Artist Statement

These drawings, paintings and films explore the place between the human body – made up of skin, muscle and organs – with the natural landscape.

The genre of 'art and nature' can often evoke images of vast and incredible landscapes, sublime sunsets that hold the viewer in awe, taking our imaginations to places that border the realms of reality. These works, however, operate at a more intimate level. They investigate nature through the microscopic eye, exploring the human body right down to the pores of the skin. In these depictions, the quality of impermanence is affirmed, whether through examining the texture of blood or the veins in a dying leaf. Transience is indeed the thread that binds these works. They take us into the still world of Memento Mori, yet with movement and flux. The elements in these works shift between the real and the unreal, leading into dark and dreamlike spaces that exist in the corners of the mind.

This series of drawings follows the traditions of portraiture. They capture the changing nature of time and beauty and attempt to immortalise the illusion of perfection. However, this illusion is quickly dispelled as rotting wooden faces smile back at us. Their knotted expressions, created of dead matter, conjure up horror rather than charm. These drawings question the genre of portraiture and challenging its function to preserve images through time since even the mildewed worm-eaten paper continues towards ruin as it disintegrates when exposed to the elements of sunlight and oxygen; components essential for life itself.

Other works use actual materials of the body, such as blood or hair. These materials translate into images that fall between the inner world of the body and the reality outside of it; Patterned wallpaper reflects on pastoral scenes that resemble the texture of muscle, or reveals the unfolding bloodied petals that melt the into aged paper and become indistinguishable from an old stain. Blood, like hair, contains the imprint of identity, the individuality that can be found in a portrait. In Eve, is a drawing made of the artist's hair resembles a leaf taken from Albrecht Durer's woodcarving of Adam and Eve (1507). The function of the leaf reveals rather than conceals, and textured paper that is reminiscent of human skin seduces and recoils simultaneously.

The paintings, Land of Plenty and Untitled, (2005), both reference the body without depicting it in any literal sense. In Land of Plenty floating islands bathe in golden sunlight in a seductive landscape. On closer inspection the viewer discovers that the islands are made up of human waste. These paradisiacal landscapes first entice the viewer in and then present a repulsive and dystopian vision, disrupting the viewer's initial perception of the landscape. The towering fountain in Untitled (2005) explores infinity. Natural springs were once celebrated in the medieval times. They represented sources of life in Christianity. Monumental fountains were later constructed as symbolic reminders of human life. The bodily liquid in this fountain circulates in a fashion that is similar to blood round the human body. Painted patterned shapes that are reflect the movements of the liquid and also suggest psychedelia or differing states of consciousness. The painting references a tiered fountain in a Tehran cemetery that was built to remember the martyred dead.

In Patel's more recent work nature is depicted through anthromorphic forms. The narrative found in her 'botanical' style paintings is reminiscent of Victorian symbolism, but also questions the traditions of flower painting and its association with women's art. For example, in the Weed paintings, the images subvert the nature of the plant and its healing qualities. The Dandelion is though to promote healthy bladder control. The image reverses this rendering the plant with its curing properties defunct, thin plant-body with its weak stream of urine challenges the stereotypical image of the masculine figure.

Weed I is based on a species of daisy, a symbol of innocent love during the Victorian era. Here it depicts the potentially traumatic results of love; a bloody birth. The continuous chain of daisies also evokes Eastern concepts of re-birth. These works explore malfunctioning elements of contemporary society; they question the traditional perceptions that we have of nature and of the body.

Peter Suchin

Legacies of the Engaged Image: The Redemptive Beauty of Life After Death (The Bonnington Gallery, Future Factory Nottingham Trent University), 48-53

The paintings of Raksha Patel differ from most of the content of the exhibition (the work of Corby is the exception) in that they are dreamlike and, to put it more negatively, dystopian. They are certainly not realistic in any crude sense of the term, by which I mean they cannot be directly indexed to a particular locale or single place. They function, rather, at the level of metaphorical generalisations of place. Untitled (2005) presents a tiered fountain, a picture which, Patel later discovered, held an uncanny correspondence with an actual fountain located in a cemetery in Tehran (built, it turned out, as a monument to the dead). Fountains can readily symbolise life, energy, the perpetual renewal of sources and resources. Patel's imagery also includes other natural fluids, as well as animals, landscapes chemical elements, together with the features these components combine to make, namely earth, sky, the sun and the sea. 

Such ciphers are open to a wide range of interpretative possibilities. The line between figuration and abstraction in Patel's paintings can be at times virtually absent, a feature that gives the viewer more rather than less to do when engaging with them. The fountain turns into an abstract pattern on the canvas whilst remaining a depiction of a symbolically rich object; in another painting pieces of broken glass form a smiling face. Unlike advertising or propaganda, these (and other) artworks tend towards openness and a collaborative exchange between artist and audience. Anything less would be dogmatic, too narrowly delimited, a literalism at best bleak and unimaginative.