Rachel Eulena Williams: poetry and abstraction in Brussels

Rachel Eulena Williams weaves poetry and abstraction in Brussels

In ‘Joy & Rain’ at Xavier Hufkens, Brussels, New York-based artist Rachel Eulena Williams presents new hybrid works that are bold, subversive and steeped in complex stories

Rachel Eulena Williams’ work is not strictly painting or sculpture. It occupies an intuitive and improvisational middle ground: fragmented compositions that are hand glued, sewn, knotted and tied together but also painted, with pigments functioning as both essential structure and embellishment.

Despite this layered approach, the Miami-born, New York-based artist still starts with the same humble material: rolls of untreated canvas and cotton. In ‘Joy & Rain’ at Xavier Hufkens in Brussels, Williams’ vibrant new work presents tensions: between two and three dimensions; frugality and opulence; hope and pain; liquid and solid; “high” and “low” artistic activities.

Rachel Eulena Williams, Strange Woman, American Fruit, 2021

Although fundamentally abstract, there are hints of recognizable, albeit fragmented, forms in these twisted assemblages: perhaps the subtle curve of a body or a cluster of flower petals. As predicted in the show’s title, Williams’ new work uses the raindrop motif in blue-hued fluid pigment droplets. It’s also a nod to Melvonna Ballenger’s 1978 film. Rain (Nyesha), which explores a feminine journey towards self-awareness and empowerment, as well as a poetic meditation on the power of rainy days. The show is a story of optimism and angst. Bright, bright colors respond to the complex social implications of cotton and rope; rain as a metaphor for melancholy and renewal.

Williams’ work can be seen in the context of the contribution of black American artists to modern art, with particular reference to pioneering women such as Betye Saar or Howardena Pinnell. It is a game of structures, both literal and metaphorical. As the artist explains, “’Joy & Rain’ is both personal and comprehensive. For this exhibition, I delved deeper into the poetic and social narrative that drives my work.’

His unorthodox use of materials frees the painting from the rigidity of the formal canvas; his bold palette liberates forms from the systematic otherness of color in Western art history, sentiments reflected in the titles of the works: Strange Woman, American Fruit and black and blue. Williams’ work, retrospective and hyper-contemporary, is part of the ongoing reconstruction of art history. §

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