A mischievous face peeks around a small, forgotten looking metal door, and offers a cheerful greeting. Rachel C. Wright welcomes me into the chilly interior of a giant warehouse in Portland’s Industrial area. Wright directs me to her studio space, weaving through a maze of walkways to Wright’s studio door. I open the door wide, only to push aside a handful of trial sculptural fetuses, which scrape across the concrete floor. Interesting introduction, I think to myself.
Rachel is mid-project, completing a utilitarian sculpture made of all recycled materials. It is a one of a kind dress. This is quite different from Wright’s usual figural sculptures that make up the bulk of her three-dimensional art.
Even though utilitarian objects aren’t a typical part of Wright’s practice, she is in line with her usual practice of appropriating traditionally feminine skills in her process. She tacks cardboard onto a bodice shape and later painstakingly hand-stitches, taking few shortcuts.
Later, we reconnect over a coffee, in true Portland style, for an interview. I want to hear from Rachel Wright firsthand, in order to understand Wright’s labor-intensive process, motivations, influences, and general thoughts on art.
What’s your process?
I am a process-based artist, so my process is tedious, on purpose. At times I think the process is almost more important than the end result. I get tunnel vision when I work, and believe the time spent translates in the final art. For example, I spent 280 hours on the recycled dress sculpture I recently finished.
I also often work in soft materials and choose to hand-sew over using a machine.
Why sewing, when this is a traditionally feminine skill?
The female performance artists of the 60s influence me. Some artists reclaimed sewing. I also appropriate sewing, and find the act to be meditative. It is important to mention that I don’t sew to make utilitarian objects, usually. I sew to make sculpture, with feminist undertones. That is different from the traditional sense of sewing.
Well, art wasn’t the only thing I was good at, but it was damn near close. [Wright smirks.] Art came easily to me, and I was able to advance in art. I loved my foundational first year in college, to understand color, composition, mediums, and other fundamentals. I was attracted to sculpture in the first year, and have focused on that since.
I chose art because I can ask myself, “What am I going to make next?” After that first year in school, I got past angst filled art. I developed my process, made questionable art, and then began asking that question, “What’s next? “ over and over.
What is questionable art?
It is art you wouldn’t want to show anyone, but you do anyway. While the questions of whether art is bad, good or questionable is relative, I believe it is about taking risks and seeking feedback with your art. I seek feedback from people I respect, professors and peers.
Even the best artists make questionable art. It happens. They seek feedback from critics, art experts, and the public.
Name your top 3 influences, famous or not.
My top three are Magdalena Abakanowicz, Louise Bourgeois, and Ledelle Moe.
I identify with female artists that work in sculpture with figural subjects. I also respect women who “make it” in the art world because there are so few in comparison to male artists.
Abakanowicz is known for hand-stitched, burlap figures with the H/holocaust as a main theme. Louise Bourgeois is a giant figure in the feminist art scene of the last century. A main theme in her oeuvre is family matters, like me. Moe is a former professor and works in monumental, concrete sculpture. She is a mentor and supports me in so many ways. She offers direct, honest feedback.
Tell me a favorite art memory.
I lent a hand to a peer and friend, May Wilson, to help cast dead animals. The report of a fresh road kill animal off the Jersey Turnpike was the first experience.
The animal needed to be as fresh as possible, so we drove in the middle of the night, picked up the stinking animal after spraying it with a poly spray, and spent the rest of the night problem solving how to cast it before it decomposed.
It was nasty in the moment, but such a memorable experience.
What else should people know about you and your art?
I am not the stereotypical artist, living a bohemian lifestyle. I am living in a suburban area, working diligently, and raising a family with my husband. I believe in myself and in making art. If I can do this, so can others. I hope people understand that belief in themselves and their capabilities will lead the way to achieving their goals too.
In terms of art, my art is part of a timeline that is evolving. I explore the limits of human strength always. So far, in the timeline I have explored family matters: birthing children, breastfeeding, maintaining relationships, overcoming dysfunction, and breaking the cycle of abuse.
To some, my art’s meaning is mysterious and I have received feedback that it is too mysterious. However, my work is actually hyper-personal and I don’t mind if it comes off as mysterious. Art making is therapeutic for me. Art is empowering. I will consider myself a successful artist if I consistently produce art for the rest of my life, regardless of how popular or visible my art is to the world.
Rachel C. Wright is an artist. She continues to make art after college and plans to do so for life. She is a parent of two children, married, and makes time in the studio to steadily evolve her art. She is determined to keep up her art practice.
Check out Rachel C. Wright online to follow her artistic evolution. See updates, new art, and learn of upcoming shows.