“Present Phase,” the newest exhibition at Artspace New Haven, opens this Friday, featuring the work of Rachel Hellerich, a local abstract artist and Senior Museum Preparator and Frame Conservator at the Yale Center for British Art.
A decade after her work was last shown at the Orange Street gallery, the exhibition marks Hellerich’s return to Artspace. Her exhibit will feature nine paintings, including one currently untitled work applied directly to the wall — a first for Hellerich. With her work in geometric abstraction, Hellerich aims to challenge the limits of painting as a medium.
“I was thinking a lot about sculpture and space,” Hellerich said. “There are many things beside painting that inform my work.”
The panels Hellerich created for “Present Phase,” all works from the past two years, explore these concerns in different ways. The uncannily illusionistic “Beyond the Horizon” binds the viewer within a corridor, looking towards its noisy, red-white conclusion. By contrast, “Nocturne” shows an ambiguous, starry black sky dividing bands of a blue pattern and loose paint smears that Hellerich calls “textural drags.” The space created by the painting leaves the viewer guessing where she is looking at.
The currently untitled wall painting is an enlargement of a passage from the first work Hellerich created for the show, titled “Phantoms from Heaven.” A gradient blue orb, haloed by a gold square, sits against a zig-zag field of red, blue and copper. Though bearing the same formal elements of its cognate, the wall painting leaves a remarkably different impression. Its position in the gallery, opposite enormous windows opening out onto the street, permits sunlight to illuminate the layers of soft metallic acrylic dispersed throughout the work. The pixelated, multicolor zigzags, often resembling the pebbled texture of the wall, keep the viewer’s eye moving.
“A lot of people are grappling with this idea of it being painted over, and the sort of tragedy in that,” Hellerich explained. “But I celebrate that, because the process is what I enjoy most. When I’m making it, I feel close to it. In my eyes, it was meant to be temporary, only for this time and place.”
Hellerich and Sarah Fritchey, the organization’s curator, formulated the idea for an exhibition at Artspace about a year and a half ago. Each of the works for the exhibition took between one and three months to complete, depending on the size of the panel.
Hellerich has lived in Connecticut for nearly her whole life, and she has pursued the arts for most of that time. Growing up in a family of painters, she initially tried to distance herself from the medium, devoting herself to sculpture as an undergraduate at Southern Connecticut State University. After graduating in 2003, Hellerich moved to Chicago for a brief period to pursue a master’s degree at the Art Institute of Chicago. There, she fell in love with textile art, finding beauty and inspiration in the seemingly commonplace patterns of fashion. Hellerich adopted an increasingly linear viewpoint, culminating in her current geometric style. She loves how the juxtaposition of patterns in different orientations “vibrated a certain way” when placed together.
Three years ago, Hellerich moved into her current studio in West Haven. After the exhibition closes on April 28, Hellerich said, she wishes to experiment with shaped panels and larger works. She also wants to continue with wall painting.
The exhibition’s opening reception will take place from 5 to 8 p.m. on Friday, April 6th, with an artist talk led by local activist, educator and curator Stephen Kobasa from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Brianna Wu | firstname.lastname@example.org