Sweet Dreams & Demon’s Tears: Rachel Hayden and Heather Benjamin Make French Debut
Bim Bam Gallery in Paris is currently presenting Sweet Dreams & Demon’s Tears, a double solo show by Rachel Hayden and Heather Benjamin. Marking the first time for both of these New York-based artists to be exhibiting in France, this presentation is also a big comeback for the gallery after months of hiatus from being able to create physical shows.
We've featured the works by both artists in the past whether through covering their shows as we did with Rachel Hayden's debut with First Amendment gallery back in 2019, or with a magazine interview we did with Heather Benjamin in our Fall 2019 issue. With that being said, we're always excited to see our friends progressing with their work and being able to present it to the wider audience. And the chance that these two got through Bim Bam Gallery and their pop-up location in the fashionable Le Marais district in Paris, is following up their recent international presentations everywhere from Antwerp, Lisbon, to Hong Kong.
The serene faces embellished with butterflies, flowers, and other evocative symbols that Hayden is working with, are so meticulously rendered to the point that they evoke the computer graphic aesthetics. In reality, they are a result of an exceptional painterly technique and great color choices which create a sense of volume accentuated the frequent use of smooth gradients and exploration of familiar shapes. On another hand, Benjamin’s pencil, gouache, and acrylics on paper praise femininity under a different, much rawer light, channeling sexuality in scenes that are as baroque as they are explicit. Taking a more illustrative route for constructing her visuals, she is often utilizing her linework and the effects of mixing techniques to portray her strong and unapologetic nymphs.
Since the two are showing their distinctive bodies of work back-to-back, we thought this is a great opportunity for a quick back-to-back conversation both about Sweet Dreams and Demon tears.
Sasha Bogojev: How does the title relate to the works and why did you choose it?
Rachel Hayden: When I was little and would wake up from nightmares, my mom would tell me to think of nice things. The title was inspired by this memory, of lying in bed, shaken from a bad dream, picturing flowers and rainbows. All the works for Sweet Dreams were made after the pandemic began, just after I moved to New York. I was anticipating that moving to a new city would bring a lot of exciting new experiences and would push my boundaries as a naturally introverted person. Instead, I spent more time inside and alone, sometimes enjoying the comforts of home and other times feeling trapped in my own head. I think the work for Sweet Dreams reflects this headspace. I indulged in the comfort of imagery I had used again and again (flowers, fruit, and butterflies) infused with a twinge of underlying anxiety.
Heather Benjamin: When I was making the work for this show I started drawing some ladies with horns, rather than just the more angelic/butterfly ladies that I had been drawing for a while, and I was thinking of them as demons, like maybe as incarnations of my own demons. Giving them bodies and faces and also making them beautiful. I still was drawing them crying a single tear as I often do, which can symbolize a lot of different emotions to me depending on the piece or the context, whether that's a tear of joy or a tear of sadness. But "demon's tears" just came to me as it was a description of like, the physical incarnations of my own existential demons who are now so fully actualized that they are having their own sets of thoughts and feelings and reactions. I guess this would be called spiraling.
Were the works created with that idea in mind or did that come after the work was painted?
RH: I find that thinking too hard impedes my productivity, so I try to make the work I’m compelled to make without judging it. Especially in times of heightened anxiety, I feel ok about just letting myself make things that bring me joy. Usually after making a large body of work I can find an underlying current that connects the pieces.
HB: It came as I was making the work, so neither before or after, which is how I typically work. I work on several pieces at a time usually, and they all kind of inform each other. I plan a little bit of structure but most of it is improvised or figured out along the way. And sometimes, it's afterward, but usually, I think of the titles while I'm in the middle of working - for a piece or for a show.
Was the fact of showing the works in Paris influencing the aesthetics or outcome of the works?
RH: I haven’t been to Paris so it didn’t necessarily influence the aesthetic, but Baimba had a certain look in mind that I was happy to run with. Before making the work for this show I had been leaning toward a darker palette and more complex and layered painting, and Baimba was interested in seeing lighter, more simplified images like work I had done a year or two ago. I found it difficult to return to an older way of painting and I think the result looks quite different from older work, but I’m happy with the work that came out of it.
HB: Actually no, that is an interesting question to me as it hadn't even occurred to me, which maybe says something about how insular/in my own head I am while I'm working, and how much the genesis of my pieces really is coming from my own psyche and not typically influenced by outside factors.
The show is on view through March 20th.