Leeds Art Gallery is to present an exhibition of 17 paintings by Fiona Rae from the last decade. 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 Leeds Art Gallery 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.
An illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition with an essay by Gilda Williams.