Raquel Albarran vividly remembers the first time she encountered an amputee at the McDonald’s on Fulton Street when she saw a man “without two legs in a wheelchair.” A chance and somewhat banal encounter ultimately provided fodder for hundreds of artworks she would produce in the coming years. Her fascination with the visual process of amputation grew and she began searching for amputation videos online, spending time watching surgeons methodically remove legs, arms, and, of course, toes.
Precise separation or sectioning is omnipresent in Albarran’s drawings. Fruits are generally cut open or sliced, babies smoke (in utero), farm animals have transparent bodies, mouths are impossibly opened and flattened revealing the throat’s interior, and King Kong cleanly rips the heart out of Godzilla. In response to this last act, Albarran says, “maybe he wants everything for himself?” These graphically-rendered and comically gruesome scenes reveal a complex interior life and the creation of rigorous symbolic structures used to map various events and emotions.
Amputated toes pepper many of her drawings and are the central focus of her sculptural works. LAND gallery manager Sophia Cosmadopoulos, whose amputated foot appears lovingly in a small drawing, further explains, “In Albarran’s work, toe size seems to relate to age, strength and achieving a level of independence. The bigger and juicier the toe, the better.” Albarran was born in Puerto Rico but moved to New York with her grandparents as a child and still lives with them in Brooklyn.
In addition to toes, a seemingly random placement of food items pervades the works. Albarran explains, “It’s more likely that people will buy a drawing with food on it. That way they can put it in the kitchen. Without the food it would be boring.” The emphasis on food items, both the normal and anthropomorphic varieties, reveals the physical and medical relationships that exist between our bodies and the foods we use to fuel them. Hierarchies and warning signs clearly exist but are placed within the safe confines of graphically appealing and luminously colored drawings. In this way, Albarran’s work speaks to an obvious but mostly ignored reality of cause and effect. The separation between food and body is complex and perhaps impossible to disentangle.
The majority of Albarran’s drawings are autobiographical and symbolic representations of things happening in her own life or coded maps of complex feelings on a variety of subjects. She does, however, occasionally produce drawings with less than hidden political overtones like, Ronald Reagan's Head Attached to a Donkey's Body That's Pregnant with a Salamander, 2018. The drawing depicts what one might deduce from the title, and when I ask Albarran about it, she says, “We all know he was a bad president—maybe he died and they replaced the head?” She is also quick to point out a portrait of Donald Trump “burning in hell” in the background. The genesis of this, and other morbid renderings, may come from early visits to Coney Island with her grandmother to see “freak shows” and medical anomalies. Or she may be drawn to them for other reasons unexplained. It is clear, however, that Albarran’s fascinations are growing alongside her powers to render them skillfully and precisely.