“I always consider that my practice is almost one ongoing artwork, but then the techniques and the exploration of drawing and the way that I use drawing can change and evolve over time as well.”

These are the words of Salford-based artist Rachel Goodyear who is celebrating her first major solo exhibition. A commission by the University of Salford Art Collection and Grundy Art Gallery, Stirrings premiered in Blackpool before moving to Salford Museum & Art Gallery last month. 

At the launch in Salford, Paul Dennett, Mayor of the City of Salford, praised Goodyear and her contribution to the local community. As co-director of Islington Mill Arts Club, where her studio workshop is based, Goodyear has been an artist in Salford for 20 years. 

“I know she’s got a great deep-seated commitment, she’s been part of the Islington Mill story,” says Dennett. “The mill is critical in ensuring our city of Salford develops its own identity. It’s not Manchester.”

Stirrings showcases previously unseen pieces, all presented in Goodyear’s distinctive style. Primarily pencil-drawn sketches of human-animal physics, the works embed enticing themes of gothic and macabre on unpigmented canvas. A handful of pieces include the medium of watercolour as a decoy tool to distract the eyes in a subtle way. By having a simple background, Goodyear is able to create, as she says, “ways of really extracting something as though putting something under the microscope”. 

Goodyear expresses her thought process as good mental wellbeing. “If I’m drawing a huge mass of fur there comes this point where it becomes…a meditation and a rhythm and quite automatic and, to be honest, as soon as I think ‘I’m drawing fur’ I suddenly lose it.”

Woman with Birds (2021), made with the medium of pencil and watercolour on paper, creates a sense of an overlay. The woman sketched lightly in pencil fades into the page, her collar of crumbs a colourless contrast alongside the red pigmented watercolour birds which surround her. Goodyear likes to use subtle bursts of colour to play on the page, as demonstrated in the piece Tangled 1 (2021) where a pack of wolves is compressed and intertwined in a fine red mesh netting. 

The 13-minute animation Holes illustrates how Goodyear lets her imagination fly off the page into an abyss of darkness where her most recognisable sketches are exhibited in a sequence. She describes the animation as creating a “sense of a rocky cancerous dark space”. The collaboration with sound artist Matt Wand articulates sonic interpretations of the sketch in motion.

Meanwhile, Spectre (2021) is a pencil-on-paper piece and one of only a few works in her collection where the focal point (a hyena) directly faces the viewer. Despite a fixed gaze, the animal, standing on a wooden deck, is a phantom with its translucent paws. The attention to detail in this image is enchanting and a strong statement of Goodyear’s compelling bold new scale – at 120cm by 85cm, Spectre is one of the largest pieces in her collection.

Goodyear excludes any optical detail in her pieces – the eyes are colourless and either appear to dissolve into the canvas of white or are heavily shaded to appear dark and hollow. The empty eyes of Spectre create a feeling of intimidation that sends shivers down the spine. There is a sinister yet enchanting aura around the mismatched basic animal instinct that follows from page to page. The viewer is forced to reflect within themselves to see their own twisted metaphors unveiling the mind. Goodyear says: “I’m in there somewhere, in there I see them as being a little autobiographical and a lot of the figures look a lot like me.”

The contemporary femininity stretching throughout Goodyear’s art has been inspired by exploring the luminosity of Frida Kahlo and Louise Bourgeois. This exhibition provides a surreal journey for the viewer that possesses similarities to the visual narrative of Dorothea Tanning. Goodyear explains that her consistent themes derive from a compelling interest in natural behaviour since childhood. “Birds that appear beautiful and fragile can be just as brutal as any other species,” she says.

By Megan Bond

Main image: Rachel Goodyear, Trance, copyright the artist. Photo Michael Pollard.

Stirrings is at Salford Museum & Art Gallery until February 2023 and has free entry. For more information, click here.