Ruth Allan investigates the uncanny world of Salford-based artist Rachel Goodyear
At a glance, Rachel Goodyear’s drawings depict straightforward scenes. Two girls skipping in a playground, for example, or a man lying asleep. A closer look, however, reveals that all is not quite what it seems. The skipping rope is as likely to be used as a tool of torture as a plaything (Unable To Stop Because They Were Too Close To The Line, 2007), while the sleeping man has a buttercup roughly taped to his throat (Buttercup, 2008). It’s all a bit creepy, really.
‘If I was going to look for a core basis of my work, it would be precarious relationships,’ the artist explains. ‘The slightly skewed balances of power that happen within relationships are what interest me; that moment when power can tip either way, and you’re not quite sure what’s happening.’
Goodyear’s many influences include wildlife documentaries, horror films and directors such as David Lynch, while she cites Winnipeg’s Royal Art Lodge collective and Brooklyn-based artist Amy Cutler as examples of work she admires. Like Cutler, Goodyear works on paper and her drawings detail the relationships we have with ourselves and other species. She recently produced a book of perfectly rendered drawings called Cats, Cold, Hunger and the Hostility of Birds, published by Glasgow’s Aye-Aye Books.
Littered with hooded women, twins and rabid creatures, the allure of her work is both uncanny and powerful and, with a number of increasingly high profile shows and awards under her belt, it’s clear that the star of this Salford-based artist is on the ascendant. Subject of a recent Guardian profile, over the last two years she’s exhibited at Cornerhouse, Tate Liverpool and Bury Art Gallery, and saw her work extensively showcased in this year’s Best of Manchester Awards exhibition at Urbis. Goodyear’s career enters a new phase in January too, when her first solo exhibition opens at International 3, a low-key exhibition venue highly rated by Manchester’s artists and art-insiders.
We meet at a coffee shop in Manchester’s Northern Quarter to talk about her work, and Goodyear comes across as relaxed and upbeat. Curled up in the corner of a large armchair, I think that she looks like some of the raven-haired women who inhabit her drawings. This isn’t surprising, she points out, as she uses her own body as a model for many of her images, alongside that of her boyfriend.
Outlining her past, she explains that after growing up in suburban Rochdale she went on to study fine art in Leeds. Manchester was the obvious next step and she moved to the city in the early noughties to work as a curator with contemporary art project, Floating IP. Alongside James Hutchinson (now of like-minded curatorial initiative The Salford Restoration Office) she worked on various large shows, including Thermo ‘03 and ’04 at the Lowry arts centre, while developing her own practice on the side. ‘I met so many different artists doing different kinds of things when I was curating,’ she says. ‘It opened my eyes to what art could be and I found a way of expressing everything that was coming in, which turned out to be drawing.’
An unexpected, second turning point came when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2005. Four years on, she looks back on the experience as ‘obviously, rocking my world,’ but not as one that altered the direction of her career. ‘The themes were already there in the work,’ she says, ‘and the experience of having cancer just strengthened my understanding of the sort of issues I wanted to tackle.’ For the viewer, however, it’s easy to see links between this phase in her life and the themes of pieces such as Bear Kiss (2009). Bringing to mind the work of fellow British artist Angela Bartram (whose film Licking Dogs details just that) this beautifully-rendered work reflects both Goodyear’s ability to make the ugly attractive and her interest in what happens when we cross the lines of social convention.
It’s a skill that has caught the eye of curators and collector alike. Bury Art Gallery, for example, has acquired three of her drawings for its permanent collection – a fact that she’s visibly proud of, and a considerable achievement given her relatively young age of 31 – and she’s been just been short listed for The Northern Art Prize. The winner of this final award will be announced in January next year, making Goodyear not just one to not just watch, but one to follow with interest.
Rachel Goodyear’s work can be seen as part of group show, Not At This Address, Bury Art Gallery. Until 7 November. Free. Ruth Allan is a freelance writer and editor specialising in food, travel and the arts. She has written for The Guardian, The Independent, BBC, Channel 4, Manchester Confidential and Metro, among others. She is currently reading an MA in Performance, Screen and Visual Cultures at The University Of Manchester.
Images (top to bottom): Hoodman Blind (2009), pencil and watercolour on paper, Private Collection. Bear Kiss (2009), pencil and watercolour on paper, Private Collection.