How Rachel Rossin Employs Virtual Reality to Create Art

Using cutting-edge technology, the New York artist simulates the experience of being immersed in paintings

An installation view of the Rachel Rossin exhibition staged a year ago at the Kim? Contemporary Art Centre in Riga, Latvia.
Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Ziehersmith, New York
Hibiscus and Rose, 2015. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

It’s a curious and rare distinction for a young artist to be written up by the tech bible Wired before she is by Artforum. But if virtual reality is an artistic medium, like marble or oil paint, Rachel Rossin is arguably its buzziest young star. Rossin, who spends a lot of time wearing an Oculus Rift headset—she got an early prototype from the company—was chosen as New Inc’s first Virtual Reality Fellow in 2015. In fact, so far she’s the only one.

The New York artist often begins by working in a more conventional mode, painting surreal canvases that meld distorted, just-recognizable fragments of landscapes and still lifes with vivid splashes and swirls. Rossin (who is self-taught in coding and game design) then photographs these works and digitally manipulates the imagery to create brief, trippy films that, when viewed with a VR headset, simulate the experience of being immersed in the paintings.

Detail of two works by Rachel Rossin: Oranges with Horizon, 2017 and After Crybaby, 2017. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Over the past couple of years, the work has gone viral. In addition to a much-talked-about show at her New York gallery, ZieherSmith, Rossin has exhibited her virtual environments and paintings at art fairs in Miami, New York, and Seattle, as well as in group exhibitions at museums in Shanghai, Helsinki, and Pittsburgh. “Rachel is as familiar with computers as she is with a paintbrush, and if you visit her in her studio she’s literally going back and forth between them,” says curator and critic Ryan Steadman, who displayed her work in “Trust Issues,” a group show at London’s Ronchini Gallery last year. “Collectors appreciate her fluency in the two very different realms.” rossin.co

Lillies, 2015. Photo: Courtesy of the artist