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ARCHETYPES - Artists' Interview - Jessie Rawcliffe & Dr Suits

Words by - 22 October 2022
ARCHETYPES - Artists' Interview - Jessie Rawcliffe & Dr Suits

Fiksate is excited to announce its forthcoming exhibition, Archetypes, an exciting body of work by emerging artists, Jessie Rawcliffe and Dr Suits. In this collaboration, both practitioners explore the complex merging of portraiture and abstraction, creating a series of paintings that showcase the diversity of Ōtautahi art. 

Opening November 4th, Archetypes will present a range of works that combine each artist’s stylistic and material approaches. Examining how composition can conversely reveal and obscure significant details, Rawcliffe and Dr Suits layer abstract and figurative elements such as colour, texture, and shadow to both disorientate and engage the viewer. 

Rawcliffe is a figurative painter and designer engaged in the subversion of spectator and spectacle. Drawing inspiration from Renaissance portraiture, photography, and lowbrow pop surrealism, her work incorporates both traditional and contemporary techniques. Working mainly in oils set against matte acrylic, Rawcliffe’s intricate focal points are often contrasted with blurred, negative space, creating the illusion of a short depth of field. This juxtaposition serves to emphasize the isolation of the artist’s subjects, often conveyed in transitional moments of self-reflection. 

This unique pictorial approach earned Rawcliffe a spot as one of the “Highly Commended” finalists at the 2022 Adam Portraiture Awards, a biennial competition for Aotearoa portrait art. From 351 entries, Judges Linda Tyler and Karl Maughan selected 45 works for this year’s exhibition, Rawcliffe’s “Richard” being one of the selected pieces. 

With similar roots in genre disruption, Nathan Ingram, (or pseudonymously, Dr Suits), is an Ōtautahi-based artist and designer with a background in fashion and urban art. Capturing the public imagination with a range of post-quake street interventions, Ingram’s work has continuously evolved over time, oscillating between the transient murals of the Canterbury cityscape, to the tranquil paintings in the artist’s studio. Investigating the formal relationship between line, shape, and surface, Ingram’s paintings frequently grapple with order and chaos, a sense of poise often masking underlying frenetic energy.

Appearing in both national and overseas exhibitions, Ingram’s works have been included in Taupo’s Graffiato (2021), Ōtautahi’s Spectrum (2015) and Flare (2021), as well as Canterbury Museum’s permanent collection, thereby fortifying the artist’s iconography as a significant reflection of Ōtautahi’s post-quake visual culture. 

By combining their individual perspectives, Rawcliffe and Ingram have succeeded in cultivating a dynamic series that explores the permeable nature of medium “archetypes”. Providing a unique addition to Fiksate’s exhibition schedule, we can’t wait to share Archetypes with you.

How did the idea of collaborating on a show come about?

Dr.S - When Jessie I initially met to discuss ideas for the show we thought it would be a good idea to do a collaborative piece for the promotional material. We were concerned from an aesthetic point of view, that a poster or flier with images of both of our paintings side by side would be challenging to work with. So the idea to do a collab piece was really only to make the promotional content to look cohesive.

Our initial idea seemed like a natural combination of our work and felt balanced enough that we were both equally represented in the outcome. Jessie sent me a few images, I made some draft compositions and sent back around 6 options for review. I was happy with any of them so let Jessie pick a composition. We both worked on our contributing parts individually, in our own studios. We’d send each other progress updates. As soon as we saw the 2 layers combined to create the image, we wanted to do another one straight away. This first painting became our Archetype, which would go on to inform the remainder of the works in the show. From that point, we were both more excited to make more collab pieces and wanted to explore different ways we could merge portraiture with abstraction. 

J.R -After making the initial piece it was obvious, we had plenty of ideas and enthusiasm to keep going and the momentum hasn’t stopped. 

What has been the best part of working in collaboration with another artist?

Dr.S - Sharing the workload as well as bouncing ideas around, having another eye to look over the concepts has been great. I’ve enjoyed seeing a new direction in the work in an area I couldn't take it alone, I don’t have the time or drive to learn to paint like Jessie, that would take years, and I’m too caught up in fussing over colours, textures, and composition - it’s like you get the best of both worlds.

J.R - Collaborating with another artist allows you to view your work from someone else's perspective and consider your own process critically. You tend to stop and question why you make certain decisions while you’re allowing yourself to open to ideas from another person. They tend to see things you don’t.

Nath and I have spent time developing our own styles, collaborating has enabled us to bring together what we each know about our mediums and make works that capture both our perspectives.

What challenges have you found when working together in collaboration?

Dr.S - Mostly I have enjoyed the challenges involved with learning another artist's compositional constraints. I have been trying not to think and view the model strictly compositionally, I know the viewer/audience will bring their own interpretation when they see the work, but I have been focusing on keeping any narrative absent from my mind.

Why did you choose the name ‘Archetypes’ for the title of this exhibition?

Dr.S - It took us a while to determine the show title, but once we had defined a clear direction for the work and process we decided Archetypes seemed like a perfect title for the show because it resonates on many levels of the definition, such as the Platonic concept of “pure form”, or its behavioural connection to instincts  

After the First painting was complete we had defined our first form and main model that would establish the materials, process and icons/imagery in the following works.

Individually, Jessie and I both use constant recurring symbols or motifs in our work. This can be defined as archetypal and by exploring the relationship of our own iconography can refer to the concept of characters sharing similar traits or ideas.

Subconscious mark-making plays a big role in my work, I base a lot of decision-making around how visual elements feel within a composition. These develop into repetitive gestures which later develop in more conscious movements or compositions. Within this body of work, I have relied on this way of working to generate numerous options for each painting and then refining through a collaborative conversation.

We didn’t necessarily want to create a series of typical archetypes but more acknowledge the fact that people make assumptions of others based upon their own preconceived opinions, either consciously or subconsciously we have been socially conditioned through our ancestral lineage to create opinions of others based on their appearance.

How do you think the combination of both your styles change the overall viewer's experience?

J.R - Both Nath and I use composition to emphasise, hide or reveal certain elements or direct the viewer's attention somewhere in particular. By layering forms on top of my figures the viewer is compelled to either step away or get closer to gain a better understanding of what they’re seeing or to discover what’s underneath. Interaction is encouraged.