Receipts, Email, Bread Tags, Styrofoam : Rachel Perry Welty Transforms Life’s Daily Clutter into Art

 

Receipts-Lost in My Life

Rachel Perry Welty, Lost in My Life (receipts), 2011. Pigmented ink print, edition of 3. 91.25 x 60 (Photo courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery)

 

 

Rachel Perry Welty, Lost in My Life (price tags), 2009. Pigmented ink print, edition of 3. 91.25 x 60 (Photo courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery)

(Note: All photographs can be viewed in a larger size by clicking on the image)

Every artist must work within certain limitations, and these limitations come in a variety of forms. It could be financial restraints, a lack of free time, formal education, or materials, or something as basic as having limited skills or knowledge. Rachel Perry Welty is a marvelous example of how an artist can use such limitations to her benefit.

Welty is a self-described “late bloomer” and didn’t attend art school until age 36, when she decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps and attend the Museum School in Boston.

“I discovered art around the same time that I became a working mother,” Welty explained to me, “so the only way I knew how to make it was to maneuver it into my day. I gravitated toward materials that were around me and that were easy to pick up and put down, as a defense against the frustration of regular interruptions.”

By making art throughout the course of her day and using everyday objects like receipts, bread tags, aluminum foil, and telephone messages as her medium, Welty found a way to make art in spite of her busy family schedule.

 

Rachel Perry Welty, Lost in My Life (styrofoam), 2010. Pigmented ink print, edition of 3. 91.25 x 60 (Photo courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery)

 

 

Lost in my Life-Bread Tags

Many of the material Welty uses, such as twist ties, styrofoam, and bread tags, are preservative in nature, yet in Welty’s work these objects perniciously erase the artist’s identity. Rachel Perry Welty, Lost in My Life (bread tags), 2010. Pigmented ink print, edition of 3. 91.25 x 60 (Photo courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery)

It’s the minutia of middle-class, American life that most fascinates Welty. As a conceptual artist, the message is more important to her than her medium. Working in the tradition of artists like Mary Kelly, Warhol, John Baldessari, and On Kawara, Welty uses photography, drawing, video, social media, installation, collage, sculpture, or whatever method is the best fit for the idea she wants to convey.

To have your only child end up in the hospital with a serious illness is a parent’s worst nightmare. It was this harrowing experience as a mother that was a turning point for Welty as an artist. Altered Receipt: Children’s Hospital Bill for Inpatient Services and Transcription/Medical Record #32-52-52-001 (654 Pages) were painstaking artworks Welty created using actual records in response to her son’s illness. For Altered Receipt she devised a color-coded system that corresponded to each number and letter of the alphabet, and then painted over each of those symbols on the 37-page receipt.

Altered Receipt

Rachel Perry Welty, Altered Receipt: Children’s Hospital Bill for Inpatient Services (detail), 2001-2002. (Image courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery)

 

 

When I arrived at her home in Annisquam, Massachusetts, I discovered an array of colorful gum packets, stickers, aluminum-foil words, plastic strips from food packaging, and other fascinating odds and ends spread around her office and studio. (Photo by Michelle Aldredge)

 

 

Package strips hanging on the wall of Rachel Perry Welty’s garage studio (Photo by Michelle Aldredge)

 

 

Photo by Michelle Aldredge

Working in the tradition of artists like Mary Kelly, Warhol, John Baldessari, and On Kawara, Welty uses photography, drawing, video, social media, installation, collage, sculpture, or whatever method is the best fit for the idea she wants to convey. (Photo by Michelle Aldredge)

 

 

Two 18th century portraits of Rachel’s great, great, great, great grandparents, Mary and John Rooker, hang in the family’s dining room. The portraits are a striking contrast to the rest of the decor in Welty’s open-concept, modern house. (Photo by Hornick/Rivlin. Click to Enlarge)

Although her son is now grown, healthy, and no longer at home, Welty continues to make art out of her everyday surroundings. When I arrived at her spacious, modern home in Annisquam, Massachusetts, on a sweltering summer day, I found an array of colorful gum packets, stickers, aluminum-foil words, plastic strips from food packaging, and other fascinating odds and ends spread around her office and studio.

