Q&A [Question and Artist]: Rachelle
Meet Rachelle Mendez. Her show Minimal Hardscapes of Southern California was selected as the solo show winner for the Gallery's annual Made in California exhibition. We sat down with Rachelle to ask her a few questions about her photography and the upcoming opening of her exhibit at the Brea Gallery.
[BREA ART GALLERY]: How did you become interested in photography?
[RACHELLE MENDEZ]: First off, I would like to thank the Brea Art Gallery for including my work in the 2018 Made In California Show. This is a very special opportunity for me to present these pieces to the community I call home.
Photography has meant different things to me at different times in my life. As far back as I can remember I have always had a camera in hand. I still create using a Polaroid I received as a gift when I was 9 years old. I became much more focused on photography in 2012 when I started my Minimal Rural series of photographs that captured the landscape that I grew up with in Northern California. It was a goal to shoot the images with a graphic and reductive style. I was well into my series when in 2015 I completely tore my ACL. During my long recovery I couldn’t drive and could barley walk. I was forced to pay attention to my current surroundings of Los Angeles and Orange County, thus Minimal Hardscapes evolved to have a life of it’s own. In my mind the rural and the urban series intermingle seamlessly as they do in real life. California’s landscapes are a story of constant transitioning, from suburban to commercial to industrial to rural to urban and back again. Photography is an excellent way to capture those visual layers and transitions.
[BAG] What are the challenges of working in your chosen medium?
[RM]: The biggest challenge is being uninvited, but that is also very exhilarating. This is a gorilla style, carpe diem / seize the day way of photographing the landscape. If I see something it has to happen now! I remember listening to a curator give lecture on Ansel Adams, he reminisced that Mr. Adams didn’t necessarily have exclusive access to create his photographs of Yosemite. Adams faced the same challenges you and I would, there was often someone or something in the way of his frame, but he found ways to make it look as no one was around. I also identify with this, I can’t tell you how often the smallest detail changes everything about the composition. I can scout a great space, but the next time I go there is a car parked in the way or I miscalculated that the light would be better at sunrise vs. sunset…there are so many variables in landscape photography, it is a humbling genre, because there is no perfect situation.
[BAG]: Who encourages you to create?
[RM]: I am very grateful for a lot of people, my parents, my sibling, my friends, but mostly my husband. He adamantly denies having any artist ability, yet ironically none of this would exist without him. We are at a time in our lives when we have two young boys, having a partner that encourages me to make time and take opportunities to go out and get the footage, helps me scout locations and everything else that goes into building a story one picture at a time… I don’t really know how to describe how much he helps and encourages me.
[BAG]: How do you decide what to photograph? What do you look for?
[RM]: I’m looking for genuine complex moments that can be simplified. If art is the exclusion of the unnecessary, then I try to take that another step further…my definition of minimalism is the sacrifice of what is expected without the support of any metaphors. I try to remove any storied symbolism that is traditionally associated with California, yet the California landscape is still undeniably identifiable.
[BAG]: Tell us about the work in the solo show.
[RM]: The 8 pieces for the solo show are pulled from a bigger story that juxtaposes the graphic landscape elements of rural California with the hardscapes of our urban landscape. Alone these 8 photographs are a sampling of colors, visual layers and textures of man-altered landscapes also know in as new topographic photography. They are my attempt to push something into nothing and still be whole.
[BAG]: What is one gallery or museum you’d love to exhibit at?
[RM]: There is always really awesome work coming out of M+B Los Angeles, I really admire the contemporary artist and photographers they work with.
[BAG]: This solo show revolves around California architecture and life. Why do think it’s important to make art in Southern California?
[RM]: Thank you for asking that question, it is a great question and it gives me the opportunity to say, “I don’t really photograph architecture.” I am looking at the colors, shapes and layers within an urban landscape … most pieces in the MICA show do feature architectural structures, however there is a lot of layering that completes the image as a whole. These vertical obstructions take up all of our surrounding information; the sky, fields and mountain ranges. In the highly congested areas of Southern California our consolation prize is a 90 degree graphic, so far removed from the natural world, yet offering an opportunity to forget what we are missing and still be satisfied.
Growing up in Sacramento, there is a lot of state pride … that pride has always interested me. I have also had a strong fascination with artists that use the California landscape as their muse. I am especially excited to have my pieces shown at the Brea Art Gallery’s Made In California Show, and contributing my point of view.
Thanks so much, Rachelle! We couldn't be prouder to have these lovely pieces in our Gallery for our annual Made in California exhibition.
Be sure to check out Minimal Hardscapes of Southern California through June 15, 2018 at the Brea Gallery!