Body images CoverArtist: Rachel Orman explores the human body through her art, her work and her studies
Rachel Orman and her cover painting, "She Needs Only Wings"
by Norma Smith Olson
"There's a certain angelicness about children when they are sleeping," cover artist Rachel Orman said about her daughter, the model for the painting "She Needs Only Wings." "The quality of the morning light is so radiant, subtle, beautiful, soft and illuminating. It's a picture of her just before I woke her up. She just looked so beautiful." It's one of a whole series Orman, the mother of two daughters, has created.
When she was a child, Orman's mother consistently signed her up for art and music classes, instilling the idea that the creative process was a huge part of a being whole and human.
As a child, her family's evening routine was to have dessert and draw. From her perspective, as the youngest of six children, she thought of her siblings as "fantastically more artistic" than she was, "based on motor skills and how creative, witty and smart they already were. They were definitely [people] to look up to and be completely jealous of. It was a good motivator," she said.
While not planning to become an artist, Orman landed in the first graduating class at the Minnesota state arts high school, in 1991. "The Perpich Center for the Arts was very much a life saver," Orman said. "At that point in my life, my mom was very ill. She died just before I got into the high school. [The PCA] provided a really great family. They encouraged me, supported me, welcomed me and helped me to express all of this stuff that probably I wouldn't have been able to otherwise."
One of her main mentors was her art teacher, Bill Slack, who encouraged her to draw what was coming from inside herself. "Other art teachers had always wanted me to copy and create things realistically. He'd say 'That's not artwork. What are you doing? That's not who you are.' He always encouraged me to take the next step," Orman said.
She continued to study art at the University of Minnesota, where she graduated with double majors in art and psychology. She's intrigued by the human body. "I want to know how it runs, how it moves, how it thinks," Orman said. "I love to draw it and observe it, but I also love to take care of it, learn about it and see how I can make it heal or run better."
So currently, in addition to her artwork that has a focus of the human form, she is also a massage therapist and is studying Chinese medicine.
"Healing is an essential element in my painting and my life's work," Orman said. Her mother's dying of cancer when Orman was 15 influenced her artwork, which was centered on developing her own identity and individuality. Early on, her artwork had a strong basis in sexuality.
Orman was married in her early 20s. After her second daughter was born her husband was diagnosed with cancer and died. She was pregnant at the time and gave up her third child for adoption. It was a low point in her life, and art was slower in coming, although she painted a series of angels to help cope with her losses.
Today, she lives in Minneapolis with her daughters, now 15 and 8, and has a studio near Loring Park that she shares with her partner, Daniel Polnau, an artist, puppeteer and performer. In addition to canvas work, she has also painted several larger-scale outdoor and indoor murals in downtown, north and northeast Minneapolis. Lately her focus has been painting on found wood.
"Sometimes the subject is too out there" for people, she said of her colorful paintings that primarily focus on the human body. "It's not necessarily pretty, it has a color response of being pretty, but often times the subject matter goes fairly deep." She describes her artwork as being of a psychological nature, exploring relationships with others, with the body, what's going on in her mind, what she's seeing and feeling.
"I am grateful for the experiences that have shaped me, not the loss, but the compassion and empathy it has allowed to surface," Orman said. "I like to think that that is what lingers in my paintings and what draws people to them. Though my symbolism may be different, and others have different experiences, we are human. There are core elements that join us."