International 3, Manchester
7 May to 5 June 2005

Reviewed by Dave Beech

Untitled magazine Number 35 Summer 2005

Drawing is moving. Curtains are drawn along the curtain pole; draught beer is drawn from the barrel to the glass; drawers are slid across runners to open them; and a bank account is overdrawn when you have transferred too much money out of it. When you are drawn in to a spectacle or an event, you are the object being moved water from a well. Pencil drawings, likewise, are the result of dragging or sliding . So, strictly speaking, it is the pencil that is drawn (across a surface) not the picture.

Rachel Goodyear's first solo exhibition, which is almost entirely made up of pencil drawings on paper, draws you in by the way it draws together contingently related objects. It is not only the pictures that are beautifully drawn; the coincidences are beautifully drawn too. In one, a clump of hair blows in the wind off the tip of a branch. In another, a boy sat on a stool is joined by another boy who has climbed inside the first boy's pullover. And in another, an impossibly tall, thin, flat-topped mountain has a single telephone pole on it - nothing else. Nothing is at home in these works, as if the world had been tapped lightly and everything had stumbled into unfamiliar positions.

There is a gentle but genuine shock in each picture. A bird perched on the belly of a dog seems quite at ease in its unnatural friendship while a pink hand-print colouring a thigh occupies the same psychological space somewhere between the threat of a slap and the promise of a caress. Things collide - remaining estranged and yet permanently tied together by their brief convergences. Time freezes because of this. Which explains why, for example, a bird on a branch is connected to the tree trunk by a spider's web. The unlikely cobweb only goes to show the permanence of the bird's fleeting encounters with the tree.

Modernists like Baudelaire used the fleeting encounter to characterise the independence and freedom of the individual wandering aimlessly through the city like a pencil without a picture to draw. In Goodyear's drawings, however, the contingent rendezvous is not a confirmation of the autonomy of the individual, but a reminder of the innumerable dependencies of the individual on the world. And a reminder of that world's otherness. A leaking bath fails to contain the water that is not supposed to mix with the world outside but in Goodyear's drawing, the water spills out just like the subject who can never keep the world at bay. Dependence is essential, also, to a drawing of a disco ball, drawn on a white paper bag (the sort used for boiled sweets at the newsagents): the disco ball is nothing without the light that it throws around the room.

Unlike the Surrealists, who understood chance as randomness and accident, Goodyear's fleeting encounters seem to fuse together immediately, as if it were perfectly natural for a squirrel's tail to hang out of a man's mouth, or for a girl to push her finger into the wall whenever she pleased. These incidents are not absurdist, nor are they dreamworks. There is a filmic quality to Goodyear's images. Her extraordinary combinations call for narratives, back-stories, consequencesand perhaps even resolutions. But it is the absence of those rationalising structures - including the Surrealist rationalisation of the 'unconcious' - that give Goodyear's drawings their psychological and aesthetic impact. Does a frog in a jam jar by a reading lamp speak of cruelty, curiosity, protection or power? And a deer leaning up against a bear - is this an emblem of utopian neighbourliness or denatured indifference? If the pictures do not correspond with our expectations of what the world is actually like, this is because they do not suppress the world's real otherness. And our otherness within.

None of the drawings in this exhibition are mounted or framed; they appear with the minimum of fuss straight out of sketchbooks (complete with the torn edges of spiral binding) or on found scraps - paper bags, receipts, bits of cardboard and so on. Here the very act of drawing is itself drawn into the temporary moments of everyday encounters. There is an easy passage between art and everyday life not only in the imagery, as with postmodernism, but with technique - all this informality gives you the impression that these images interrupt the day unpredictably, like spam mail or spilled beer. And it is as if the imagery backs up this experience. Hence, the repetition of images of leaking, of swallowing and being swallowed, of one figure sitting on another, of people sharing the same clothes, of the effects of the wind, and the limits of containment. They are impressive, beautiful and provocative in equal measure. These drawings are moving.

return to Rachel Goodyear Press Page