Rachel Deacon returns to the Catto Gallery for her fourth exhibition, painting her strong and beguiling women. In composition, they echo back to the classical masters but there’s also a narrative focus to her scenes with a hint of intrigue and conspiracy in those female gatherings.
Rachel’s blend of the traditional and the contemporary has proved a potent mix. She is one of the Catto’s most beloved artists. This will be her third show at the Catto since her debut in 2012.
Every year Rachel Deacon's immense talent gathers more fans. Big shimmering works full of glamour and mystery. With the odd owl. And cakes.
Rachel Deacon arrived at Catto Gallery with a burgeoning reputation based on hard work and a very singular style. She was a student at Chelsea School of Art, exhibiting constantly in London since her graduation in 1991, and has seen her work sold worldwide.
The women that Deacon paints so assiduously are a little hard to pin down. And it's this slipperiness that makes them so beguiling. In their composition, they echo back to the classical masters. Look at The Harvest, for example. In terms of their arrangement, it's as if these women are nymphs, stolen from an epic work by Ingres. Same goes for The Red Bather and Reclining Woman in Crimson, both of which seem to hark back to renaissance depictions of Venus.
Rachel acknowledges the classical precedent. She says: "I embrace the tradition of the classical composition, and the presenting of an archetypal view. This helps in the re-telling of the story I am working from."
And there's certainly a strong narrative focus to her scenes, with a hint of intrigue and conspiracy in those female gatherings. Rachel Deacon admits that these feminine trysts have always intrigued her. "When I was a very young girl, I was fascinated by older girls and women. I loved books. When I had read them, I would fill the blank pages at the beginning and the end with drawings of 'ladies'. There was never enough paper."
Today, as a full time painter, Deacon continues to use the written word – usually poetry - as inspiration, and then creates a scene through sketches, almost like a film still. She uses traditional oil painting techniques, and says she is committed to the 'unchanging craft' of painting.
Deepening the mystery that Deacon creates using narrative is a certain ambiguity in the period. For all the renaissance composition, there's a 21st century sensibility in the 'independent girls together' spirit apparent in works such as Powder Room Ritual. All women will identify with moments such as this.
And yet these women are dressed in clothes that are drawn from a curiously non-specific mix of styles that stretch from 20s to post-war. Deacon says: "I try to keep the era in the painting ambiguous, however I love the style of the 1940's, the textiles design, cut of the clothing and even hairstyles reflect softness and strength in equal measure. I feel delighted by detail in everyday life and try to reflect this in my work."
I embrace the tradition of the classical composition, and the presenting of an archetypal view. This helps in the re-telling of the story I am working from." Rachel Deacon
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