When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in an eternity before and after, the little space I fill engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces whereof I know nothing, and which know nothing of me, I am terrified. The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me.

(Blaise Pascal, from The Pensées, 1669)

Signs and Symbols is pleased to present its second solo exhibition with Rachael Catharine Anderson entitled Sex and Death, part two of a comprehensive overview of the artist’s seasonal painting practice.

Anderson’s practice involves thematic representations of plants and ephemera that invoke various ontological questions according to the seasons and the spirit of the times. Her last solo exhibition with the gallery focused on a collection of one-to-one portraits of native and cultivated plants of the Midwest that combined to form a simulated orchard inside the white walls of the gallery, reminiscent of the interior frescoes at Pompeii.

Her focus is now on a collection of still-life paintings based on the theory of the pensive image developed by Hanneke Grootenboer. In her book The Pensive Image: Art as a Form of Thinking, Grootenboer argues that “[...] painting is capable of offering us a thought, rather than a meaning or a narrative. [Painting] can give us a way ‘into’ philosophical issues by offering us as viewers an entrance into its pictorial realm [...]” Anderson tests this theory with a set of her own pensive images where calculated framing and composition of quotidian objects, along with the drama of winter light, allow the viewer to dwell within their shallow spaces. Made in the solitude of the studio, each work offers a particular kind of silence and space for contemplation, prompting the viewer to ponder the weird precarity of existence.

The presence of desiccated plant matter—efficacious memento mori focusing on human frailty and the ephemeral—adds to the work's pensiveness. Nocturnal obscurity looms over the objects in some of the paintings and creates a visceral sense of tension and heightened awareness of their structured emptiness. Anderson deliberately forces the eye downward to the often- overlooked stuff of material life and recalls its fascination. Paradoxically, instead of grounding us, the intense care taken to linger on common objects combined with an air of cosmic loneliness sends us floating, catches us off guard, and offers a shape for our thoughts.

The worldly scale of importance is deliberately assaulted by plunging attention downwards, forcing the eye to discover in the trivial base of life intensities and subtleties which are normally described to things of great worth; this is the descending movement, involving a humiliation of attention and of the self. From another point of view, the result is that what is valueless becomes priceless: by detaining attention in this humble milieu, by imprisoning the eye in this dungeon- like space, attention itself gains the power to transfigure the commonplace, and it is rewarded by being given objects in which it may find a fascination commensurate with its own discovered strengths.

(Norman Bryson, from Looking at the Overlooked, 1990)

Rachel Catharine Anderson is a 2022 MFA graduate from the Painting and Printmaking program at the Yale School of Art. She makes oil paintings that explore the aesthetic dimension between human and non-human relationships. Her work, painted from close observation of objects, displays elements of enchantment and nuance, uncertainty, wonder, and fascination for the drama of ecologies. In the fall of 2023, Anderson had her first solo exhibition at Signs and Symbols, followed by a second solo in the spring of 2024. Her work has previously been shown in Milan and the US, including Jeffrey Deitch Gallery in New York. Her paintings are also included in major private collections in the US and Europe. She currently lives and works in New Haven, Connecticut.