Illustration, Interview

Picture Yourself as One of These Painted Women by Rachel Jo


Illustration by Rachel Jo

Last year, illus­tra­tor Rachel Jo gave her­self an assign­ment. “I decid­ed to chal­lenge myself to do a paint­ing a day for a month in Novem­ber 2016 to real­ly get my style to show some con­sis­ten­cy,” she tells me in an email. “The pro­por­tions of my fig­ures were real­ly wonky and my col­or palette was all over the place.” The 30 days were “dif­fi­cult but reward­ing,” and it’s been a big help in her cur­rent endeav­ors and over­all career.

It taught me to keep pro­duc­ing work, prac­tice putting my work on social media for the oth­ers to see, and to solve prob­lems that I found in my ear­li­er work. It put me on my lit­tle ham­ster wheel to keep going and going, even if you think peo­ple aren’t look­ing and even if you’re feel­ing espe­cial­ly lazy that day. No one’s going to make your work for you, so keep going.

That chal­lenge helped set the ground­work for Rachel’s cur­rent solo show that’s now on view at Grumpy Bert in Brook­lyn. Called All Nat­u­rale, it fea­tures paint­ed nude women as they inter­act with larg­er-than-life plants and are cov­ered in vines. Their lus­cious curves are artic­u­lat­ed, but their facial expres­sions are not.

So, who are these ladies? “The women I’m try­ing to por­tray in my illus­tra­tions is the audi­ence,” Rachel explains. “All of the por­traits of the women I paint reveal as lit­tle as they can so that view­ers can pic­ture them­selves as the sub­ject. No one is focus­ing on how well the face is ren­dered, it’s more of the body lan­guage and mes­sage that we, the audi­ence and artist, cre­ate togeth­er.”

Styl­is­ti­cal­ly, Rachel cites influ­ences from art his­to­ry:

My moth­er used to take my broth­er and I to art muse­ums in Dal­las where she shared her love for Pablo Picas­so and Hen­ri Matisse nude paint­ings with me. I thought there was some­thing that was mag­i­cal, mon­u­men­tal, and time­less about their paint­ings. Some­thing gen­uine­ly nat­ur­al and raw behind the con­fi­dent ges­tures and pos­es real­ly struck a chord in me, which is what I strive for in my own nudes.

And despite the wors­en­ing of state of pol­i­tics (both in the U.S. and abroad), All Nat­u­rale offers a light in the dark­ness. “With the cur­rent polit­i­cal cli­mate and the rise of sol­i­dar­i­ty among strong women, I find con­stant inspi­ra­tion. There’s a point to be proven right now as a woman, and it’s a beau­ti­ful thing to embrace it!”

All Nat­u­rale is on view at Grumpy Bert until Sun­day, July 16. Go see it while you can!

Rachel Jo has created a series of illustrated women for her show All Naturale. Taking cues from art history and the current political climate, the paintings focus on us, the audience—so “viewers can picture themselves as the subject.”

Illustration by Rachel Jo

Illustrated women by Rachel Jo

Illustrated women by Rachel Jo

Illustrated women by Rachel Jo

Illustration by Rachel Jo

Illustration by Rachel Jo