Rachel Lancaster, 'Chair', oil and acrylic on canvas, 250 x 330 cm, 2009.  Courtesy: the artist and Workplace Gallery, UK [enlarge]

Rachel Lancaster, 'Chair', oil and acrylic on canvas, 250 x 330 cm, 2009. Courtesy: the artist and Workplace Gallery, UK


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Rachel Lancaster

Workplace Gallery, Gateshead
5 September - 3 October

Reviewed by: Paul Stone »

Rachel Lancaster has been steadily developing a considered practice over the last few years. She largely concerns herself with the fine details of life, working in both small and large-scale paintings, photography and, more recently, sound, all of which were well represented in this, her first solo show.

When walking into the first room of the gallery, the viewer is confronted with four very large-scale paintings. Three of these - Blanket, Chair, and Bed (all works 2009) - as their titles imply depict sites of repose, recovery, or waiting. The unkempt bedspread of Blanket suggests a messy teenager's bedroom, one abandoned in haste. In contrast the fragment of metal bedhead in Bed brings to mind the sparse and clinical functionality of a field hospital or asylum. Likewise, the chair in Chair, appears to be sited in the corridor of some kind of institution or other, conjuring up uncomfortable memories of waiting for a possible detention outside the headmaster's office at school or to be called in for test results at the hospital. All provoke a sense of unease, of some narrative only half completed, one with a possible far from happy ending. The fourth work here, Pink, seems slightly at odds with the other paintings, looser and less graphic in its execution, though the Five USA TV channel logo in the upper left corner of the canvas gives an early clue to the origin of much of Lancaster's source material, something that becomes more explicit as the viewer progresses through the exhibition.

The next work encountered is The Wire, a looped single channel audio piece of (rail?) road traffic noise. Further sound works dotted throughout the exhibition likewise loop birdcalls (Birds), old school telephones (Telephone), and a stylus stuck in the run-out groove of a record (Vinyl), the repetitive nature of each adding to the sense of some unresolved story. An untitled slideshow work presents a series of seemingly disparate images such as a hotel room, a fountain, a pile of lipstick-smeared tissues, jewellery, and a stairwell. What these works reveal in less uncertain terms than the paintings is Lancaster's interest in plundering imagery from TV and film. Perhaps tellingly, the only human presence in the whole exhibition is the TV audience in the colour photograph, Television, and even then they only appear once-removed, framed as they are by the surrounding rectangle of a TV screen. Further small photographic works such as Cups, Blind, and Glass Door present everyday domestic details, all culled directly from TV, with the resulting blurriness and lines echoing Lancaster's painting style.

Lancaster's approach to her subject matter appears to veer between fond homage to the familiar lingua franca of much-loved and remembered Hollywood films and classic TV programmes, and an attempt to re-order the snippets that she selects into some kind of personal narrative. However, in her mish-mash assembly of seemingly unrelated elements Lancaster refuses a purely linear reading and plays freely with the language and conventions of big and small screen storytelling. By eschewing the more dramatic moments and focusing on what might be considered the minor details she elevates - metaphorically and sometimes, literally in the case of her larger paintings - these to an almost fetishistic level, imbuing them with the status of some kind of talisman or harbinger of more significant events yet to happen. Lancaster leads us on in our desire to connect these fragments into a grander narrative whilst simultaneously frustrating our efforts to do so in the process.

Writer detail:
Paul Stone is a Director of Vane gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, and an artist.


Venue detail:
Workplace Gallery »
34 Ellison Street, GATESHEAD NE8 1AY

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