grandeur of works by Tony Cragg and Nigel Hall, the simplicity of line in the sculptures of David Smith and the deliberate and uncluttered forms forged from found materials by Anthony Caro, Gracey sought to develop her own artistic language that allowed her to respond to the challenges of engaging with the movement of shapes in space within the discipline of printmaking.

 Given the close and often symbiotic relationship between painting and printmaking, it is interesting how influenced Gracey has been by the works of minimalist sculptors. We can feel the weight of the forms she depicts, and her fascination for texture, pattern and process just as strongly as her regard for each composition. Indeed her sensitivity to forms in space and the play of light on three dimensional objects is something which sets apart Gracey as a printmaker.

It was after visiting the Guggenheim (which one, Ray, and when?) and seeing a mobile by the artist Alexander Calder which Gracey credits as one of the most important influences on her artistic practice. An exhibition of his mobiles at the Royal Academy (when Ray?), resulted in Gracey embracing negative white spaces and allowing these ‘blank’ areas to heighten the presence of form and colour in her works. Far from remaining empty, these white spaces themselves are charged by the often vibrantly coloured shapes that surround them and the play of light and shadow that transforms them.

Since this moment, Gracey has recognised how important the white of the paper is in relation to the build up of colour in her printing process. She breathes light between the shifting forms that make up the rural landscapes and seascapes that constitute her subject matter. 

Always though, the pull of abstraction in addition to an acute awareness of process and the clarity of clean compositions, underpins Gracey’s work. She is moved by the drama inherent in a grand but simple shape. If we think of the undulating lines and intensity of colour in a Matisse ‘cut out’, we can visualise a work which, as Gracey says: ‘both calms and stirs.’  She often builds up her drawings and develops her lithographic and lino prints using collage and block colour to create contrast and a tension she finds exciting.

Throughout the 20th Century we can find examples of artists, who, like Gracey, have become seduced by the absorbing and enthralling process (and power), of printmaking. The making allows for a level of experimentation and collaboration which results in a practice which is constantly labile and sometimes throws up unexpected results. It reflects Gracey’s own desire to go beyond mere observation and her commitment to explore and reveal the unseen. As her subject is landscape, delving into process can result in works that are uniquely evocative: traces of colour through trees and bushes stir memories in the artist and viewer alike as shifting thoughts seek out recognisable forms and places.

Gracey sites artists who draw in print and paint that she finds fascinating: Jim Dine, Auerbach and Brice Marden – each has an intensity that she feels goes beyond mere observation. Marden is often described as a romantic minimalist and his work has a gentle beauty which stands in contrast to the more aggressive ‘wrestling’ the other two artists display. Both states are attractive to Gracey, and indeed we can find a soft fluidity and a taut strength in her practice.

Gracey first had the opportunity to go to the US and experience first-hand, the full volume of the American Abstract Expressionists, while she was an art student. Reflecting back on this initial exposure, Gracey recognises that it sowed the seeds of her working on paper. She began to imagine she might have a voice – not necessarily chiming with their philosophy or style – but resonating with their daring and energy.

After years of printing, Gracey has become increasingly drawn to the making of prints, rather than focusing as intently on the actual outcome. It is observing the process that remains embedded in things – be they artistic or architectural – as in a Frank Gehry or Richard Rogers’ building, which continues to inspire her.

Gracey depicts windows into vistas that constitute moments in a journey. They are the connective lines throughout her works. From lively adventures to explorations of energy, form and colour, Gracey draws us into her way of looking, feeling and experiencing. She enables us to see beyond the simple surface, into the often sublime spaces that nature offers up, quietly and powerfully.

After studying fine art at Bristol, Gracey specialised in printmaking. She gained an MA in Printmaking at Wimbledon School of Art, where her lithographs were awarded the Michael Putnam Prize.  Gracey belonged to the avant garde Artichoke Print Workshop in Brixton, from 1995-2007, assembling an innovative and varied portfolio. She has exhibited at various public institutions, galleries and high profile venues including The Royal Academy, The Barbican, Bankside, Rebecca Hossack Gallery, The Groucho Club and The Mall Galleries.

Permanent displays of Gracey’s work can be found at Southampton Hospital and Watson Wyatt Partners, Reigate. Outside London, Gracey’s works have been displayed at the Original Print Gallery, Dublin, the Lynne Strover Gallery, Cambridge and the Wiseman Gallery, Oxford.

In March 2019 Rachel was elected an RE by the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers. She was a Hunting Art Finalist at the Royal College of Art.