Fiona Rae

Figure 1g


Not on display

Fiona Rae born 1963
Oil and acrylic paint on canvas
Support: 1833 × 1297 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the Denise Coates Foundation on the occasion of the 2018 centenary of women gaining the right to vote in Britain 2018


Figure 1g 2014 is a portrait-format abstract painting in oil and acrylic on canvas. The work is painted in blacks, greys and white and forms part of the series described by Rae as the Greyscale paintings due to their lack of colour. Over a grey ground, individual looping and curvilinear strokes move over the central vertical area of the canvas with shorter smaller strokes reaching around the edges. A succession of areas of cloud-like or powder puff forms explode across the composition, creating images that seem out of focus or blurred. The overall effect is one of energy and movement.

Throughout the 1990s – in works such as Untitled (yellow) 1990 (Tate T06482) and Untitled (grey and brown) 1991 (Tate T06481) – she had gathered together a hybrid set of painterly, modernist, stylistic signs derived from abstract expressionism to pop art, that were employed often in a disjunctive manner that emphasised the painting’s artificiality and reality. The essential truth of a brushstroke representing itself and something else has always remained a starting point for her work, as has the fluctuating understanding of ‘figure’ and ‘ground’. In 2000, however, she began to work from new starting points based on computer-generated imagery of numbers and other graphic signs, manipulated through Photoshop, which, in fragment suggest signage from the Far East. These were then painted and provided a basis for improvisation.

By 2005 Rae’s paintings had moved forward again, retaining a painted digital imagery that is then layered with marks of painting – drips, runs, smears, different kinds of brush stroke – sometimes single colour, more often multi-coloured. They describe marks but also float free of space, though sometimes knot-form brushstrokes exist in their own description of space. Paintings such as these flirted with ideas of kitsch – a recurring theme for Rae, who draws on a huge range of cultural reference not for its sense of exotic otherness but rather as a cut-and-paste narrative of placelessness. Her canvases tread a line between personal expression, quotation and appropriation, pushing abstract painting towards figuration, while also exploring cultural identity, digital processes and contemporary imagery.

In 2014 she initiated a sequence of charcoal drawings that led to the Greyscale series of which Fig 1g is one example. Where previously the compositional structure of her painting ranged across the canvas, paying particular attention to the edges, the composition of most of the Greyscale paintings is centrally defined. This was partially a result of Rae’s adoption of a new portrait-format canvas, narrower than any she had used before, which enabled her to maintain control over the painting from a single standpoint – covering the canvas with one sweep of the brush. With these paintings Rae dispensed with the wide catalogue of mark-making she had used previously in favour of a fairly even approach with very little overpainting. Working on one painting at a time, the reduction in palette led to a concentration on the ambiguous relationship within each brushstroke between figure and ground. The titles she employs – such as Fig 1g – present the painting as an illustration and an image suggestive of a figure or being. Rae has said that she sees ‘these paintings as suggesting the presence of a figure, whilst simultaneously insisting on its absence; the paintings remain abstract.’ (Quoted in Buchmann Galerie 2016, unpaginated.) Instances of out-of-focus blur in the paintings – a device she first employed after 2000 – here describe this idea of application and erasure that defines her attitude to the spatial illusion within her paintings as being digitally derived.

Further reading
Fiona Rae, exhibition catalogue, Maison Carre, Nimes 2002.
Fiona Rae: Maybe you can live on the moon in the next century, exhibition catalogue.
Fiona Rae, exhibition catalogue, Timothy Taylor, London 2015.
Fiona Rae, exhibition catalogue, Buchmann Galerie Berlin 2016.

Andrew Wilson
May 2018

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