Hong Kong-born British artist Fiona Rae has established a three-decade-long complex painting practice full of energy, ambiguity, and spontaneity, challenging conventions of painting and abstraction.Read More
Fiona Rae was born in Hong Kong, but moved to the U.K. in 1970, where she went on to complete a foundation course at the Croydon College of Art (1983—1984). She received her BA (Hons) in Fine Art from Goldsmiths, University of London in 1987.
In 1988, Rae participated in Freeze, the seminal exhibition organised by Damien Hirst. This exhibition, held in an empty Port of London Authority Building at Surrey Docks in Southeast London, was a pivotal project that launched the careers of the first generation of Young British Artists (YBAs). Rae was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1991, and was elected to the Royal Academy of Arts in 2002.
Rae served as an Artist Trustee at the Tate between 2005 and 2009. In 2011, she was appointed as the first female Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy Schools.
Fiona Rae is best known for her large-scale paintings, which are influenced by a rich range of sources.
In the 1990s, Rae worked with big, busy canvases, often playing with the sensibilities of abstract expressionism. In Untitled (grey and brown) (1991), the artist dribbles, spills, and smudges a variety of colours and shapes on top of a geometric grey and brown backdrop. After applying the paint, Rae adjusted the orientation of her canvas, allowing for drips to pass through several directions. These early works can be likened to paintings done by Willem de Kooning and Cy Twombly, though with contemporary elements added atop these abstract fields.
Rae's artworks explore the balance between the improvisational and constructed. She has previously stated, 'Everything is happening by accident. But what interests me is at what moment does the accident actually happen? The accident might have taken place in my mind. How do you know what is the accident and what is the intention? You may point out that this part is really controlled but I might think of it as the biggest accident of all.'
With the turn of the new millennium, Rae's work shifted to reference the world increasingly dominated by the computer. Her work in the 2000s continued to employ abstraction while now incorporating graphic elements such as typography and graphic design.
In a 2007 interview with the BBC, Rae explains her process, which involves creating base compositions on computer software. She prints out a prototype of the painting, and then uses stencils to mimic the fonts and shapes in her studies. Following this, she overlays these compositions with spontaneous strokes and washes of colour. This technique can be seen in Ringworld (2001), where the artist integrates typography littered atop a pink canvas. This candyfloss-coloured scene is supplemented by Rae's delicate wisps and strokes, creating a visual texture akin to a cloud.
Rae's abstract paintings have often played with opacity and ambiguity. While the artist often includes distinguishable iconography such as arrows and shapes to suggest specific forms, these discernible narratives are hidden by the ability of abstraction to blur boundaries and resist definition through perception.
Between 2014 and 2016, Rae produced her 'Greyscale' series, where she worked on paintings exclusively in black, white, and grey. Through this process, she explored the potential of abstraction to invoke certain figures with the absence of colour. For these paintings, Rae worked decisively and without the use of 'paint accidents,' or her previous expressionistic and spontaneous techniques of dripping paint. She additionally avoided the use of graphic and cartoon imagery in favour of human-centred mark making. Rae has since then reintroduced colour into her palette, albeit in pastels and muted colours.
Fiona Rae has held solo exhibitions at Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland; Institute of Contemporary Art, London; and Carré d'Art — Musée d'art contemporain de Nîmes, France. Her work has also been widely exhibited internationally at the Venice Biennale; Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans; and the Singapore Art Museum.
Rae's paintings have been collected by numerous institutions such as the Centre Pompidou, Paris; Tate Collection; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.; and Hamburger Bahnhof — Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin.
Fiona Rae's website can be found here. Her Instagram can be found here.
Arianna Mercado | Ocula | 2021