The books on her kitchen shelf were wrapped in aluminum foil, a lasting tribute to her piece Lost in My Life (wrapped books) and above the kitchen counter was a recent piece, Cash for Your Warhol, by artist Geoff Hargadon. Several of Welty’s own artworks hang in the house, including a series of small, framed receipt drawings, whose tiny, intricate markings seemed to recall Welty’s upbringing in Tokyo.

During the dinner party that Welty and her husband, Bruce, hosted for myself and nine other guests, two 18th century portraits of Rachel’s great, great, great, great grandparents, Mary and John Rooker, peered over our shoulders. The portraits are a striking contrast to the rest of the decor in Welty’s open-concept, modern house.

At the end of the meal, Welty asked her guests to sign their names on the white linen tablecloth. The next day Welty sent me a photograph of my own signature, which she was in the process of embroidering with white thread. The artist has been recording the signatures of dinner guests since she moved into her home in 2009; every person who has shared a meal with the artist and her family in Annisquam has signed. Eventually, Welty plans to create a public artwork out of the tablecloth. It is Welty’s nod to Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party, but also her own original way of using art as a record for her everyday life.

Rachel Perry Welty, Lost in My Life (wrapped books), 2010. Pigmented ink print, edition of 3. 91.25 x 60 (Photo courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery)

 

 

Photo by Michelle Aldredge

The artist has been recording the signatures of dinner guests since she moved into her home in 2009; every person who has shared a meal with the artist and her family in Annisquam has signed. It is Welty’s nod to Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party, but also her own original way of using art as a record for her everyday life. (Photo by Michelle Aldredge)

 

 

The day after the dinner party, Welty embroidered my own signature onto the tablecloth using white thread. (Photo courtesy Rachel Perry Welty)

Welty’s work has transformed the way I view these banal objects in my own life. I can’t remove a sticker from a piece of fruit now without thinking of her Lost in My Life series or her elegant drawing Sin and Paradise, made from sliced fruit stickers.

As deCordova curator Nick Capasso says in the catalog to Welty’s solo show at the museum, pieces like Lost in My Life show “consumerism run amok.” Capasso rightly points out that many of the material Welty uses, such as twist ties, styrofoam, and bread tags, are preservative in nature, yet in Welty’s work these objects perniciously erase the artist’s identity.

Fruit Stickers-Sin and Paradise

Rachel Perry Welty, Sin and Paradise, 2009. Fruit stickers and archival adhesive on paper. 21.5 x 21.5 inches (Photo by Clements Howcroft, Boston courtesy the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York)

 

 

Fruit Stickers-Sin and Paradise-Detail

Rachel Perry Welty, Sin and Paradise, 2009 (detail). Fruit stickers and archival adhesive on paper. 21.5 x 21.5 inches (Photo by Clements Howcroft, Boston courtesy the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York)

 

 

Rachel Perry Welty, Sin and Paradise, 2009 (detail). Fruit stickers and archival adhesive on paper. 21.5 x 21.5 inches (Photo by Clements Howcroft, Boston courtesy the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York)

 

 

Fruit Stickers-Lost in My Life

Rachel Perry Welty, Lost in My Life (fruit stickers), 2010. Pigmented ink print, edition of 3. 91.25 x 60 (Photo courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery)

 

 

Lost in My Life-Twist Ties

Rachel Perry Welty, Lost in My Life (twist ties), 2009. Pigmented ink print, edition of 3. 91.25 x 60 (Photo courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery)

 

 

Photo by Michelle Aldredge

The outfits that Welty has used for the Lost in My Life series hang in her garage studio. (Photo by Michelle Aldredge)

 

 

Price Tag Dress-Photo by Michelle Aldredge

For the piece Lost in My Life (price tags), Welty had her artwork printed onto fabric and then made a dress from the material. There are also price-tag throw pillows on the couch in her living room (Photo by Michelle Aldredge)

Welty has not been afraid to embrace technology in her artistic practice. She has an ongoing diary project on Twitter and in 2009 she created the Facebook project Rachel Is, in which she recorded an entire day’s activities in real time on Facebook, updating her status every 60 seconds. For her piece Karaoke Wrong Number, Welty collected all of the messages on her telephone answering machine not intended for her or her family, along with the machine’s time and date stamp. She then lip synched to each recording, creating a persona for each “character.”

“We’re always just a hair’s-breadth away from completely misunderstanding one another,” Welty told WBUR in a radio interview. “Somebody listens to it, pushes a button, deletes it, and it’s gone forever. And we do this in our lives daily with all of the information that comes in.”

