Canada is proud to present Tracing Memory by Rachel Eulena Williams, the artist’s debut show at the gallery. Striking a balance between painting and sculpture, Williams revels in the structure and propositional space of painting but finds freedom in tossing out the stretchers and letting her compositions roam freely across the walls. These works brim with the joy of an artist finding thought and pleasure through making. The staple ingredients include rope, fabrics, hammocks, glue and paint. Williams often starts by painting loose fields of color on raw canvas that she subsequently cuts up and refashions to create her collaged pieces. The ingenuity and rawness of the process yields results that feel smooth and fluid. Williams brings undeniable artisanal skill to her works, and the exuberant color and expressive lines are life affirming and come not one minute too soon.
Williams uses shapes that are loosely modular, circles and irregular rectangles that imply maps or schematic drawings for extremely funky space stations. And while the paintings never refer directly to anything in particular William’s abstractions do evoke construction sites, clothes lines or well-loved quilts. The tondos also feel totemistic, like shields or ornaments. The objects exude solidity and groundedness; their drips and flows of paint rarely conform to the laws of gravity. Williams’ collage techniques subvert the inherent weight of the paintings: knots and makeshift tassels are wrapped or draped around the tondo’s edge; folded or slit fabric reveals a hidden blue or smoldering orange.
It seems possible to say the content of the work is color, which she uses in daring and expressive ways. Williams chooses bold hues that she employs to create wild contrasts and subtle gradients. The complexity of her choices feel transgressive and potent. In a recent interview Williams pointed out that the story of Black abstraction, including such artists as Al loving, Howardena Pindell or Alma Thomas, is the story of color. Color unbound and taking flight, is a reaction to the whiteness typical of gallery walls and grounds of most paintings, countering whiteness in both a literal and metaphorical sense. Tracing Memory places her as a clear heir to that tradition and reminds us that placing one color against another is a choice and her choices here create power. The power of color and Williams’ nearly bodily inhabitation of materiality allow traces of memory to flow through these pieces, both as standalone artworks and as collective memory of labor and longing.
Rachel Williams (b. 1991, Miami, FL) received her BFA from The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York. Her work has been exhibited at venues such as Cooper Cole, Toronto; Ceysson & Benetiere, New York, Saint Etienne & Luxembourg;The Brooklyn Academy of Music, The Journal Gallery, and Turn Gallery, all in New York; Night Gallery, Los Angeles; and Loyal Gallery, Sweden. In 2019 she held the SIP Fellowship at the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop, New York.