Narrator: In Night Vision Fiona Rae used artists' oil paint and fast-drying acrylic paint. Here she is in conversation with Tate's conservation scientist Tom Learner about how she worked with the paints:
FR: "The ground colour on this painting is acrylic - the background black colour, which actually I don't call the background because I like the idea of it not necessarily being in the background but something that might float forward to interfere with the things on the front of the painting. So I used acrylic for that by rollering it on with small, fluffy rollers. And it's a paint that was invented to look flat, and a bit dead really, a bit machine-made, and I wanted it to contrast with the oil paint which I used for everything else. The other good thing about acrylic is that it's incredibly flexible and you can really give it quite a lot of abuse with brushes and palette knives and it won't crack - and you can even repair bits if you need to, kind of wipe it down and repaint it.
Then I used oil for the other bits because oil paint has a different kind of flexibility in that you can do all kinds of things with it - like stretch it, fluff it, make it go super-thick, super-glossy. It has a luminescence that acrylic doesn't really have. Oil kind of glows from the inside, so I wanted to contrast those two things in this painting.
The first thing I did with the oil paint was to make these coloured rectangles with borders round them and I did that with masking tape and a ruler and a flat brush to put the oil paint on just thinly and as smoothly as I could by hand. I wanted it to look a bit machine-made a bit artificial. The other thing I did with the black and white brushmarks that I masked out was do a couple of horizontal ones and one of them in particular has a little kind of kink in the end as if the system had gone wrong. So there's a sort of kink in one of the rectangles that then relates to all the more organic brushwork which you see in the rest of the painting where the colour comes in and some of the black and white brushmarks then join in with this kind of flesh-eating, torture, Francis Bacon, night of the dark spirit stuff!
TL: And then this incredible multi-coloured area roughly in the centre of the painting with the bright reds, the yellow, the brown and turquoise - could you just tell us, me, a bit about how that was applied?
FR: I took quite a big brush, I guess around 6" wide, and I mix the oil paint so it's a bit like cream, like double cream, not quite single cream so it just drips off the brush, but something that'll stay on the brush, a bit like ice-cream. So I build up this kind of ice-cream amount of paint and then because those are sort of fairly cheerful colors - the turquoise and the yellow and the pale pink - I chose a translucent brown to then lie on top of it on the brush and then as I applied it the brown kind of stretched and opened and revealed some of the colours underneath as the mark went on. So it was a bit, I had to be a bit sort of Zen and careful how I did it. And I often just remove the bits I don't like and turn them into something else so that it can look as if I knew exactly what I wanted and was able to achieve it immediately. Whereas the whole thing often goes to plan B or plan C and another brushmark then comes in.
TL: I know in some of your paintings you said you've had different orientations so it hasn't always been painted upright - maybe on its side - did you do that with this painting?
FR: Yes, this painting I definitely turned all different ways up as I was painting it. I don't like to set up a completely obvious expectation of in which direction things were all moving. Even to do with my height I might get on a ladder or kind of crouch down very low so you can see there's some horizontal pale turquoise strips flying off to the left which would have meant I guess that I painted that bit of it lying on its side.
FR: And then the sides of the paintings which you can see very clearly actually if you move to the edges of the painting?
FR: Yeah, I paint the edges of the painting with the ground colour, the black, and then where the rectangles hit the edge I follow them round just very slightly. Cos I like the idea if you're coming into the room from a 30 degree angle you're not faced with the complete artifice and grubbiness of a stretcher with a bit of old white canvas on the side! That you're already starting to enter into the picture place, the picture space, like a reward for coming in at the side."