Leeds Museum and Art Gallery, Leeds
November 2009

Essay commissioned by Northern Art Prize 2009 to accompany the exhibition Northern Art Prize 2009

author Nigel Walsh, Curator: Contemporary Art, Leeds Art Gallery

Looking now at the drawings Goodyear has produced over a period of just over seven years the trajectory they present is like falling into an illogical, yet strangely familiar world. The scenes they present are often curious and alien - they seem to take familiar components and fuse them in unfamiliar ways; in stark isolation to the whiteness of the paper, her characters have no context or history, but the fact that they do share common ground is underlined by the fact that when Goodyear presents them in different exhibitions, she re-aligns them in different combinations and relationships.

There is no identifiable narrative at play but like the figures themselves which seem confined paradoxically by the intangible space they occupy, they have freedom to roam but they do not.

There are moments when we think we may know these figures, from somewhere remote, for, like characters in a dim and distant fairy tale we can't quite pin down, they embody compulsions - curiosity, competitiveness, individual sexual adventuring - and deeper aspects of a collective psyche in which animals populate the imaginations of men and women and embody myth as a means to assuage fear through the expression of mystery. But they are not embodiments we immediately recognise. These drawings are raw and abject, although the viewer is offered relief by the fact that they are also frequently darkly funny.

Significantly the lively critique that has developed around her drawings shares a notable consistency. Different writers, puzzling about her work, have produced responses that convey an underlying trope characterisied by a recognition that at the heart of the work lies a binary opposition or contradiction. Writing from New York about a recent exnhibition The Converging Ends Were Misaligned (24 April - 23 May 2009) at Goodyear's London dealer Pippy Holdsworth, Morgan Falconer describes the drawings as 'rebuses that lie somewhere between reason and unreason'; about thte recurring, sexualised girl figure in particular, Chris Clarke, on the exhibition The Intertwining Line, Drawing as a Subversive Art at Cornerhouse, Manchester, writes of them as lying 'between the innocent and the erotic'; in the exhibition guide to the Drawing Room at Tate Liverpool for the 2008 Biennial, Kyla McDonald says her drawings are 'trapped between reality and fiction'. In a similar vein Goodyear's drawings made an eloquent contribution to The Unheimlich, again in 2008, an exhibition at Leeds Metropolitan Gallery, which predicatd itself on Freud's 1919 theory of the 'uncanny', exploring the simultaneous attraction and repulsion caused by the discovery of unanticipated aspects of the familiar or homely. And perhaps most poetic in this continuing and consistent discourse that seems to expose an 'aesthetics of anxiety' is Angela Kingston who, writing (January 2009) on Goodyear's solo show at the International 3, Manchester, encapsulates this inherent tension, concisely and eloquently: 'The sensation I have is of pushing two magnets together, but so that they resist each other, never touching'.

Goodyear's drawing technique seems to conspire with this compulsion towards the contradictory. Adopting an aute observational approach that would not be out of place in botanical or natural science illustration, she seduces the viewer's eye, drawing it closer to wonder at the fine detail of the Arran sweater of her insouciant gamine-like heroine of imaginary friend, or the blush of red blood suffusing through water in mermaids. In themselves these are passages, moments of exquisite detail that arrest the eye, as the mind simultaneously unravels the discomfort, the horror - these are catfish consuming children. At other times, it's as if the observational mode collapses inwards: graphite becomes so densely worked, layer upon layer, that a figure's hair or clothing dispappears into darkness, into the void. Often, to view one of Goodyear's drawings, is as if seeing from the corner of one's eye, a fly caught in the gossamer of a finely wrought spider's web. One is drawn in, compelled to watch, fascinated by the final death throes.

But there is more to this discourse than simply seeking to enfold Goodyear in contemporary art's enduring fascination with the capacity of the visual image to incorporate multiple and contradictory meanings. To see Goodyear's drawings against the background of the tactics of a slightly earlier generation of British Artists who often elided the shocking with the banal, is to touch on something that makes them quite distinctive. Goodyear, too, does often elide the banal and shocking, as for instance, in girl with jellyfish where the calm domesticity of its setting clashes with the repulsion of being a witness to self-wounding. But Goodyear seems to look deeper inside this trope; for her it's not so much a tactic to engage the the viewer's attention, as a means of investigation through which she compels the viewer to consider the all-pervasive ordinariness of evil and menace. Perhaps it's here that the cause of her preoccupation with the primal instinct lies. Her drawings might often seem aligned, even misaligned, with faiy-tales and myths - elusive episodes snatched from lost narratives - but it's also an ordering of a world as expressed from the first, in the earliest cave-wall drawings, that she frequently inverts. This is not necessarily the order of things, she seems to be saying. The threat of of inter-speicies miscegnenation is hinted at here; perhaps the ultimate taboo. In a year which sees the anniversary of the publication of Darwin's The Origin of Species, one of the great acts of re-ordering our world, Rachel Goodyear's dreams of a misaligned world, writ small and intricate, exercise a poweful pull on the darker side of the imagination.

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