Rachael Tarravechia Trawls Zillow for Her Sinister and Alluring Interior Scenes

The artist's solo exhibition "Water on Velvet" is on view at Ceysson and Bénétière in New York.

Rachael Tarravechia, Terminal Horror (2023). Photo: Adam Reich. Courtesy of the artist and Ceysson and Bénétière.

Trolling through real estate marketplace Zillow “just for funsies” has become a beloved, and widespread pastime for many of us who may never actually be able to afford a home. But for artist Rachael Tarravechia lurking on Zillow is more than a fantasy browsing for available properties—these online real estate listings are the starting point for her sinisterly alluring paintings.

Filtering search results to only houses with 3D tours available, Tarravechia moves virtually through the homes, exploring them room by room until she finds a space that resonates with her. Stripping away personal items and other identifying décor indicators, such as wall color, floor material, or window treatments, the artist makes the room her own and starts “decorating.”

A painting by Rachael Tarravechia in shades of red depicting a bedroom with a tub installed in the foreground, and inserted next to the tup is a guillotine.

Rachael Tarravechia, Snuff (2023). Photo: Adam Reich. Courtesy of the artist and Ceysson and Bénétière.

Drawing from a range of additional references, like her stash of vintage 1980s issues of Architectural Digest, other homes on Zillow, or personal photos, Tarravechia creates what she terms a “dream room” situation.

There’s an unnerving yet undeniably captivating, even glamorous quality to Tarravechia’s paintings, a selection of which are included in her solo show “Water on Velvet” on view through June 14, 2024, at Ceysson and Bénétière on New York’s Upper East Side. Specifically in her renderings of bathrooms (a frequent subject in her work) the inclusion of mirrors creates an uneasy balance between presence and absence; the space where the viewer—both within the painted mirror and of the painting itself—is noticeably vacant. Instead, a weapon is conspicuously added, as in Terminal Horror (2023) where a double flail hovers in place of a viewer in a manner akin to how new weapons or “loot” are presented in video games. In another work, Snuff (2023), a guillotine is seamlessly inserted within a kitschy 1970s style bedroom/bathroom combo, implying that a chopped off head would fall tidily into the tub. Outside of bathroom depictions, in Gunblade (2024), a wooden oratory houses the Final Fantasy VIII character Squall’s signature weapon.

Rachael Tarravechia, Gunblade (2024). Photo: Adam Reich. Courtesy of the artist and Ceysson and Bénétière.

Executed in shades of red, these works possess an uncanny magnetism, tempting the viewer inward whilst simultaneously exuding a sense of foreboding.

“Viewer experience and interaction is a key part of the work. Since these works draw from horror, anime, and video games, I try to emulate the mysterious, enticing qualities these forms of media are constantly displaying,” said Tarravechia via email. “Every horror movie has a point where the audience is screaming at the character on screen not to open the door, but it’s almost as if there’s something calling to them and they can’t refuse. That’s what I think about while making my work. Right before something momentous and irreconcilably changed, it’s up to the viewer to choose how to proceed.”

Rachael Tarravechia, Cold Reprise (2024). Photo: Adam Reich. Courtesy of the artist and Ceysson and Bénétière.

Another element of Tarravechia’s paintings that compels a step closer is the playful inclusion of mixed-media materials, such as silver chains used for harp strings, rhinestone trim, glitter, and another recent addition to her material vernacular: “For this show, I started using a new material called Liquid Glass. I was shocked the first time I used it, which was in the piece Cold Reprise (2024). The bathtub eventually ended up filled with blood, and as you walk across the painting, the blood looks wet, viscous, sticky, and is highly reflective and inviting. I’m extremely happy with how that turned out!”

Rachael Tarravechia, Endless Staircase (Moogle Parade) (2024). Photo: Adam Reich. Courtesy of the artist and Ceysson and Bénétière.

Cute and impish cartoon-style critters (Moogles from Final Fantasy), plastic vampire teeth, or meticulously rendered spiderwebs made of pearls abound across her work, ensuring the otherwise ominous vignettes are equally balanced with a sense of irreverent levity. This equilibrium extends to the number of weapon sculptures on view as well, chief among them being bedazzled nunchucks and a nail bat, which tap into the artist’s familial history. Her grandfather was a second-degree karate black belt who had a collection of nunchucks, two of which were handed down to her (and she’s gotten some practice with).

Rachael Tarravechia, Italian Mobstar (2023). Photo: Adam Reich. Courtesy of the artist and Ceysson and Bénétière.

“The nail bat is a much more tongue in cheek response to the nunchucks. My grandpa looked like a stereotypical Sicilian man, so I wanted to create a weapon that would be suited for a mob princess (me in another life). Something blingy, cute, but will seriously do damage,” she explained.

Obliterating the boundaries between painting and other graphic arts and genres, Tarravechia’s work is a masterclass in worldbuilding—and will be sure to materialize in the back of your mind the next time you’re perusing Zillow.

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