Miles McEnery Gallery
From October 20 to November 26, 2022
Playing in the fields of abstraction, British artist Fiona Rae forces us to consider what abstraction really is. Could it be a part removed from a whole or a piece used to build a form? Can he stand alone? While it might seem like a simple, overused trope today, it remains provocative, sitting at the heart of everything we call art, and Rae’s works are truly art about art.
Abstraction can be the assembly and then disassembly of shapes which, in the case of cartoon characters, may remind us of something real but are not. The same is true of the brushstroke, the basis of the form, and of calligraphy for the information it conveys. Playful and bookish, Rae punctuates her paintings with alphabetical triggers, using different fonts that she spreads into bumpy, Disney-like landscapes filled with high and low associations. She probes time and space through a desert of symbols and references. Over the years, his palette changed from dense and dark to light and airy, with later works being pastel-colored, spacious and gestural, and set against a white background. The paintings – oil and acrylic on linen and hazy-toned works on paper – consist of wandering shapes, words and becoming cartoon characters.
These barely defined forms are transformed into things, gestures, thoughts and sometimes into poetic words. The images take us from the backyard to the cosmos and the computer screen. And even its titles travel through a universe of literary references, taking us back and forth in time to connect the fragmented objects and the gestures of the images. References range from the words of English metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell lamenting the fleeting nature of time, to pop culture allusions such as, All those moments will be lost in time (2022), the title of one of Rae’s paintings which is a line from the film blade runner. We strive to capture and connect the elusive images while feeling the rhythm and the potential for free association. And we must not forget the wit and absurdity of Dr. Seuss. Rae told interviewer Martin Herbert in a 2015 interview for the Timothy Taylor Gallery that one of the inspirations for his charcoal drawings was Dr. Seuss, as well as the 13th century drawings of Chen Rong. nine dragons at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Talking about using Photoshop and erasing as part of her process, she told Herbert, “There’s something about portraying the human experience in comic book form that feels meaningful and empowering to me. ; not real but attached to the real.
It is difficult for a viewer to know where to start and what to follow in these recent compositions. The passages are quite diffuse. This is where dreams emerge – a stream of consciousness with interruptions. Allusions to art history include Philip Guston’s stippling lines as guides for tracking the paintings’ internal evolution. There is magic in the gesture as Rae brings a brushstroke to objectivity – in fact, an indefinable structure that can be perceived as a sculpture. These component images in the paintings appear as if they could be picked up from above and transported elsewhere in the work. She maintains a cauldron of associations, including her own images from the past and her materials. She keeps samples of her gestures and paint colors laid out on canvas for future reference. Rae seems to have it all figured out as she goes, scanning the work of artists such as de Kooning as she searches for the light in these recent paintings and drawings, abandoning the unfathomable Victorian darkness in her 1990s paintings. She accumulates and let the pieces relate to the world and to each other. “Source imagery,” she revealed to The Guardian, “can be from anywhere, though I’m still addicted to Dürer’s ‘Apocalypse’ woodcuts for the way he uses line so inventively to depict dragons and demons, clumps of grass and showers.” Who could guess?
For some, these new paintings on a white background may seem slightly uncomfortable, unresolved and difficult to place. The nostalgia that pastels can evoke may seem overly lyrical or dated, but as she noted in an interview for the Tate Museum, anything that has ever existed has the potential to feel dated or out of time. “Is poetics still out of fashion? I hope not.” A fitting conclusion, indeed.