Fiona Rae

Snow White changes into something rich and strange


Not on display

Fiona Rae born 1963
Oil 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


Snow White changes into something rich and strange 2017 is a portrait-format abstract painting in oil and acrylic on canvas. It is painted on a light ground using a predominantly candy-coloured palette of turquoise, green, yellow and purple. There are fewer of the looping curvilinear strokes that characterised many of Rae’s earlier paintings, such as Figure 1g 2014 (Tate T15084). Instead, a number of blurry, out of focus areas are punctuated by petal or feather forms that could also suggest body fragments that inhabit an airy, filmy space where the most emphatic brushstrokes represent dotted lines or arrows.

After a period between 2014 and 2016 when she painted almost exclusively in tones of black, white and grey – producing what she calls her Greyscale paintings (see, for example, Figure 1g 2014, Tate T15084) – Rae reintroduced colour into her work, using a candy-coloured pastel palette, albeit in a tonally muted way. Snow White changes into something rich and strange describes a figure that is dispersed and fragmented in a space that is difficult to describe. Dotted lines and arrows describe a cut-and-paste space around which knotted brushstrokes summon up a range of references from the surrealist work of Salvador Dalí (1904–1989) to fantastical figures from fairy tales.

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.

Further reading
Fiona Rae: Maybe you can live on the moon in the next century, exhibition catalogue, Leeds City Art Gallery 2012.
Fiona Rae, exhibition catalogue, Timothy Taylor, London 2015.
Fiona Rae, exhibition catalogue, Buchmann Galerie Berlin 2016.

Andrew Wilson
May 2018

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

You might like

In the shop