Rachel Hines is an interdisciplinary artist working with themes revolving around absence, community, and intimacy. The work takes shape in videos, actions, objects, photographs and drawings. Hines studied at Pratt Institute, NY where she received her MFA in Interdisciplinary Art with an emphasis in Art and Design Education. While at Oregon State University she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting with a minor in Art History.
She lives and works in Portland, Oregon with her husband, Thom Hines, and their dog, Buddy. Currently she is Adjunct Assistant Professor in Art at Portland State University.
Duplex: How did you get to where you are now?
Rachel Hines: I was born in Hollywood CA. It was always sunny and beautiful, so that contributed to my attitude. I have a huge family; my mom is one of ten children and my dad was one of twelve, so there is a big range of professions. We have artists, priests, doctors, teachers, an archeologist, a translator, etc. Also, my family moved a lot. I haven’t spent more than a few years in any one place. I’ve been exposed to a lot of different, sometimes-conflicting theories, places, and ways of working. I think that contributed to the way I practice art. I’ll do some drawing, some painting, some performance, choosing the medium that works best for my concept.
Until about a year and a half ago, I had been a very academic artist. I would come up with a concept, construct an image in my mind and produce the piece. But lately I am allowing my thoughts to be what they are, and my art followed suit. The newer art is messy and raw and vulnerable. That’s how the Hair Brain series was born.
One day I went into my studio, filled with anxiety and emotion. I couldn’t process my feelings verbally or visually, so in a frustrated moment, I began to scribble. The racing thoughts made my hand work very quickly and fervently. I worked with my right hand until it was too tired, then switched to my left.
After a long while, the emotions and thoughts diffused, and what was left was a tangle of lines. Because I switched hands, back and forth, the natural arch of the gesture left a small space at the bottom, which looked like the perfect space for a face. Assuming I’d never show these drawings to anyone, I drew a small self-portrait there and stepped back from the drawing. I had not drawn like that before. Ever. I was always very controlled and careful. It felt exhilarating to let go!
I had worked with the concept of hair before, but in a much more academic way – considering the length of hair to be the passage of time, etc. But these drawings were born from uncensored emotion. It’s not that the previous work wasn’t honest, but this was me, letting all my walls down.
D: How do you feel when you look back at earlier work and did it take you a while to be ok with this uncontrolled new process?
RH: Looking at old work is like going through a photo album. I can point to it and remember the phases of my life and the lessons I’ve learned.
And yeah, it definitely took my awhile to be okay with this new stuff. When I’m learning a big life lesson it’s hard to want to display that right away! Until I had a real handle on my feelings, I used to just sit back after each drawing and wonder what I just made! It was the first time I realized what people meant when they said the work guides them. I used to always guide the work. I would be in control. And now I let my head talk straight to my hand. With these drawings I try to get my ego out of the way.
D: You did a lot of performance based work in grad school, are you still keeping that in your practice, or do you find it more difficult without that built in audience?
RH: Performance is such a public thing, and since moving back from NYC, I’ve been going through a very private transformation. So it’s been on hold.
I used to do it on the streets and subways of New York, because there’s a captive audience. There are thousands of people always passing by, so it’s easy to do it with anonymity!
I still have a movement practice. I do yoga and ecstatic dance and authentic movement, so I’m keeping that going. And often times, if I’m feeling stuck, I’ll just do some movement in my studio. It wakes me up.
D: And your drawing is so movement oriented, you can’t sit still and do that.
RH: No, I have to keep my floor clear and move around the drawing and the space. With the bigger drawings I use the dining room table because I can move around it in a circle.
D: How do you determine the end point of your Hair Brain drawings?
RH: It’s either when I don’t have any pens left, or when the feeling has diffused.
It’s therapeutic. I’ll work on these for hours or days and at some point I say “I don’t feel that way anymore, I think I can be done with this one.” It’s a nice way to stop analyzing or avoiding the problem but instead just work with my hands.
I’ll show you my biggest drawing. This is 14 pens worth. It took three days to get this far. It’s about six feet long.
D: Is the face the last or the first thing you do?
RH: It’s usually the last, and it happens pretty naturally. There are areas where you can see my left hand, any of the harder marks are my left, and the softer are my right. The left hand keeps me honest! With the right hand my aesthetic eye kicks in and says, “oooh I need to fill this area in”. When I use my left hand it’s kind of like “and it’s over here now!”