The artist’s Deaccession Project began in 2005 when Welty decided to discard, sell, gift, and recycle some of the clutter in her life. As Nick Capasso explains, “this life-based performance is documented each day on a page with a photograph of the object in question, and accompanying brief notations that include number/sequence, date, description, reason for deaccession, and method of disposal or ultimate destination. The pages are then ordered chronologically in scrapbooks.” For Welty’s show 24/7 at the deCordova, the 2,028 pages were scanned, reprinted, and arranged in a chronological grid along a single 78-foot gallery wall.

For her piece Karaoke Wrong Number, Welty collected all of the messages on her telephone answering machine not intended for her or her family. She then lip synched to each recording, creating a persona for each “character.” The piece is currently on view at the ICA in Boston. Rachel Perry Welty, Karaoke Wrong Number, 2005-2009. (Image courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery)

 

 

Rachel Perry Welty, Deaccession Project, October 5, 2005-ongoing. Installation of 2,028 inkjet prints (each print 9×6.5). Approximately 120 x 936 inches. (Image courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery)

 

 

Deaccession Project-Detail

Rachel Perry Welty, Deaccession Project (detail), October 5, 2005-ongoing. Installation of 2,028 inkjet prints (each print 9×6.5). Approximately 120 x 936 inches. (Image courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery)

 

 

What do you really want?

Rachel Perry Welty. Installation view of solo show at the deCordova Museum. Seen here are Spam series: what do you really want (Rochelle, February 25, 2009, 9:05:05 AM EST), the Deaccession Project, and photographs from the Lost in my Life series. (Image courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery)

 

 

What do you really want? Aluminum Foil

For her Spam Series, Welty transformed spam email into poetry using a simple household object: aluminum foil. Rachel Perry Welty, Spam Series: what do you really want (Rochelle, February 25, 2009, 9:05:05 AM EST), 2010. One piece of aluminum foil. 8 ½ x 120 x 1 (Image courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery)

 

 

Photo by Michelle Aldredge

At her home in Annisquam, Massachusetts, Rachel Perry Welty works in an office space and in this studio space inside a converted garage. (Photo by Michelle Aldredge)

 

 

You may already be a winner

Rachel Perry Welty, Spam Series: you may already be a winner, (Henrietta, June 11, 2007 9:24:24 AM EDT), 2010. One piece of aluminum foil. 13 x 151 x 2 inches (Image courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery)

For her Spam Series, Welty transformed spam email into poetry using a simple household object: aluminum foil. “Spam is a daily annoyance,” Welty explained, “but in these words that came to my inbox, I found something accidentally poetic. I was struck by the sheer possibility suggested by these messages. Taken out of the context for which they were intended, and re-inserted into another kind of economy (that of the gallery) the words become something hopeful and quite beautiful.”

The catalog for 24/7, which was published in conjunction with her solo shows at the deCordova and Zimmerli Art Museum, is a work of art in itself. The special artist book was designed by Welty and Anita Meyer. Not only is it a lovely catalog of Welty’s work, but the attentive reader will find a number of surprises inside.

After perusing the book several times, I realized that there were hidden notes and email messages printed in between the pages of the book. The hidden documents record a decade’s worth of studio visits and typed email communications between curator Nick Capasso and Welty. Any artist who has been repeatedly rejected by an institution will be both entertained and comforted by these messages. It’s a fascinating glimpse at the relationship between curator and artist and at the business side of art making — a side that is often invisible to museum-goers.

“I feel privileged to have been collected,” Capasso told WBUR in a radio interview. “I feel like a Brillo box!”

 

Artist Book 24/7-Photo by Michelle Aldredge

The catalog for Rachel Perry Welty’s show 24/7, which accompanied her shows at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum and Zimmerli Art Museum is a work of art in itself. (Photo by Michelle Aldredge)

 

 

The catalog for Rachel Perry Welty’s show 24/7 (Photo by Michelle Aldredge)

 

 

24/7 catalog by Michelle Aldredge

Rachel Perry Welty’s catalog and artist book 24/7 (Photo by Michelle Aldredge)

 

 

The attentive reader will find hidden surprises in the artist book and catalog 24/7, which was designed by Rachel Perry Welty and Anita Meyer. This photograph provides a clue. (Photo by Michelle Aldredge)

 

 

