Scottish artist Barbara Rae (CBE RA RSA RSW RGI) is a constant presence in the shop of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, a corner of which is permanently decked out with scarves, plates, bags and jewellery fashioned in her distinctive, bright colour-palette and semi-abstract patterned style. Her books are there too, including the first monograph on her work, my Book of the Week, which has just gone into its third printing. Few contemporary painters can boast that kind of recognition.
Rae was born in Falkirk, Scotland in 1943 and identifies strongly with Scottish art and artists. In the interview with Andrew Lambirth which opens the monograph she cites the influence of Glasgow painters Bill Burns and Joan Eardley, and the liberating effect of moving from Edinburgh to Glasgow in 1975 to teach at Glasgow School of Art. ‘If Edinburgh is a bit like Florence, then Glasgow is Venice. There’s an opulence and appreciation of materials and gesture and mark in Glasgow, whereas Edinburgh is much more considered, draughtsmanlike and quiet.’
Despite her Scottishness, the appeal of the work is its universality. Scotland is her home and her departure point, but she’s a consummate traveller, and the book traces, via her art, journeys through France, Ireland, Arizona, Malibu, Italy, South Africa and Spain. You sense in the sumptuous paintings her enjoyment of new environments, her studied response to a particular light, her determination to capture a newly discovered landscape before it fades. And then the subtle creative process of abstracting the landscape into a work of art which revels in ‘the pure pleasure of painting’. It is ‘reality transfigured’, writes Gareth Wardell.
Back at the Royal Academy in London, Barbara Rae’s not just a presence in the shop: over the next few months her work is included in the RA’s Summer Exhibition, with her print Summer Vineyard displayed in Room II. To see more of her recent work, pop into the Adam Gallery on Cork Street, who have a show of her new paintings on until 17th June.
Lucy Myers, Managing Director
Barbara Rae with texts by Gareth Wardell, Andrew Lambirth and Bill Hare. 2008. Hardback. 192 pages. 200 colour and 20 b&w illustrations. £40 / $80
Special edition incorporating the signed colour etching Orgiva produced by the artist in an edition of 100 specially for this publication and packaged with the book in a slipcase. £300 / $600