Artist Uncovered: Barbara Rae

DATE POSTED: 4th of April 2013

Mull Ferry watercolour 105x88cm 1996
Art in Healthcare collection

Her creative process always begins with creating studies on location whatever the weather. She is currently away somewhere “on the west coast of Ireland, sketching near the ocean’s cliffs in wild weather” her spokesperson tells me. But Barbara Rae is not interested in topographical features and rejects emphatically the label ‘landscape painter’. What she seeks out are the signs that show the passing of time and the craft of humankind that give pattern and structure to the landscape, as she explains:

"It's the historic aspect fashioned by mankind, whittled away by use and weather that fascinates, the outline of an ancient farm building half-hidden in dense grass, a portal, wooden door once used now broken, paint flaking, a standing stone engraving barely visible clad in moss. I take time, sometimes weeks to absorb, you might say "experience" an area and meet the people there before I begin work." (March 2013)

Walled Garden, Culzean mixed media, collage 81x107cm 1979
Art in Healthcare collection

She logs her observations in beautiful and detailed studies, many of which can be viewed on her website.
Back to her studio, sometimes the process of transformation begins with the translation of her studies into print. Rae has been using printing to experiment with the image and with colours since her undergraduate days at Edinburgh College of Art. She uses her studies only as guides and does not aim to reproduce them in the finished artworks. Monotypes worked in the studio explore the original study, key variations forming the basis of future paintings.

Ballachulish I monotype 87x70cm1985
Art in Healthcare collection

Barbara Rae is always challenging her painterly process through controlled layering of significant collage material and washes and through her search for inspiration which takes her to the margins of Europe, Africa or the United States. The sombre palette acquired during her formative years in Scotland changed completely during a trip to New Mexico in 1985 where the clear light revealed the intense colours that have recurred in her work ever since.

Spanish Window lithograph 99x72cm 1992
Art in Healthcare collection

She often revisits the same locations and when I enquired if her trips followed a cyclical pattern, she replied:

“Now and then I return to old haunts because I know things will have altered. Paso del tiempo - time passes. Aspects of the historical artifact that first caught my attention can change radically, or in different light in a different season cause me to notice something new on it or around it.” (March 2013)

Time is as much a feature of Barbara Rae’s practice as the locations that inspire her. There is the time she spends researching and recording the alterations brought about by man and the passage of time. This slow cumulative pace is then punctured by the release of creative energy and the cathartic rituals of her painting process, itself a race against time. And let’s not forget that her paintings themselves reveal many archival layers that we, the viewers, can savour at a leisurely pace.

Martine Foltier Pugh is a freelance visual artist and writer based in Edinburgh

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With thanks to Barbara Rae for her comments.

‘”It’s chance, but it’s controlled chance”: An Interview with Barbara Rae’ by Andrew Lambirth, in Barbara Rae, published by Lund Humphries in 2008.


Barbara Rae

Royal Academy of Arts