24-7 Photo by Michelle Aldredge

After perusing the book several times, I realized that there were hidden notes and email messages printed in between the pages of the book. The hidden documents record a decade’s worth of studio visits and typed email communications between curator Nick Capasso and Welty. (Photo by Michelle Aldredge)

 

 

Rachel Perry Welty, Spam series: take a look at your future (Antoine, April 2, 2006 11:02:15 AM EDT), detail, 2008. One piece of aluminum foil. 5 ½ x 90 x ½ inches. (Photo courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery)

 

 

Photo by Michelle Aldredge

Materials used in Welty’s artworks are spread throughout her office and studio in Annisquam, Massachusetts. (Photo by Michelle Aldredge)

 

 

The door of Welty’s home office (Photo by Michelle Aldredge)

 

 

This weekend, Welty’s new show, Water, Water, which is a collaboration with her mother, artist Sarah Hollis Perry, will open at the Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester, Massachusetts. These images on the wall of Welty’s studio were being created in preparation for the opening. (Photo by Michelle Aldredge)

In 2011 Welty had the opportunity to collaborate with Vogue magazine. You can see a sampling of the Vogue images below.

This weekend, Welty’s new show Water, Water, which is a collaboration with her mother, artist Sarah Hollis Perry, will open at the Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Perry and Welty organized and filmed their video performance Drawing a Line with the Tide in July 2011 using eighty volunteers from the seaside village of Annisquam in Gloucester, Massachusetts where they both live. Moving to avoid the inevitable, the performers demonstrate a futile attempt to control nature with its stubborn adherence to the circling of time. Included in the installation are five short films in which the artists explore aspects of identity and the complexity of the mother-daughter relationship of dependence, independence, and interdependence. In addition to maintaining separate practices, Perry and Welty have been working collaboratively since they overlapped as students at the School of the MFA, Boston in 2000.

Sarah Hollis Perry & Rachel Perry Welty, Wrapped Stick N 42º 39.770′ W 070º 40.811′ (2012). Site-specific installation. Driftwood, silver plumber’s tape. In the show Water, Water on view at the Cape Ann Museum through September 30, 2012 (Image courtesy the artists and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York)

 

 

Sarah Hollis Perry & Rachel Perry Welty, still from the digital video Collaboration, which includes five short videos of one left hand and one right hand performing simple tasks, 2012. RT: 6:30 minutes. (Image courtesy of the artists and Yancey Richarson Gallery, New York)

 

 

Vogue Photo Shoot

Rachel Perry Welty in New York City during her collaboration with Vogue magazine (Photo courtesy Rachel Perry Welty)

 

 

Vogue

Rachel Perry Welty, Balenciaga for Vogue, 2011. Pigmented ink print, 41 x 31 inches. Edition of 6 (Image courtesy of the artist, Vogue, and Yancey Richardson Gallery)

 

 

Vogue-Bags

Rachel Perry Welty, Givenchy for Vogue, 2011. Pigmented ink print. 41 x 31 inches. Edition of 6 (Image courtesy of the artist, Vogue, and Yancey Richardson Gallery)

For a “late bloomer,” Welty has come a long way in the past ten years. She is a two-time winner of a Massachusetts Cultural Council grant for excellence in Sculpture and Drawing, a finalist for the Foster Prize at the Institute of Contemporary Art, and a MacDowell Colony Fellow. Welty has participated in group shows at The Drawing Center (New York), Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (San Francisco), Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art (Florida), Kunstmuseum Bonn (Germany), and The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (Massachusetts). She has also had solo shows at the deCordova Museum (Massachusetts), Yancey Richardson Gallery (New York), Barbara Krakow Gallery, Gallery Diet (Miami), and Zimmerli Art Museum (New Jersey).

If you missed Welty’s solo show 24/7 at the deCordova Museum or the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, you’re in luck. 24/7 has been extended until July 15th at Zimmerli.

Welty’s piece Karaoke Wrong Number is currently on view at the ICA museum in Boston.

Water, Water, her collaboration with Sarah Hollis Perry, opens to the public on Saturday, July 14th at the Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and will be on view through September 30, 2012.

For more information about Rachel Perry Welty, please visit her website and the website of her gallery, Yancey Richardson Gallery in New York City. You can purchase a copy of Rachel Perry Welty’s artist book and catalog 24/7 from the deCordova.

