Creature of Habit: Rachel Eskandari explores emotional patterns in upcoming solo art show

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Phoenix artist Rachel Eskandari believes that positive and negative habits play a huge role in the human condition.

“For me, habit displays this idea of all living things being on a cycle and that (habits) can be formed regularly or rarely depending on what it is,” she says. “I think habits are formed when an outside variable impacts a person and it’s the reaction that we formulate that creates the habit.”

This is the idea behind her upcoming solo art show, Habit, which will be held at Megaphone PHX on Friday, November 30 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Eskandari’s signature painting style is easily recognizable in the whimsical watercolors she produces for her company, Pink Puddle Studio. Habit takes a different direction visually and conceptually. The show will exclusively feature large-scale oil paintings, which were her focus while pursuing her B.F.A in painting at ASU nearly eight years ago. The artist says she began feeling burnt out at the end of last year, which led her to return to her oil painting roots.

“When you take art on as an occupation, it has the tendency of taking you farther away from why you did it, so you have to refresh yourself with new ideas to make you want to do art for yourself again,” she explains. “I really missed doing something for a personal reason. That’s not to say I don’t love what I do, but when you’re doing it for the masses, you’re doing what you like but you’re also doing what they like. When you have all these other obligations, you usually put your personal stuff to the side.”

In an effort to push her “personal stuff” to the forefront, she stocked up on oil paints and three-by-three-foot canvases to commit to her passion project. The next step was finding a place to display it.

“I haven’t been really big into galleries because it’s a little bit cutthroat and I think a lot of galleries take advantage of the artists, so I’ve never been big on the gallery idea,” she admits.

Eskandari searched for a space that focused on community and collaboration over competition. She found that in Megaphone, an artist-owned gallery committed to amplifying creative voices in Phoenix through art exhibit openings, open houses and workshops.

Next, Eskandari had to decide how long she wanted to display her paintings. She settled on having a one-night-only exhibit.

“I wasn’t concerned with keeping it up for (more than one night) because I’m not doing it for people to necessarily buy something. The goal for me is to commit to myself and feel more refreshed as an artist,” she says. “I’m really doing this for myself, (but) I also want to share that with people.”

For each piece, Eskandari starts with an acrylic underpainting and uses the impasto technique — applying the paint in thick layers to add texture — to bring the canvas to life. The artist says each painting combines abstraction with identifiable elements.

According to Eskandari, her subject matter remains relatively consistent regardless of the medium. Not unlike her signature watercolor paintings, her oil paintings will feature botanical elements. However, she says Habit will spotlight sunflowers instead of the succulents and saguaros she’s used to painting.

“In all my paintings, there’s usually some type of botanical element. I’ve been doing so many cacti; I feel like that’s the main thing I do and I’m glad people like it, but I become like a machine a little bit,” she says. “On a more personal level, I’m more drawn to foliage and floral (elements). A lot of times when I oil paint, it’s an abstraction mixed with some botanicals or a human face.”

The show’s unifying concept is the philosophy behind good and bad habits and how humans relate and react to them throughout their lives. The idea stemmed from Eskandari’s personal struggle with grief and loss.

“I’ve been dealing with a lot of loss… and I’ve been having a hard time dealing with those feelings so I started developing this idea that we’re creatures of habit,” she says. “I wanted to do a show from my perspective that displayed this idea of habit with people.”

Eskandari has recently been reflecting on the loss of several family members on her mother’s side, a process she thought she “handled pretty well” until her family sold her grandmother’s house.

“The house really symbolized something strong for me as far as my childhood. If I didn’t have (the house) when I grew up, I wouldn’t have the imagination that I have now and I wouldn’t be where I am creatively,” she says. “Because it’s gone, I feel like I can never go back to it and it’s been really difficult because it relates not only to the people that are gone, but the place and what it meant to me as I developed myself and how I became an artist.”

An abstract oil painting of the house will be exhibited at Megaphone, though she hasn’t started painting it yet. She hopes it will be a cathartic experience when she does.

“Every time I looked at this house after it was gone, I would just get so emotional. Painting it is a whole different thing for me because you’re not only doing something that you love and attaching that to it, but it’s going to be really emotional. I think that will probably be one of the most emotional pieces out of all of them.”

The painter acknowledges that most artists’ gallery exhibitions showcase similar pieces, while hers is “a bit all over the place.” She admits the lack of visual cohesiveness initially made her unsure of her ability to put on a solo show.

“I recently started to realize I can’t really worry about that. I worried about it way too much and it took away from what I was doing. I felt like I would have to adjust a painting to make it fit better,” she says. “You do want to have things that correlate and tie things together, but I think sometimes they put it into artists’ heads that it has to be (that way) in order to show your work off. Then, I went through another artist’s (Instagram) feed and I noticed that she did this body of work where there were a lot of different things, but you could still find her style in it. I felt really inspired by that. I don’t really have to make everything the same.”

“It is normal for human behavior to fluctuate with changes of emotion caused by an impacting incidence,” she says. “Your down days don’t have to define you.”

Habit, A Solo Art Show by Rachel Eskandari, Megaphone PHX, 4700 N. Central Avenue #112, Phoenix, facebook.com/megaphonephx, pinkpuddlestudio.com, Friday, November 30, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., free.

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