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Therapeutic techniques on display at Harwood

Rachel Rivera’s self-portraits come shrouded in nebulous forms that seem to devour her body and face.

“Dark Lush,” opening at the Harwood Art Center on Jan. 7, explores personal growth in the face of turmoil and darkness. The exhibition hangs Rivera’s life-sized drawings with pieces by Lea Anderson.

Both artists have created works dealing with grief and loss.

"Fallout Flower" by Lea Anderson. (Courtesy of The Harwood Art Center)

“Fallout Flower” by Lea Anderson. (Courtesy of The Harwood Art Center)

“Fallout Flowers” highlights Anderson’s largely achromatic work through abstracted paper sculptures. The organic pieces emanate heat within charred but intact forms.

“I’ve had deaths,” she said. “My parents have passed away – just losing people close to me and some romantic losses.

“I find that channeling that into the works helps me work through it.”

The black-and-white palette provides new challenges for an artist who usually works in color. The floral shapes are damaged survivors.

“I’m imagining there is a flower that’s burned but still filled with life,” she said. “The backs are red, and it creates a little glow.”

The floral structures may stem from eight years of owning a San Diego flower shop, she said.

“I really wasn’t interested in floral design,” she said. “Now I keep finding it showing up in my work.”

An Albuquerque resident since 2003, Anderson has exhibited throughout New Mexico and the U.S.

"Shroud" by Rachel Rivera, graphite and casein paint on panel. (Courtesy of The Harwood Art Center)

“Shroud” by Rachel Rivera, graphite and casein paint on panel. (Courtesy of The Harwood Art Center)

Rivera’s intricate pencil drawings emerged as a way of navigating her grief at becoming a widow. Her husband died of an overdose in 2014. She was 31 at the time, with a 6-year-old daughter to raise alone.

“It was very therapeutic for me to draw,” she said. “I call them my mourning hats.”

Always organic, images of feathers, tentacles and even hair envelop her body and face, yet she seems poised and accepting.

“I was inspired by Victorian widows who would go into mourning with elaborate outfits and veils,” Rivera said.

“They’re not literal; it’s just a sensation,” she added. “I’m navigating single motherhood and the feelings. I have ADD, and that’s another strong influence in my drawing; the stress of being pulled in multiple directions in secrecy and shame.”

Rivera prefers the simplicity of monochromatic graphite. She works from home and avoids the toxicity of oils.

“The black-and-white is very stark,” she said.

“I have my favorite pencil,” she added. “My late husband gave it to me, so it’s special.”

Her canvas is somewhat improvised: She used doors.

“They won’t warp,” she said. “It’s kind of an economical artist substrate.”

Rivera grew up in Albuquerque. She curated and produced multiple exhibitions for the experimental Santa Fe arts group High Mayhem. Today she works as a high-end frame maker, restorer and gilder in Santa Fe.