Heidi askey created an excellent review of the work of American artist Rachel Romano. Rachel also exhibits extensively in Europe and for this reason we are delighted to include her in the list of artists painters TUBES UK are proud to present to a wider audience.
Heidi’s review is accompanied by Rachels work, who also featured on the front Cover of the painters TUBES magazine on readly.com click here to subscribe to Readly.
REVIEW – Rachel Romano by painters TUBES Reviewer Heidi Askey.
Heidi Askey. Reviewer for painters TUBES magazine and the TAG Journal. Heidi lives in the UK and holds a BA degree in art journalism.
Rachel Romano describes herself as “a storyteller for adults”. The complexities and details of her paintings certainly show this conclusion to be true. To me, they appear to be a fragment of a larger narrative, from which so much can be drawn.
Beginning, for example, with her piece New American Gothic. This painting is brimming with symbolism. The male figure is seen holding a flame, presumably having lit the red, bomb-like objects in the background. He stands triumphantly on a gas mask, from which yellow flowers sprout. The image of the gas mask perhaps show the history of war, and the things that humanity has learned from it. Such as, the pain and abnormality of having to protect oneself when leaving the house due to fumes – even the sorrow and shame that such products had a necessity to be created in the first place. The yellow flowers show death and decay; they grow between the eyes of the gas masks as if in the place of what was once a body. But, they may also show a decay of memory – as time has passed, the experiences of war and the people who suffered become less clearly remembered, and humanity falls into the same mistakes. So, the image of the male figure standing on the mask could be a representation of ignorance; he proudly disregards the despair of past war, or perhaps even declares himself superior to such ‘mistakes’ as those made in previous battles.
The headwear of the two figures, although regal in design, appears to be comprised of fragile materials; paper and cloth. The male figure’s sash has crosses sewn into it, from which grenades hang. They have created their own falsified glory where none should exist, using symbols of leadership to create the illusion of power. It is the disguising of evil as goodness. The female figure seems to bow to the male, and she holds a rabbit who bares the same white sash on its foot as on her head. The rabbit slumps in dispassion, forced to participate. With such symbolism in mind, the piece is perhaps then a representation of modern war and the response of the collective. Forgetting the disasters of previous conflict, the leaders of our societies continue to masquerade in confidence and act in ignorance, insisting that the next war shall not be like the last. And we, the rabbit, appear little more than helpless to revolt against such forces. However, the rabbit is still living. There is hope simply in its existence, for it means that there is a way to revoke such powers from reckless leaders.
Romano’s piece Masquerading In Innocence is another in which I find particular interest. There is a running theme in her work of a figure, like in this piece and in New American Gothic, looking directly toward the viewer. This creates the strong feeling that there is something to be told, harking back to Rachel’s description of herself as a ‘storyteller’. The figures also often appear quite young, sparking the idea that they may have been captured in a state of play. They mimic the adults and the situations around them, and display them as a kind of ‘home theatre’ as children often do. The costumes and objects appearing hand-made, like the headwear in New American Gothic, or toys such as the rabbit or the hand puppets in Masquerading In Innocence, furthers this sense of youthful naivety. This adds an interesting aspect of innocence, highlighting the issues that she brings up as they will one day be experienced in practice by such younger people.
The figure in Masquerading In Innocence, as the title suggests, first appears to be a kind of ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’.
Their physical appearance is normal, but their shadow behind shows an intimidating, toothy animal. However, upon further inspection, this shadow does not have a body, but rather a long, arm-like appendage that extends past the frame of the piece. It could therefore be a shadow puppet, with the hand of another, unseen figure forming the head of the creature. This perhaps represents the idea that another person has control over the figure’s sense of self; they see themselves as a monster due to the influence of the puppeteer making them believe so. The suggestion of mistreatment is also shown in the bird hand puppet – it pokes a hole in the figure’s leg, causing blood to drip down. But, there is no reaction in their face – perhaps they are used to this pain.
Rachel’s creation of a threatening atmosphere in this piece is also very effective. The dark reds and oranges, and flames licking at the textured walls form an air of uncertainty and disturbance. The way in which she paints the shadows on the floor with disorienting mixes of red and blues replicates the unnerving feeling of being not quite able to see what is there in a dark room.
Although this idea of the child’s pain within the piece may seem bleak, they are not alone. In the background, a strange looking chair faces towards the origins of the shadow puppet. Its spikes and eye are menacing, perhaps acting as a warning to the out-of-frame figure. This could show that hope and protection, particularly for children, can be found in many places, sometimes unexpectedly. Growing up can often bring a sense of loneliness and an assumption of apathy by others, but Rachel shows that this is simply a feeling, and not reality.
In Rachel’s piece Threadbarer, this sense of threat is shown again. There is a prominent feeling of looming and childlike fear, caused by the difference in positioning between the figure and the observer. The observer appears to tower above the figure, who looks back in what seems to be hopelessness. Like in Masquerading In Innocence, shadows show of form of unseen horror – in this piece, spiked objects which perhaps exist in the sky above. The long, desolate road magnifies this fear, removing chance of escape, and the dropping flowers as the figure walks point toward some form of loss.
The figure’s look back at the observer could be one of accusation – perhaps it is a blame directed towards the world as a collective, and the loss is that of childhood innocence. As the figure walks, seemingly prompted by the observer, they lose a part of their being. But, this is not simply a journey of fear and fruitlessness – at the end of the road, there is a red, house-like object. The piece then could be a representation of growing into adulthood – there is pain, and it may sometimes be experienced begrudgingly, but it is not without reward.
In her pieces, Rachel achieves a very effective representation of childhood fear, concerning the unknown and the troubles of the world. The symbolism she deploys is intriguing and unique – as she describes herself, she is ‘a symbolic/allegorical figure painter’. Her use of typical situations that scare children – the dark, or the threat of monsters – creates an interesting perspective from the point of view of a child. She does this, while still retaining a prominent sense of hope and community, even among such fear.