Barbara Rae RA: Recent Paintings at Adam Gallery


There couldn’t have been a greyer day in May to be greeted with Barbara Rae’s paintings, which continue to serve as an antidote to grotty British weather. Despite picturing (sometimes in a very loose sense) France, Spain and Ireland with a vivacious palette of pure colours, these are not as we might expect, simply feel-good paintings or holiday snapshots.

Firstly, Rae does not correlate optimism with vibrancy of colour in the straightforward manner that we might anticipate. She uses colour intuitively but not habitually. The cold-seasoned scene Winter Faverot is dressed mostly in yellows (from mustard, to sunshine, to fluorescent), and salsa reds. Where her works often balances warm with cool tones, this painting exhibits almost exclusively warm Mediterranean hues. The use of glitter is perhaps more deceptive than this. Where glitter is applied to sections of the paintings, these reflective parts do not seem to sparkle in the superficial sense that we expect. That is, they do not simply line the surface nearest to us and reach out from that point to capture our attention. In Dun Briste, Old Fence, Rae applies glitter as a gloss across the top fifth of the piece. It serves to subtly diffuse the colour beneath, heightening our overall sense of depth within the canvas by subduing the blue and pushing it to a place in the further distance, beyond the horizon.

In some ways Barbara Rae’s paintings are comfortably abstract in their appearance, in that they bare similarities to their abstract forefathers. The painting Faverot Orchard (pictured above) reminds me of Van Gogh’s orchard paintings. In subject matter, composition and touch, Barbara’s painting seems to branch from this tradition. Yet, I would also identify this as one of my favourite-sketched paintings in the exhibition for its deviances. Van Gogh’s orchard paintings are more or less static, his fruit trees rooted, stabilised (often) by an oblique composition. The dynamism of his later works come from the complementary colouring, which formulates an inner friction between the two colours that are the most flattering, but also most abrasive pairing. Whereas, Rae’s painting is defined by its dynamism not simply dressed in it. The trees appear to rock on an arching ground that sweeps from one side to another, rising on the right more than the left. The dark branches cup the air above, where a mustard mist rises. Below, splashes of stray leaves dot the ground. The trees have been caught off guard by a harsh gust of wind. The painting takes on the poetic.

Rae speaks to me about her paintings not as landscapes, or scenes, but as observations of the natural world, and particularly how it has been worked and developed by its inhabitants. Her perception of her paintings, and the subject matter that they represent differs quite dramatically from that of the landscape painter per se. Her viewpoint on the land is more socially invested than it is simply aesthetic. An example of which, can be seen in the colossal (214 x 183 cm) Achill OS.22, which greets the viewer on the immediate left hand wall of Adam Gallery. This painting is as much about the debris left by humans on the shore, as it is the sea itself (a subject of characteristic landscape painting), which is told visually by the artist, who prioritises niggly foreground details – for example embossed string and sways of black curves – over the sea of azure blue.

I asked the artist about her perception of the places which she painted for this exhibition, and how it might have changed since she first began painting them after graduating in the 60s. She said they were always changing, and explained how her paintings are cumulative pictures, which encapsulate her looking upon a place over a sustained period of time, sketching in front of it, but not – as many painters do – taking and working from photographs. As a consequence, Barbara’s paintings are more atmospheric, and more advanced in their ‘viewpoint’ upon the land.

Cover image: Dun Briste – Old Fence, mixed media on paper. Courtesy of the artist and Adam Gallery.

Within the article: Faverote Orchard. Courtesy of the artist and Adam Gallery.

Barbara Rae RA, Recent Paintings, is open at Adam Gallery from today until 17th June:

One Response to “Barbara Rae RA: Recent Paintings at Adam Gallery”
  1. Adrian Guthrie says:

    Hi Rach,

    Great article that makes me want to go and see the paintings – met its objective?

    Revd Adrian Guthrie Rector – St Giles’ Church Ickenham

    01895 622970

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