Rachel Rickert: The Ins and Outs at E.TAY Gallery
39 White Street
September 13 to October 7, 2017
Frustrated vision can actually be fun: Take Peekaboo for example, a “game” exploiting a child’s anxiety over the apparent loss of a caregiver and subsequent joy over their sudden return. A possibly more mature version of this, depending on who you ask, would be striptease. There, the eroticism is not found in the “strip” side of the equation — in the visibility of the performer’s body — but in the “tease,” the increase, release, and frustration of tension between things visible and concealed. Rachel Rickert’s paintings, on view at E.TAY Gallery in TriBeCa, play within these parameters, via the stripping and/or covering of the female body, and through the painterly materiality of the works themselves.
The figures in Rickert’s paintings are shown neither fully nude nor fully dressed. Each one is somewhere between those two states, in the process of removing or putting on a shirt (or tights in the case of Damsel in Distress). In a series of five small canvases this action is frozen at a vulnerable moment in which the model’s head is cocooned in fabric, blocking her vision while opening up her body to the viewer’s gaze. Devour depicts a moment of claustrophobia through an impression of the eyes, nose, and mouth visible through the tight fabric that encases the model’s head. In the painting to its left, Veil, the figure’s breasts and left arm are exposed while her head and right arm strain against a garment that looks liable to rip apart at any moment.
A gold patterned shower curtain shows up in a suite of three paintings: Soft Boundaries has it drawn to one side to reveal a nearly life-sized nude woman standing in a bathtub, struggling — as in the smaller paintings — to extricate her head from a damp shirt. On the opposite end of the gallery is Verge, a painting of similar scale that shows the curtain pulled closed, save for the bath tile peeking out from around its edges. The third piece, Border, is the smallest painting in the show and focuses on a fragment of the curtain’s gold diamond pattern. A similar motif is echoed in another large painting, the aforementioned Damsel in Distress, which doesn’t feature the curtain itself but has a blue diamond-patterned mattress, flopped against a wall, as a backdrop for the figure’s battle against a pair of black tights.
The curtain represents a physical boundary beyond which sight is frustrated or negated altogether. There are a few pieces in the show that implore the viewer to maintain a similar distance. Two large paintings depicting close-up views of lingerie — Nude and Big Girl — feature delicate lace that only coalesces into recognizability from afar; moving closer to the canvases collapses the patterns into abstract swirls of pink or black. One might assume that a close-up examination, scrutinizing every detail, would reveal more than a glance from across the room, but these paintings frustrate that expectation, like trying to view the Nazca Lines (pre-Columbian geoglyphs in Peru) from ground level rather than from the air.
The strange pleasure that comes from visual frustration is a recurring theme in this exhibition. While Soft Boundaries and Verge present its two extremes with the curtain drawn and closed, respectively, and the body completely exposed or concealed, there are any number of intermediaries between those states: the smaller shirt paintings, for instance, with exposure and concealment superimposed on each other in a state of indeterminacy. The lingerie paintings give this dynamic a material basis, encouraging the viewer’s interaction with the painting to find a “sweet spot” from which to view it. Even from an optimal position one cannot see everything, but that’s part of the fun: If everything were perfectly visible, what pleasure would there be in looking?print