 

iPhone Portraits

Rachel Perry Welty, Self-Portrait in the Mirror with My iPhone series, taken at the New Museum in New York City, 2009-ongoing. (Photo courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery)

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Click here to read Gwarlingo’s entire Creative Spaces series, an ongoing look at artists and their studio spaces.

 

 

About the Author:

I’ve spent almost 20 years helping thousands of successful artists of all disciplines and working to make the arts more accessible. (One friend likes to call me “the arts enabler.”) From 1999-2012 I worked at The MacDowell Colony, the nation’s oldest artist colony, but I've also done time at an arts magazine, a library, an art museum, and a raptor rehabilitation center. In May of 2012 I left MacDowell to pursue writing, speaking, curating, and creative projects full-time. In 2015 I was named a “Top 100 Artist, Innovator, Creative” by Origin magazine. I've appeared as an arts and culture commentator on New Hampshire Public Radio, and in 2017 I was the recipient of the Wampler Art Professorship at James Madison University. I am the founder of the Gwarlingo Salon series, which connects artists like DJ Spooky with rural audiences in the Monadnock region. In 2017 my collaborator Corwin Levi and I will publish our first book, Mirror Mirrored, which combines Grimms’ fairy tales with vintage illustration remixes and the work of contemporary artists like Kiki Smith, Carrie Mae Weems, and Amy Cutler. I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, but have called New Hampshire home since 1999. My studio is located in the historic, mill village of Harrisville. I miss fried okra, the early southern spring, and restaurants that stay open past 9:00 p.m., but rural life agrees with me. In New Hampshire I can see the stars, go kayaking or snowshoeing, watch bald eagles fish in the lake, and focus on my creative work in silence. I no longer have to worry about traffic jams; deer, wild turkeys, and frost heaves are the primary road hazards here. Although I live in the country, I’m fortunate enough to be part of a vibrant arts community that extends beyond this small New England village. The quiet days are punctuated by regular travel and frequent visits to museums, theaters, readings, arts events, lectures, and open studios around the country. (You can read my full CV here.) Thanks for visiting Gwarlingo. I hope you'll be in touch.

8 Comments

  1. Sigrun July 12, 2012 at 6:32 am

    Beautiful post, fantastic art – but most of all I love your introduction:
    “Every artist must work within certain limitations, and these limitations come in a variety of forms.”
    I will spend my day thinking about your statement – contemplate, meditate & try to get in touch with my own limitations, examine them (- it might not be possible, but at least I’ll have something challenging to ponder upon).

  2. Roger King July 12, 2012 at 8:37 am

    I loved this post, making Rachel Perry Welty and her work so freshly vivid. I don’t know another art publication that hits the same tone as Gwarlingo – interesting art, dazzling visuals, thoughtful and intelligent context, all without pretension. It’s the lack of pretension in your clear, friendly style that is the gold dust for me, since the art world so often seems rotten with pretension — both in it’s excluding jargon and in its pandering to rich customers — and this is the main barrier preventing the honest work of artists from finding its way out into the wider world, where it can enliven and transform and generally be useful to other humans. You help. Thank you for what you do.

  3. AC July 15, 2012 at 7:15 pm

    I loved reading about the work of this very compelling artist. She had me at tin foil script.

    Thank you, Michelle and Gwarlingo, for this ever revealing exploration about the pulse of the art world’s heart.

  4. Pam August 11, 2012 at 11:59 am

    Rachel Perry Welty’s work is amazing. One of her twist tie pieces was part of an exhibition at the Katonah Museum of Art, where I work, and inspired me to write an ode to the twist tie!

    • Michelle Aldredge August 11, 2012 at 1:37 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Pam. I’m a big fan of Rachel Perry Welty’s work myself. I love the fact that her art emerged from the time constrictions of being a working mom. With limited time and resources that were right in front of her, she’s created some beautiful and compelling pieces.

      An ode to the twist tie!?!? How’s this… “My bread grows stale and my phone cord trips me. O for a simple twist tie!”

  5. […] You can read the full article, here. […]

  6. […] pieces become part of her apparel. Awesome stuff! You can read more about her and her exhibition here or here. For me the most inspiring part to hear was that she didn’t even enter the world of […]

  7. […] Alice Munro, just as making art out of twist ties, fruit stickers, and spam email made sense for Rachel Perry Welty, when she was a working mother trying to create art at home during small windows in her busy […]

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