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.”