Monday, March 13, 2017

Interview with visual artist Rachael Griffin

Several months ago, I was delighted and honored to meet Rachael Griffin, a visual artist whose work tackles the wonderfully sensual and textured themes of appetite, craving, and where these desires come from.

Of course, with the very suggestive images of popsicles, corn dogs, and delicious, dripping pies, our conversation quickly turned to sexual appetites and the way our bodies and identities play a role in shaping these appetites. And while I couldn't save our hours long conversation in a jar for you to listen in, I can at least give you a little taste.

Rachael was kind enough to answer some questions about her work and her philosophy and I'm thrilled to bring this intersection of art, sex, and philosophy to my readers here at The Unlaced Librarian. I hope you enjoy, and please do check out Rachael's website for more information on her work.

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Unlaced Librarian: Thank you so much for participating in this interview. Please tell readers a little about yourself and your work.

Rachael Griffin: I am interested in appetites.  We all have our own individual and unique appetites, but at the same time we share them with others.  You can have an appetite – a craving – a certain taste – for anything.  You can have a taste for leather, for art, for a certain type of human being even.  But where do these tastes come from?  I am especially interested in why we like the things we like, and why we do the things we do – is it a matter of nature or nurture?  I am curious about where our instincts and cultural constructions originate, and where they sometimes collide or blur.  My work is most inspired by the sensual appetite. I am interested in how our brain makes associations and what they mean.  I seek to evoke some type of sensation or memory through my imagery.  While memory and senses are closely entwined, they have the potential to make us feel a certain way and reveal a little about ourselves that we may not be entirely conscious of or in tune with.  They bring about these appetites or tastes that we are constantly operating by, however knowingly or mindlessly it may be.

UL: When I met you, you were painting a huge, succulent pie and had painted a half-consumed corn dog. Can you comment on the sexual imagery in your work?

RG: While my work has always involved the human drive, the imagery hasn't always been as directly sexual as it is now.  This change took a turn about 3 years ago, when I began focusing on the object as subject.  Instead of creating a narrative about what I was getting at (at the time, our animalistic tendency to eat meat, which was a conflicting personal conversation that had become very loud to me), I decided to simply draw the thing that I was talking about.  So I created a 12 and a half foot long strip of bacon.  Next came the walnut that I had been seeing a lot in my daily life, in which I began to notice all these beautiful little veins.  By coincidence, this walnut took on a yonic quality, and from this point on everything was a vagina or penis or some other sexual incarnation.  While these comparisons amuse me, they also get me thinking about children and our mere existence and the meaning of life, dark scary places in my brain where I can't find an answer.
From here I continued to work with food as my subject, from fruit to meat to pastries and their insides.  These foods are so grotesque and wet and fleshy and body-like.  The colors I see in them remind me of the blues and greens and purples that are in our skin.  I see organs and life and guilt and pleasure.  It's fascinating to see what kind of dialogue emerges from the work, and how others perceive it.  The work began to say just as much about the viewer: their level of interest in sexuality, in gender studies, the body, their political views, their pleasures and desires, their subconscious, nostalgic memories.  And yet there's another layer to these "sexual" images.  I became very curious about why we see things the way they do; why they make us feel the way we do.  Is it the color?  The shiny, wet-like surface?  Is it the iconography?  This newly surfaced mediation circles back to the question I'm constantly asking, as mentioned above – why do we think the things we think, and what part of it is nature vs. nurture?

UL: We had an amazing conversation about sexuality, society, and gender. Do you think art can help people learn about their sexual identities?

RG: Absolutely!  Art can help you see things you've never recognized or imagined before.  Whether it's visual art, performance, literature, music, these are all very moving devices.  They offer possible channels for perceiving and interpreting.  Sexuality is an odd thing.  Sometimes it's bursting at the seams, sometimes it likes to lay low, and sometimes it's complicated.  Identity is an odd thing.  You can be anything.  Everybody is so different, and the more we recognize these differences and celebrate them, the better chance we have to be true to ourselves and do what feels best for us at that time.  The hedonist in me wants everyone to feel their fullest, to acknowledge every corner of their being and find comfort in it.  I can personally affirm that various forms of art have undoubtedly opened my mind and inspired me throughout my life, always with room to grow, always learning more about myself along the way.

UL: Do you have any favorite books or websites about art or theory you can share with us?

RG: One of the books I've most recently fallen in love with is 
A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful by Edmund Burke.  
There are several versions out there, but a few can be accessed online at the following links:


Burke offers theories for why human beings may have a preference, or taste, for certain things.  The generalizations are deeply interesting and a bit humorous, perhaps having something to do with the fact that it was originally published in 1757.  "Part IV, Section XXII: Sweetness Relaxing" is especially lovely.
Lynda Barry is an amazing artist and writer who opened my eyes to the veins in the tiles on my bathroom wall, which appeared again in the walnut I talked about earlier.  This way of seeing evolved through a daily diary exercise in which we wrote 10 things that we saw that day.  Suddenly I was seeing things in my daily routine that I had never noticed before.  The world quadrupled in size, texture, color, and indulgence.  Everything was much more vibrant, and I was much more present.  Lynda does a lot of amazing work, throughout her daily life, research, and practice.  I would highly recommend her books "What It Is" or "Picture This," especially if you're an artist or writer.
Also, anything Judith Butler. "Gender Trouble" and "Bodies That Matter" are great reads.

UL: Thank you again for sharing your work and some of your philosophy on sexuality and identity. Readers are encouraged to check out Rachael on her Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rachael_griff/



2 comments:

  1. Thank you Leandra! It was such a joy to have the opportunity to meet and talk with you. I'm so happy our paths crossed, and that I'm able to follow your passion on UL!

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