As a recipient of a 2023 CREATE Micro-Grant, Rachael Grain, a Studio Art major with a minor in Business, created a series of oil paintings that focus on the intimate relationship between parents and children and the impacts of generational trauma.
Spanning three canvases, these paintings explore how we treat and mistreat each other over time and eventually pass those habits, patterns, and genetics to future generations. Family and familial dynamics, both positive and negative, are frequent themes in Grain’s work. Her other works have captured the hushed conversations of families, the heaviness of generational trauma, and the guilt felt when needing to protect those we love.
“Seeing the ways that humans interact with each other, nature, and animals inspires me to make pieces about their relationships,” she said. “Watching the world around me is something that always gets me in the mood to paint.”
“Seeing the ways that humans interact with each other, nature, and animals inspires me to make pieces about their relationships. Watching the world around me is something that always gets me in the mood to paint.”
Her series for the CREATE! Micro-Grant speaks to feelings of dissonance and separation between family members, displaying a tense aura between the figures in the work, including the viewer, who is meant to feel judged by the family. Grain wanted to paint strangers from an outside perspective and interpret their relationships as a detached observer. Despite depicting the dark underbelly of familial relations, Grain was drawn to using a bright color pallet in the series to inject humor and irony into the work.
“Sometimes it’s interesting and almost humorous to paint disturbing figures alongside bright colors and patterns,” she said. “Other times, it’s a subconscious topic that I didn’t even know I felt the need to uncover.”’
Most of Grain’s inspiration comes from surveying the dynamics within her relationships, which she finds hard to navigate and sometimes artistically discouraging because she worries about how her art and message will be received by those closest to her.
“I often have a topic in mind when I start painting, but sometimes stray away from fully developing it because I fear how people will view what I say,” she said. “A lot of my inspiration comes from personal relationships involving myself or my family, so the idea of possibly hurting someone’s feelings limits my range of conversation.”
Despite this, Grain says her creative practice is rooted in her ability to trust the process, exploring and developing new techniques as she goes, creating a unique style that reflects her present moment.
For the CREATE! Micro-Grant project, Grain drew inspiration from the work of Katherine Bradford, an American artist based in New York City known for her symbolic, casual, and colorful figurative paintings that showcase intimate displays between figures.
“My main thoughts during the CREATE! process were of color and space,” Grain said. “I planned out the scene before painting and found a starting color I wanted to try. From there, the process alters with every painting; sometimes, everything falls into place, but other pieces are more challenging and require significant changes before everything can feel finished.
“The pieces I submitted for CREATE! feel so different from the way I’m currently painting, mostly because I have developed new techniques that I enjoy exploring more. I think their current state shows me how much I’m able to change and develop in a short period of time.”
In 2023, 13 proposals were awarded $500 CREATE! Micro-Grants, including Grain’s. The CREATE! Micro-Grant program, which is offered by MSU’s College of Arts & Letters and facilitated by the Dean’s Arts Advisory Council with support from the MSU Federal Credit Union and departments across the university, encourages Michigan State University students to critically engage through art with the past, present, or future while allowing them to explore current events and issues through mediums such as art, dance, film, poetry, and song.
Grain plans to graduate in Fall 2024 and attend graduate school to earn a master’s in fine art.
“I love to [paint],” she said. “It’s what I plan to do for the rest of my life, and I feel I have so many concepts to respond to in the world.”
Her advice for people looking to sustain their creative practices is to create as frequently and abundantly as possible because genuine inspiration is found during playful practice and the deep-rooted love of the creative process.