Humor and morbidity collide in Amputation Farm, Brooklyn-based artist Raquel Albarran’s debut New York solo exhibition at Fortnight Institute, an East Village space founded in 2016 by Fabiola Alondra and Jane Harmon. In uncanny works subverting notions of still life, portraiture, and landscape, Albarran wryly conflates the corporeal with the edible.
Organized in collaboration with LAND Gallery, this exhibition includes glazed ceramic objects, as well as recent works on paper. Functional ceramic vessels are embellished with protruding toes and noses, and individually formed, highly specific amputated toes - Nick’s Fat Monkey Toe or Lilly’s Shriveled Raisin Toe - are collected together organically, much like their two-dimensional counterparts. Amputation Farm’s press release offers important insight into Albarran’s source material and ongoing interest in amputation:
Albarran vividly remembers the first time she encountered an amputee at the McDonald’s on Fulton Street when she saw a man “without two legs in a wheelchair.” A chance and somewhat banal encounter ultimately provided fodder for hundreds of artworks she would produce in the coming years. Her fascination with the visual process of amputation grew and she began searching for amputation videos online, spending time watching surgeons methodically remove legs, arms, and, of course, toes.
A robust visual language slowly unfurls across Albarran’s supersaturated drawings, her personal preoccupations translated here through densely applied colored pencil marks. Endearing yet grotesque tableaux are populated by impossible pregnancies, deconstructed cheeseburgers, disarticulated jaws, splayed toes and fingers, disembodied eyeballs, knobby phalluses, and prolapsed organs. Wide-eyed horses with hanging tongues, livestock fitted with braces, fried eggs resembling flowers, and hot dogs colorfully banded with condiments appear frequently. Avocados, papayas, and various other bisected fruits cohabitate with amputated toes, their exposed pits mirroring toenails in the center of the similarly pear-shaped digits. With the addition of cartoonish facial features, glasses, and characteristic pink ears, an anthropomorphized roast chicken in Tonsil Donuts (2018) becomes a dead ringer for Mr. Potato Head.
Albarran’s amalgam of imagery that is both peculiar and quotidian emerges from an instinctual drawing process defined by systematic, graphic precision and a striking command of complex composition. This culminates in a joyous sense of linear clarity that lends her exuberant, maximalist work a strange authority reminiscent of Hairy Who artists Gladys Nilsson, Suellen Rocca, and Karl Wirsum, or the seductive ceramics of Genesis Belanger and Jessica Stoller. The idiosyncratic iconography typical of Suellen Rocca’s early work - palm trees, disembodied hands and legs, bananas, swans, and ice cream cones arranged in loose grids - particularly resonates with Albarran’s self-contained realities.
For Albarran, the endeavor of devising a system for visual description functions as a means to manipulate bodies and foods physically - squeezing, swelling, contorting and stretching them, with a visceral physicality that is often explicit, while at other times more subtle. The swelling and abstraction of the “Meatball Toe” is permitted by maintaining simple rules that dictate two general shapes - its outline and its nail, with an occasional small knuckle line. A grossly over-sized watermelon swollen with seeds is defined basically by the rind, flesh, and seeds in green, red, and black (or white) respectively, allowing for pleasure within the repetitive process of drawing hundreds of seeds. The regimented quality ultimately undermines its grotesque effect, as the same tear-shaped forms are also used to articulate defecation, weeping, falling rain, or the blood dripping from King Kong’s severed leg.
Analyzing Albarran’s methods and vernacular doesn't arrive at what these works represent in totality; it becomes more and more apparent that her ultimate intention is the process itself. The ideas permeating her vivid and surreal drawings are inspired by various sources, including observation, invention, history, and pop culture, so cohesion or relationships between diverse imagery is an outcome not necessarily intended. Conceptual considerations are plainly subordinate priorities to the higher purpose of resolution within the work, technically and compositionally. Albarran’s inventive ideas coexist and are realized within the work to meet a certain standard, but the meaning is to be figured out later - or never.
Originally from Puerto Rico, Raquel Albarran (b. 1987) relocated to Brooklyn at a young age; she has maintained a creative practice at LAND’s studio in D.U.M.B.O. since 2015. Albarran has exhibited recently in Spring Syllabus at J Hammond Projects in London, previously at The National Arts Club, Facebook Headquarters, Weird Days, Christian Berst Art Brut, and extensively at LAND.