Rachel Sumpter’s work depicts a bright, pensive and grounded vision of the future. Using gouache and pastel on found paper, Sumpter infuses color onto the page allowing hues from the paper itself to show through. She says of this merging of medium and material, “I like using found paper, I like that its disintegrating and turning yellow due to the industrial processes it was subjected too.” Aside from the harsh processing the paper may have undergone, Sumpter is able to bring out a brightness, working with the material instead of just laying colors on top of the page.
The three paintings above are Sumpter’s earlier works; they focus on human subjects and special detail is given to their body positions and garments. Throughout these three pieces human relationships, while they may be imagined for a past or future world, appear very similar to now. A large group huddles around two miniature horses– figurines perhaps– decorative for their dinner together, in “Breaking Bread.” This is not unlike a potluck where food and company is shared, however in this image the uniform chairs and striped coats relate this group, maybe as part of a pack or clan. In the second piece “Brotherhood/Sisterhood” a weaselly brother, armed with an ancient looking sword, looks on as his sister smokes a cigarette, wrapped up in her thoughts. In the background a volcano steams; truly a clever representation of the antagonistic relationship between brothers and sisters. In the last piece, “Mother’s Little Helper,” a mother hurriedly carries her baby across a hill accompanied by a large mouse dashing alongside the mother with what can be assumed to be her other child. Through this piece Sumpter imagines a future where humans and animals, large rodents more specifically, live and work together. These images depict a grounded human race, connected to one another and to their environments.
Since 2007, Sumpter’s human subjects have become smaller but appear in large mass as she elaborates on the landscapes. She commented on this change in her work, “I also wanted to create larger landscapes using the same paper that I like to use, which is about 11×14 inches, to do that the figures had to be smaller. It was a bit of a practical measure. I like how the people turn into an element rather than an individual.” It is apparent that Sumpter’s figures become a part of the landscape; in the first painting pictured above entitled, “Mass Exodus,” the figures are the landscape and in the second painting, “Ancients,” the figures are depicted as creating their landscape, connecting one mountain of color to another with a stone bridge. Sumpter’s mixing of colors makes the grounds and skies appear ambiguous, whether hell froze over and created this brilliant landscape or an electrical shortage caused every building to collapse is irrelevant to the silencing immensity of Sumpter’s colorful landscapes.
Sumpter’s work makes peace with the future, imagining strength between humans, between humans and their environments. Almost dreamlike, her paintings are a window into a one of the myriad of possibilities for the future. Her choice of bright colors and intricate patterns maintain that creativity and vibrancy for life cannot disappear as easily as it may sometimes seem.
Rachell Sumpter’s work will be exhibited at the Richard Hellar Gallery, in Santa Monica, CA, beginning on January 8. Her work can also been seen at bookstores everywhere because she creates the cover art for Dave Eggers novels including his most recent novel, Zeitoun.
Written by, Mary Smith