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Interview: Rachel Jordan
an open-minded artist


Aidan Campbell

The Young British Artists may not be stuck in the past, but they are evidently stuck in a rut. Their cerebral irony has become conceptually tedious. Even their once-famous parties are rather poorly attended affairs these days. On the other hand, their incessant critics – the Stuckist art group – also seem to be stuck with their hidebound views on what must and must not be painted. Into this vacuum, a plethora of new artists are emerging who are trying to take contemporary British art in a fresh direction altogether.


Squares on Papyrus

Rachel Jordan is one artist out to discover new aesthetic forms. She is a typical Essex girl – not. Born in Maldon in the revolutionary year of 1968, Rachel studied modern languages at Sheffield University, Perpignan and Barcelona, and then began studying art at Holborn’s City Lit Institute in 1993. Her student show was held at Bermondsey’s Tannery Gallery in 1998, where she exhibited her Warhol-derived ‘Princess’ series of photos paintings. In my opinion her best piece there was ‘Private Diana’, a shot of the Queen of Hearts straddling a road sign marked ‘private’ (it was in the year after her death). But Rachel was also painting expressive works at that time, like the landscape ‘Sea, Earth, Sun, Space Travel, Planets, Movement’, and the cityscapes ‘St Pancras Station’ and ‘Battersea Power Station’. In 2000 she encountered the Stuckist art group and moved to Medway soon after with her new partner Wolf Howard, one of the group’s founder members, and with whom Rachel is jointly exhibiting at Sittingbourne.

Currently Rachel is developing a curvaceous version of geometrical art. Conflating lines with coils goes back at least as far as William Hogarth, the 18th century London artist who used his rococo-inspired serpentine line to offset the straight-laced neo-classical motif of his time. Jordan’s own influence is the maverick Bauhaus artist Paul Klee, though she refuses to be tied down to old art categories like modernism. She was stimulated by the Roman mosaics she found in Tunis, which Klee had visited just before the First World War. In addition she has been inspired by the Islamic tiles adorning the walls of Granada’s Alhambra palace, and - closer to home - the Victorian tiles embedded in the floor of Rochester Cathedral. Utilising such diverse sources, Rachel’s work on display at Sittingbourne reflects the astonishing versatility of geometric art, in particular in her experiments with different materials and colours.

Painting patterns of geometric art ‘comes naturally’ to her, Rachel told me. Geometric structures can sometimes be interpreted as taking art in a conservative, restraining, limited direction, thereby setting boundaries on inspiration. For Rachel, though, her geometric art expresses her continuing wildness:

‘I think I still have a lot of expression coming through because I use water colours, and that can be very variable in how strong or weak the colour is on the paper. I don’t try to keep the colour that consistent when I apply it. Also, I don’t use a ruler. So, if I’m doing a hexagon I don’t try to make it a totally perfect mathematical hexagon. I’m just drawing by hand, so I still regard my paintings as full and free expression. What is also unlimited is the amount and combination of colours and forms that you can have.’


Blue Circles

Rachel does still opportunistically cooperate with the Stuckists. Indeed some of her work is being shown at Liverpool’s prestigious Walker Gallery this September, when the ‘Stuckist Punk Victorian’ exhibition opens there. But she is too open-minded to be constrained by their view of what constitutes art. For example, she told me that her current work cannot be admitted into Stuckist shows because it is too abstract. ‘They believe purely in figurative painting, since they feel that expresses the most truth about the human condition. I’ve been told by a couple of Stuckist artists that, if I’m painting patterns, then I’m probably avoiding an issue that I need to deal with through my painting’.

Actually, Rachel sees herself as more Stuckist than the Stuckists since she believes in painting – ‘It’s a vital and artistic way of expressing things’ – but she feels that they should also allow abstract painters to be part of their group. Nevertheless, she admits that she has had bad experiences in the past with various ideological groupings. She ends up distancing herself from them, not because she is deliberately contrary-minded, but more because ‘I’m on a path. And I don’t know where it is leading’:

‘Whatever I align myself with at the time, I always totally believe in. But I’m not going to stay stuck for ever. I think I’ve had my moment with being with the Stuckists. It’s carried me into a relationship. It’s almost served its purpose, but I don’t think that’s where my future lies. I think it lies with just me creating more work like this, with patterns, and then I’ll probably find some other people that I get closer with artistically.’

For Rachel’s future, all options remain open. Stuckism’s emphasis on expressively reacting to objective, especially figurative, reality is a constraint on her artistic ambition, which is seeking to generate painterly creativity from out of her subjectivity, from her imagination, at the moment. In travelling in this direction, Jordan demonstrates an explicit eagerness to move beyond the inert conflict between the conceptual YBA and the painterly Stuckists, and strike out in a wholly new aesthetic direction.


Rachel and Wolf’s Show is at the ISP Gallery, Church Street, Sittingbourne, to 26 March.

 
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