The American artist Michelle Rawlings combines in her works two different speeds of generating images. They are mostly created through a time-consuming, painstaking process modeled on traditional studio painting. But their intimate scale and specific themes—from pixelated abstract compositions and coloristically refined monochromes to the iconography of girlish Instagram shots—keeps pace with the contemporary speed of the Internet and social media. The two interpenetrate: a sense of the singularity and classic nobility of modern art and a fascination with the non-hierarchical, spontaneous and fetishistic consumption of culture peculiar to teenage girls. By stripping the former of its sublimity and imparting gravity to the latter, Rawlings seeks in her work a new, contemporary female identity: creative, subjective, intuitive, and perfectly at home in the digital world. Her intimate painting combines visual brilliance and multiplicity with reticent contemplation.
The main element of Girl Talk is an installation prepared specially for the Raster space from a range of objects of varying sizes modeled on the structure of room dividers. Their intimate scale, from 10 inches to over 5 feet high, underlines the idiosyncratic and impractical nature of these items. The paintings they’re composed of are made of silk, hand-embroidered, painted and printed, in the spirit of a diary of images. The exhibition is completed with characteristic, small easel paintings by Rawlings, a continuation of her intimate color studies—what she calls “somewhere in between minimalist grid-like compositions and digital, pixelated visual interference.”
Rawlings describes her inspirations and working methods, and the potential impact of her work:
“I grew up collecting pictures from magazines—a compulsion that has evolved into the same practice via the Internet. We are now witnessing a generation of people who borrow found imagery online to speak for themselves. Appropriated content becomes diaristic and personal through the acquisition, or re-posting, of it. It serves a new personal narrative for a different identity, a different archive, a different subjective interest. The line between what could be considered ‘original’ and what isn’t is more productively blurred than ever.
My work is hinged on an anxiety between an exploration of process-based painting and an interest in a Tumblr-like sequence created by an accumulation of images. I make smaller pieces that imitate established painting genres, or various histories that feel like they are everywhere at once and easily accessible. The anxiety of how much is available makes it seem antithetical to emphasize or insist on one kind of image.
I feel the culture that the Internet and social media has farmed is giving women a place where we can express ourselves with more agency and creative control. The result is nuanced and creative voices we’ve never seen or had before. I hope my work is an extension of that new consciousness and visibility.”