To him, Las Vegas is a place of replicas and cartoonish copies, from the first-floor canals of “Venice” to the cute cobblestone streets of “Paris”; all temperature controlled and lit by constant levels of artificial light. In his new exhibition at the Wilder Gallery in London, Pleasure areas, Raines explores this notion of romanticized space to evoke simultaneous feelings of entrapment and seduction. She constructs complex environments that expose the artifice of painting through the visual language of theater and scenography.
The title of the exhibition is taken from Learn from Las Vegasthe 1972 book by Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour that played a pivotal role in the development of postmodern architectural principles.
This seminal work considers places such as Las Vegas, Disneyland, shopping malls and botanical gardens as “pleasure zones”. As the authors put it: “Lightness, the quality of being an oasis in a possibly hostile context, heightened symbolism and the ability to engulf the visitor in a new role are essential to the imagery of architecture of the pleasure zone. Raines is particularly interested in the image of the oasis as a cultivated or built-up area, offering a form of escape for members of society.
It is a fascinating concept and beautifully showcased in this exhibition. Overall, Pleasure Zones is a triumph for the burgeoning artist, who has been championed by Jay Jopling’s daughter, Angelica Jopling with Incubator 21, is a Bloomberg New Contemporary x2, and also has a group show with India Rose James at Soho Revue.
Drawing on his experience as a scenic painter, Raines constructs complex environments that shed new light on the artifice of painting through the visual language of theater and set design. His art investigates the relationship between interior and exterior spaces; mountains, gardens and trees follow one another in a series of painted panels, curtains and openings, evoking the collective memory of the landscapes.
Many Pleasure Zones works include images of landscapes, from gardens and arable fields to forests and mountainsides. Raines draws attention to the illusion of ‘nature’ and the mediated relationship we have with the more than human world. Many of us consume depictions of landscapes more frequently than we encounter actual ones; we live among artificial iterations and versions of ecosystems, pleasure zones carefully simulating our favorite elements of the external environment.
Topiary mazes appear as repeated patterns throughout the show. In topiary gardening, nature is carefully controlled; sculpted trees are used to hide and reveal views of the landscape, manipulating how visitors move through a space. They play a similar role in the paintings, repeatedly baffling and redirecting the viewer’s eye. Raines’ labyrinths are both dreamlike and nightmarish, evoking the conflicting fear and fantasy of getting lost.
His work is firmly situated within its art-historical context, particularly addressing the tradition of landscape painting in which images of “nature” are aesthetically constructed with architectural precision. She also draws on trompe l’oeil, a type of painting located in the gray zone between fine arts and decorative arts.
Interested in the qualities of paint as a medium, Raines repeatedly plays with the artificiality and two-dimensionality of the picture plane. She creates layers of paints within paints, reveling in the technical process of depicting one flat painted surface within another flat painted surface, breaking the fourth wall through her meta-theatrical illusions and inviting the viewer to get lost in her fictional worlds.