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Interactive Contemporary Artist, rachelhovnanian.com
Featured Lady Rachel Hovnanian’s progressive art installations generate conversation about beauty, whether she’s interpreting flowers or sculpting an eleven-foot tall pageant queen out of marble. An interactive contemporary artist whose minimalist palette is nearly devoid of color, Rachel studied under Charles Umlauf at the University of Texas in Austin where she received her bachelor of fine arts. She continued her studies in New York City at Parsons School of Design, The Arts Students League and the National Academy of Design under Wolf Kahn. Her work is exhibited internationally and includes shows at the Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art in London, Jason McCoy Gallery, Collette Blanchard Gallery, Meredith Long & Company, David Beitzel Gallery and Ann Kendall Richards Gallery.
Born in Parkersburg, West Virginia, Rachel’s family moved from Ohio to Houston, Texas. During her childhood Rachel also traveled extensively in Mexico and Europe and often visited New York City, where her artist parents lived when they were newlyweds. She grew up in the company of influential American modernist artists Balcomb Greene, Janice Biala, Alain Brustlein and others who were friends of her family. Not surprisingly, Rachel’s creative gifts were noticed early in her life.
“In second grade people spoke in school about my work,” Rachel says. “They said I was talented and I was identified early on as a young artist.” She remembers drawing a horizon line in kindergarten and thinking about color in a curious way while other children had other interests. “I played with objects in an artistic way and spent hours creating art, absolutely content to express myself.”
“I was lucky to have the passion and desire to speak through a visual medium at a young age,” the classically trained artist says.
Rachel always knew she would express herself through a creative medium but recognized that making art and selling it were two different things. “When I got out of school I needed to earn money in order to pay my student loans so I got a job in a New York advertising agency as an art director,” she says. “After work I would paint to relax and make extra money. I was lucky to sell my art in a frame shop that had a small gallery.”
After her experience as an advertising agency director, Rachel thought it was about time to step up and go public as an artist. “This took a bit of courage. It was difficult for women artists back then,” she says. “A friend who was in the art business insisted I work towards my first show in 1997. It was very successful and that was the start of my journey as a professional artist.”
Her current show is in Antwerp, Belgium followed by another opening in September at Tripoli Contemporary Art Gallery in South Hampton, New York.
Rachel’s favorite work is an installation she titled “The Fun House Dressing Room” that she exhibited at the Jason McCoy Gallery in New York City during 2009. She believes that every woman and man can relate to it because “our inner voices haunt us.” Fun House is part of her show called “Power and Burden of Beauty.”
“Imagine standing in a cramped dressing room looking at all of one’s faults magnified by a large funhouse mirror, bad lighting and the smallest, most intimate piece of clothing that we wear in public – a bathing suit,” Rachel explains about Fun House. “As you enter the dressing room you hear audio voices of yourself, other women, salesgirls and your mother ripping on your appearance…saying things like, ‘You shouldn’t have eaten those Cheetos’ and ‘You need more Botox.’ You can feel the pain of it all yet laugh at the same time in this intimate space.” O – The Oprah Magazine featured this installation in its recent June issue.
Despite growing up in Texas, a state known for its bodacious beauty queens, Rachel was forbidden to play with Barbies because, as her mother put it, “Barbie represented false ideas and hopes to young girls.”
“As a child I remember playing with baby dolls. As time progressed, young females started playing with adult looking dolls,” Rachel explains. “Now our children look at photo-shopped images of young women distorted like the mirror image in The Fun House Dressing Room.”
Through “Power and Burden of Beauty” Rachel created a dialog about the unattainable pursuit of perfection using installation art, large-scale sculptures, small-scale sculptures, mixed media, paintings, drawings and film. “My ‘Beauty Queen Totem’ is a giant, eleven-foot marble effigy appearing as an embalmed, stony goddess,” she says.
For Rachel, it’s significant when her work is embraced nationwide and internationally. “I want to have my work speak to children in schools as well,” she says. “We’re in the process of preparing The Fun House Dressing Room curriculum and website for global online education.” She envisions the site using art as a guide for teachers and students “to confront our obsessions with beauty, youth, photo shopping and gossip before we are all devoured by it.”
Rachel’s work has been reviewed in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal Europe and featured in Elle Décor. In addition to O – The Oprah Magazine, her work has appeared in Town and Country, WWD.com, Elle, Glamour.com, The Huffington Post, Stylelist and NY Art Beat.
What we learned from Rachel: “Focus on your voice, tell your story.”
Art with Heart
“My work comes from a very deep place. I have worked to create an intimate dialogue with people.”
“I decided to have children and as the primary caretaker you must put your children first; however, what you learn is priceless – this only adds to your voice. The management of family and career is a challenge.”
This Featured Lady was profiled by Megan L. Reese, WORDrobe® Stylist for Her Write Image in West Grove, PA.