Towner is delighted to present an exhibition of 16 paintings by Fiona Rae executed since 2000. The core works originated from an exhibition initiated by Leeds Art Gallery; Towner’s exhibition includes an additional loan and three new works produced in 2012 which will be shown in a public gallery for the first time.
Over the last 25 years Fiona Rae has established herself as one of the leading painters of her generation with a distinctive body of work, full of restless energy, humour and complexity, which has set out to challenge and expand the modern conventions of painting.
This exhibition starts when Rae’s paintings had begun to reference a world keyed to the computer screen, echoing in painterly analogues many of the new visual conventions familiar to a post-Photoshop generation. Fonts, signs and symbols drawn from contemporary design and typography appeared, whilst more familiar abstract marks and spontaneous gestures worried the autonomy, legibility and function of these graphic shapes, debating a new synthesis of painterly languages. In 2004, when Rae visited Tokyo and reconnected with visual aspects of her peripatetic childhood in Asia, her lexicon further broadened to include small figures or cartoons whose status is left intriguingly ambiguous. Like Caspar David Friedrich’s human presences in an overwhelming landscape, they serve to point up the metaphysical and artificial dimensions of abstract painting, whilst also providing an empathetic point of identification for the viewer that invokes a more personal reading.
In using elements that might be considered girlish or otherwise unserious, Fiona Rae looks to re-examine their meaning and expressive possibilities from what could be seen as a feminist perspective. In more recent paintings, these ludicrous yet gnomic images might be thrust into passages of expressive brushwork, layered and dense, or caught in black calligraphic drawing inspired by Dürer’s Apocalypse woodcuts, to produce dramatic and emotive compositions. Her recent titles often purport to be exclamations or statements, but like her paintings, they elude definitive explanation and can appear simultaneously dark and charming, anxious and insouciant.
Born in 1963 in Hong Kong, Rae also lived in Australia and Indonesia before coming to live in England in the early 1970s. She completed a Foundation Course at Croydon College of Art from 1983–1984, and a BA Hons in Fine Art at Goldsmiths College from 1984–1987.
Rae first came to public attention when she took part in Freeze, the group show in London’s Docklands organised by Damien Hirst in 1988, which launched a generation of artists who became known as Young British Artists. Rae quickly gained international acclaim: she participated in the 1990 Venice Biennale and was shortlisted at the age of 27 for Tate’s Turner Prize in 1991.
Rae became a Royal Academician in 2002, and served as a Tate Artist Trustee from 2005–2009. At the end of 2011 she became the first ever female Professor of Painting for the Royal Academy Schools, London, and she is currently the recipient of the Tate Members’ Artist Commission for 2011–2013.