In conversation with Rachel Cadrin

Posted by Aimee Coles on 17/12/2021 at 10:58


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Since interviewing Abstract Art Canada’s founding artists, David Brooks and Jim Ulrich, we’ve been talking to artist and art therapist, Rachel Cadrin. We wanted to get her views on abstract art and to discover more about how her career has developed as an abstract artist and therapist.


Could you give your own interpretation of what abstract painting is?


Rachel in her studio

Rachel in her studio

I see abstract painting as pure expression. There may or may not be visible forms, however, it is about conveying a feeling rather than a specific message. I see my paintings as providing an invitation to the viewer to create their own story, their own narrative, and that is one of the most beautiful things about abstract art; the freedom it provides the audience with to discover their own story. I may have created the painting with a specific intention but my intention doesn’t matter, what matters is how the viewer perceives the piece and the freedom they have to do so. That is what I think is incredible about abstract art and makes abstract art, abstract art – the freedom of expression for the artist and viewer.


Your background


When did you start painting and who or what inspired you to start?


I started painting very young. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting at the kitchen table, painting. It was a quiet and safe space just for me, it allowed me to process, and it was something I found really enjoyable. I was never inspired by anything other than an innate desire to create, and maybe a little to escape. The older I got and the more I learned, the more I was inspired by artists like Gerhard Richter, Irene Neal and Ad Reinhardt.



Your painting style


Did you start your career in abstract or in a different style?


When I first started painting I was into realism but by the time I graduated high school I was fully painting abstract pieces. However, I was still drawing realism and still do to this day.



How would you describe your current style of painting?


I create abstract colour field pieces. The focus of my work is using colour to create a space and allowing the space to evoke a narrative or emotion for the viewer.

Has your style changed or developed over time?


Oil Painting 4

Oil Painting 4

Oh yes, very much. I used to focus on creating realistic images with great attention paid to the detail. Now, I focus more on emotion, on feeling, and creating movement and space to the piece. My works today look entirely different from my works 10 years ago and I love that. Equally, I think my work in ten years’ time will look completely different than what I am doing now and I love that.



Which artists inspire you?


To name a few: Gerhard Richter, Fabian Marcaccio, Dan Flavin, Arturo Herrera, Irene Neal, Joseph Drapell, Anne Low, Bram Bogart, Ad Reinhardt and Alexis Harding.


What else inspires you?


I get a lot of inspiration from music, I find creating to be a deeply emotional experience and that experience can be heightened by a song. Sometimes I will hear a song and know I need to create it as a visual art.


Where do you seek inspiration for a painting or does inspiration strike without warning?


I think the thing with inspiration is if you have to seek it out it is not really inspiration. Inspiration comes when we least expect it; it sort of swoops in without warning and we choose to engage with it or not.


Your creative process


Are there certain set stages for creating your paintings? For example, do you decide or know, in advance, the size of piece, if it’s going to be portrait or landscape, canvas or paper, and what materials you’re going to use?


Strictly Outta Curiosity

Strictly Outta Curiosity

I primarily work in a square format, the only time I deviate from this is when I am working on a commissioned piece and the person commissioning it has specified different dimensions. I also always work with oil paint as I love the vibrant colour and richness of it. I happily work on canvas, however, my ‘go to’ is panel board. In summary, I always use the same materials but it’s the way that I use them that varies.



What is the first step?


Preparing the support (canvas or panel board). I work with a lot of texture so I start laying the texture and priming the support with Gesso to create a landing space for the art.


Do you always paint in the same place?


Yes. I have a little studio at home. Because a lot of what I use is toxic, I only create in my studio with proper ventilation and a respirator.


How long does a painting take? Or does it vary a lot?


It really varies and it depends a lot on size. Bigger pieces usually take quite a bit longer but depending on how much texture I work into a smaller piece they can take quite a long time too. I will usually paint for a day, take a day away, then come back and paint, then take more time away and so on, until I decide the piece is complete.


How do you know when you’ve finished a piece? Do you ever go back over it and change it to ‘correct’ it?


There is never anything to correct; what happens was meant to happen. I feel when they are done, I take time away from them and then I sit with them and really look at them. If it feels like something more needs to happen then I go back in, if it feels complete then I walk away.


Oil Painting 5 on your wall


What makes you satisfied with a piece and/or how do you know when you’re satisfied?


I am satisfied when they feel complete, and truthfully, I have some pieces I am not satisfied with and that is fine too. It is not about me being satisfied, it is about the work being what it needs to be.


Is there a ‘right way up’ to an abstract painting?


For my work, no. Other artists may have a different answer. I paint in a square and sign the back of the work so it can be hung in any orientation.


Painting as a pastime


What do you enjoy most about abstract painting?


The freedom of it, the release it provides, and being able to create something feels fantastic.


Would you recommend it as a pastime?


Yes, I would. I think painting provides you access into yourself. Emotions arise and you notice them and maybe you put them into the work or maybe you fixate on them or maybe you allow them to pass. I think it’s a nice way to spend some time. You get to simply be and at the end of it you have an artwork that you can put up on your wall or give to someone, or burn, it’s up to you.


Do you think you have to be a particular type of person to be able to paint abstract?


In the Midnight Hour

In the Midnight Hour

I think you have to be a person who is interested in creating. If you aren’t then you may not enjoy painting. I think often people will talk themselves out of doing something so that they can stay in their safe zone, and when that happens I think we need to take a long look at why we are fighting to stay in that safe zone. Abstract art, or really art in general, is about creating, it is about expressing. The only skill I think one needs is a comfort with expressing.


Art therapy


You’re also an art therapist – can you tell us a bit about what that is?


Art therapy uses different art approaches to support people in releasing stuck, emotions, experiences, and behaviour patterns. Through the use of art, we become aware of all aspects of ourselves, we become aware of the narrative we have created and adhere to, and we become aware of how we may shift our narrative to redirect our life in the direction we choose for it. A lot of self-realization happens through the act of creating. The act of creating shines a light on our unconscious and allows us to tap into the deepest parts of ourselves. Witnessing a person’s journey through art therapy is truly beautiful and a privilege.


When did you decide to become an art therapist and what started you on that journey?


I was in my third year of my degree and I had to do a practicum, I decided to explore art therapy as I have always wanted to support people and I was having so many positive experiences with art myself. I completed the practicum and continued to volunteer at my work placement for years. Once I graduated I went on to pursue an education in Counselling and Art Therapy.


What are the benefits of art therapy?


Art therapy provides the space for people to really explore themselves and to release trauma in a safe and effective manner. Art therapy allows for people to tell their story without getting stuck in it. It provides insight into the inner working of one’s psyche and insight into why we do what we do. This insight provides us with the opportunity to notice how we want to shift our lives to better support us on our journey.


And finally…


What do you think makes an abstract painting good?


Good is a relative term. I do not think one thing makes an abstract painting good or bad. I am drawn to certain paintings as some people are drawn to my work and others are not. However, that does not make my work good or bad, it’s just a person’s perception of it. Art is subjective. It can never be good or bad, you either like it based on your preconceived notions or you don’t. I can like an artwork, but that has nothing to do with whether it is good or bad, it is simply my taste. I think the thing that is important to remember too is you are not your artwork, people will love your art and people will hate your art but their reaction to your art is not a reflection of you.



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