Fiona Rae

Maybe you can live on the moon in the next century


In Tate Britain
Fiona Rae born 1963
Oil and acrylic paint on canvas
Support: 1833 x 1500 mm
Presented by the artist in honour of Sir Nicholas Serota 2018


Maybe you can live on the moon in the next century 2009 is a portrait-format abstract painting in oil and acrylic on canvas. Against a dark ground, a light blue angular branching pattern stretches out from the lower left corner over much of the left side of the canvas. Overlaying this is a network of curvilinear black hard-edged brush strokes which provides the ground for a virtuoso range of predominantly peppermint, lilac, pink and yellow brown gestural marks – in different widths and character, often mixing colours in the same stroke. Drips caused by over-thinned paint run down the canvas, elsewhere blue droplet shapes are outlined in black; painted star and heart shapes and black and white pandas sprinkle the canvas.

Maybe you can live on the moon in the next century was used as the cover image (and title) for Rae’s survey exhibition of this period of her work at Leeds City Art Gallery in 2012. Its dark ground creates a depthless quasi-digital space and imagery that appears synthetic – the branch like forms in their jolting line look like elements of digital ice crystals; to the bottom edge of the painting and the left edge are areas of blur – a loss of space that anachronistically includes paint splatter and nearby stencilled stars – all elements that have not just a separate spatial existence but also different signifying intentions. Distributed around the painting are small blue liquid-like shapes bordered in black that are both interruption to the ground – a view through – but also sit on top of it. The different registers in which the painting is made become its subject, exemplified by the runs of thinned paint over the top section that just exist as a screen, and elsewhere which seem to have emanated, impossibly, from tightly scripted knots of paint all being juxtaposed to stencilled pandas, hearts and stars. These offer a stumbling block or interruption to the painting that is more than just a formalist device, as Rae has explained: ‘They’re quite personal and have something to do with finding a way to live with authority. They puncture the authority of the gestural brushmarks and the grand tradition of modernist painting.’ (Fiona Rae, quoted in Dave Hickey, ‘Fiona Rae: Good after Good’, in Fiona Rae, You are the Young and Hopeless, exhibition catalogue, Pace Wildenstein, New York 2006, p.7.)

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. Stencilled imagery, such as the pandas in this work from 2009, is distributed to offer another level of punctuation to the composition and its spatiality. 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.

Further reading
Fiona Rae, exhibition catalogue, Carré d’Art, Nimes 2002.
Fiona Rae: Maybe you can live on the moon in the next century, exhibition catalogue, Leeds City Art Gallery 2012.

Andrew Wilson
May 2018

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