Rachel Dory paints in muted colors to suggest an emotion evoked by the largely lonesome landscapes she takes special note of: abandoned gas stations, telephone poles, cows grazing in pastures — iconic images that most people can relate to no matter where they’re from.
When Rachel Dory was a teenager, her family moved from Philadelphia to Seattle, a car trip that spanned the United States and meant that she spent two weeks in the backseat with her sketchpad, No. 2 pencils, and Walkman cued up to U2’s The Joshua Tree. “Being in the car always felt more like home than my home,” says Dory, 45, talking by cell phone from her minivan. She’s on her way tothe opening of her show at Third Coast Gallery in Galveston, Texas, where she’ll be unveiling more than a dozen paintings, all of them inspired by being on the road in Texas, where she now lives. “Some feel like I’m moving past them at 70 miles per hour,” she says. “From an early age, I had an affinity for roadside landscapes.”
Dory’s paintings are created on handcrafted panels of birch wood, a sturdy surface for her process of piling layer upon layer of acrylic paint. She paints in muted colors to suggest an emotion evoked by the largely lonesome landscapes she takes special note of: abandoned gas stations, telephone poles, cows grazing in pastures — iconic images that most people can relate to no matter where they’re from, harking back to their own time spent on America’s roads and highways, gazing out the window and watching it all go by. “It’s familiar to everybody, that feeling of not being anywhere in particular, in-between destinations and in-between places, not being beholden to anyone,” Dory says.
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All of her paintings are based on places that she has seen from the car, specific sites that inspired her to stop and photograph them, which she does with her phone. “I’ll be driving along and see miles and miles of fencing, but one particular spot catches my eye and I’ll stop and take photographs,” she says. Dory may revisit a place several times before a painting is finished, noting the exact longitude and latitude on the back so she or the future owner of the artwork can return to the scene in different light and different seasons. She may add more layers of paint. She may take some away. “I’m very physical with them,” she says. “I scratch at it. I build it up and I tear it down. For a lot of these places, I want to evoke the feeling of touching it. I’m driving right now and Texas has this brush — the trees are short and shrubby-looking. I want to reach out and run my hands along them. I imagine it would feel like an old hairbrush.”
Dory paints in her garage studio in South Austin, in staccato bursts, usually from 8 p.m. until midnight, when her two daughters and husband are asleep. But it’s out on the road that she finds her inspiration. “Every time I drive, like at the moment as I’m talking to you, there’s a stack of old hay bales that look like they’re rotting next to this old ramshackle barn. I’ll have to stop on my way back and take a photo.”
Photography: (slideshow) Congress Boot, The Big Lean, Door to the World. All images courtesy Rachel Dory
From the July 2019 issue.