Rachel Mercer British, b. 1990

Rachel Mercer’s paintings transport the viewer to intimate moments as if a reverie of colour and emotion. Within there is a sense of movement, fluidity, and haptic beauty, recalling the lush beauty of Pierre Bonnard’s scenes of domestic life, and yet all the artist’s work is inflected with a singular form of grace informed by the world of dance and the quietude of Chinese brush painting. At the centre of this approach is an interest in human interaction and the importance of the observed world, rendered in tactile imagery that exists between the Impressionist drawings and oil painting. “When I first start a painting it’s more like a drawing in colour, if this fails to satisfy or feel true to me then I will paint over the top. Overlaying images brings in an element of chance, sometimes the image reveals itself. 


Mercer shares that these dense yet airy images emerge from memory, wrought in visible brushstrokes and layering process of scraping, wiping, and building of paint. “I have a particular interest in the texture of skin and clothing, and this is reflected in the surface quality of my artworks. Fragmented brushstrokes express the complexities of binocular vision and the distortion of space accounts for being able to see 180 degrees in our peripheral vision.” 


Such loose graceful marks reveal Mercer’s interest in brush painting as well as the legacy of Leon Kossoff experienced at the Royal Drawing School and the somatic mark making of artists such as Chaim Soutine and R.B Kitaj. Mercer recalls her love of Rembrandt and indeed the contemporary artist’s way of creating quietly dynamic expanses of paint pays homage to the historic painter’s approach to light, color and painterly commune. In Mercer’s work the figure appears somewhere between “presence and disappearance” recalling the masterly composition of Oskar Kokoschka, the fragments of color and smoky paint, punctuated by expressive faces and passages of abstract pigment, cropped, and composed as if lines from poetry. 


Mercer’s pictures bring together her diverse interests and approach to making work and living in the world, from dance to Daoist philosophy, as well as Song Dynasty painting and the practice of meditation. Of Chinese brush painting, Mercer shares she learned in childhood watching the family friend and artist Qu Lei Lei painting; “I was a very patient observer, before I could write Lei Lei would hold my hand to the brush and direct my hand to make elegant brushstrokes. Lei Lei also performed Tai Chi so the connection between the body's movement and brushstrokes was ingrained very early.”


In these painterly verses there is a sense of breath, saturated blend of colour, patient brushstroke and gesture. Mercer seeks to offer her view a sense of transportation “a moment of ‘presentness’. A reflection on what it is to be in the world and what it is to be human.” These vignettes of experience and time make delightful the ordinary, in arcs of paint, sunlight and colour.


~ Rosa JH Berland