D: Is the face always your face?
RH: It’s always me; it’s always from memory. Sometimes they don’t look like me at all, but they feel like me.
D: These on the other hand seem more narrative.
RH: I just started them. After all these drawings, a lot of therapy, and a ton of reading, I don’t feel as chaotic anymore. I’ve made a lot of progress and changes. Now when I do a Hair Brain drawing, it’s a faster, lighter process. I’ve decided to embrace the messy side of me, and in moments of serenity, see if I could eventually untangle portions. These new ones are not just a disembodied head, it’s Rachel, my body and my hair. Maybe the hair/lines can clothe or comfort me, serve as a tool in the future? Learning to use my weaknesses as strengths is something I’d like to learn to do!
D: How many pieces do you foresee doing at this large scale?
RH: I’m not sure. But I know I want to finish these rolls of paper. Plus I have a few more pens left from my collection. I’ve was taking 1-2 pens each time I visited my therapist’s office. They’re perfect to work with because they are so cheap, the ink will come out unpredictably or not at all.
D: Does your therapist know about the pens?
RH: Yeah. I told her about it and she’s fine with it. It was important to use these as the medium because it is taken from a safe space that felt very much like my studio. In therapy I had consequence-free anonymity. It was the first place I could say what I truly felt and the more open I was, the more healing I got. The pens would’ve been used to write in a journal if not on these drawings, so it made sense conceptually.
I’ve also used my collection of Sharpies in this series. I’d been saving old, dried-up ones from college art classes. I always felt like Sharpies were for people that were bold and wanted to make a confident, dark, permanent mark. So I was afraid to use them. Not anymore!
D: What are these can tops?
RH: I like to have many projects going at the same time. I started painting on juice lids in 2006. When I moved back to Oregon, I began on a series based on Girl Scout merit badges. I was being skeptical about the idea of being awarded these tokens that said you were now an “Explorer!” but you’ve only gone camping once. The concept emerged when I was reading Buddhist philosophy. I realized that the most desirable attributes of character are the ones that are a continual practice – not a single act. One cannot attain, “connection” or “forgiveness.” It’s not an achievement-based program like so many other parts of our life. It’s a felt process.
D: Are you drawn to the circular shape?
RH: Definitely. No corners. The size feels right also. I’ve always been drawn to miniature paintings. The size makes you get closer. I like to see people get within inches of the work. It’s a way for me to take on one thing at a time, larger paintings seem daunting to me. I work on small issues so the paintings should be small.
D: Although the issues seem very grand.
RH: But they are one small piece at a time. This is a new series I’m doing about red flags. You know the saying ‘that sounds like a red flag’? I was training myself to look for red flags in my personal life, so it made sense to just go ahead and paint them as well. Basically it’s about learning my boundaries and reading the signs that alert me to change my course.
I’ve also been making these small fabric red flags. I have about fifty now. I’d love it if people would carry them around in their purse or backpack. Then at dinner, or a meeting, when they hear something that makes their eyebrows go up they can pull this out and wave it around. I’d also like to make red flags that are huge – for those times in our lives when we need a big warning sign!
D: Is this your calendar?
RH: Yes, basically this is how I make sure to account for my time in the studio. On Lifehacker I read that Jerry Seinfeld kept a chart like this and the goal was to make the chain of X’s continuous. Anytime I spend three or more hours in the studio I can make an X.
In an interview with In the Make, my mentor, Julie Green gave some good advice. She said to spend six days a week, three hours a day in the studio “making work or staring at the walls”. When a trusted person gives me advice, I listen! Sometimes I’m in here, trying to wait it out and let the process happen, and usually at around 2 ½ hours I’m like “ooooh now I know what I want to do with that painting”.
That’s how these envelopes came into existence. I had a bunch of the Hair Brain drawings laying around that just weren’t working. I didn’t feel compelled to keep drawing, but my sewing machine was out so I began making these pockets. As I stitched away I realized that it made sense to make a container out of the discarded thoughts. They store information for later use.
Time in the studio, and time by myself, have been yielding surprising things. Sometimes it’s hard to see how it all works together. But once I step back, I’m realizing that the many sides of my practice, and the many sides of myself, amount to a whole.