Words by : Monica Uszerowicz
Becoming privy to an individual’s imagination is a privilege of viewing art, a privilege one forgets unless reminded. Sometimes the artist becomes disassociated from the piece itself somewhere between its construction and its entry into the public, but ultimately — lest we forget — those are someone’s thoughts you’re looking at. That’s the manifestation of an idea into a reality. That concept, on its own, is kind of like spell-casting. And it becomes even more supernatural if you’re lucky enough to see not just a glimpse of an artist’s inner world, but a whole, magical cross-section of it.
Rebeca Raney’s “RANEYTOWN” is a collection of hundreds of gouache and ink drawings and sculptures. It is also her own world, an ingenious but unaffected rainbow channeled through her childlike imagination directly to the rest of us. As Raney describes it, “The moment I started drawing every day, my practice became about what was in my head. I can always explain what motivated me to make a particular drawing, and that information, when given, can be like sharing secrets.”
The sculptures are perhaps the most spirited part of “RANEYTOWN.” Suspended from the ceiling, sitting in bathtubs, they’re rather large, heavily embroidered, and huggable. They are labors of real love, based on Raney’s desire to turn her drawings into a different sort of reality. Although she received a BFA in Painting from Rhode Island School of Design, she later studied sculpture when she received her MFA at the School of Visual Arts in New York: “As a painting major, I showed obvious signs that traditional oil on canvas was not going to excite me for long,” she explains. “My process is now very simple: I draw. When I find something in my drawings that I would absolutely love to stand next to, I build it.”
Most of her sculptures are, ironically, mouthless, a key component that makes her storybook-style characters all the more intriguing to attempt listening to. “I don’t always draw mouths because my work is visual — they don’t actually make sound,” Raney says. “They are emotional.”
That’s why “RANEYTOWN” is a lesson in adorable dichotomies: the intricately embroidered heads of her 3D characters are bright and complicated, but for all their loud color, they’re quiet thinkers. The opposite goes for her drawings (who are also without mouths), but the outcome is the same: even when colorless, they feel vivid and alive. That contrast is purveyed by Raney herself: she draws inspiration from children’s storybooks and all things cute, but her imagination is complex. In no way is the simplicity of her work indicative of naïveté. “I think it’s no coincidence that ‘cute’ is a powerful economic force,” she says. “I think that it’s attractive and because of that alone it can be very compelling … The subjects I draw are thinking, so they can be very simply drawn, but they aren’t vacuous.”
Opening at Primary Projects for Art Basel Miami Beach (Raney is also a native Miamian), the show is synced with the debut of a collection Raney has designed for Madewell. Inspired by emblems in her work — in particular, her backwards llamas and flowers — the line features a tote bag, stationary, a sweater, and more, all ranging in price from $20-$900. It will be available at Madewell stores in New York, Los Angeles, and Miami. The economic, transcendent power of cute is a real one.