Andrew Paul Wood – 23 November, 2011
In an image-saturated world which demands signs be easily and quickly digestible, Rae is an oddity. Her paintings force us to slow down and take a meditative approach. That she chooses to work in a strictly representational way is also striking in the context of contemporary art.
1 November - 19 November 2011
“Until I saw Chardin’s painting,” wrote Marcel Proust, “I never realized how much beauty lay around me in my parents’ house, in the half-cleared table, in the corner of a tablecloth left awry, in the knife beside the empty oyster shell.” I feel much the same about Jude Rae’s still life paintings, which owe more than a little to Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin’s tactile qualities and projected sense of physicality and object-ness. We are never once under the impression that these things do not actually exist somewhere in the world. Rae’s fire extinguishers smoulder ember-like with warmth like Chardin’s famous strawberries in Basket of Wild Strawberries (1761) in a similar chromatically desaturated setting. There is also something of Giorgio Morandi’s metaphysical still lifes in Rae’s tight compositions and endless leitmotif-like rearrangements of familiar and recognisable objects.
As with Morandi, humble items form a kind of tabletop landscape echoing De Chirico’s Pittura Metaphysica on a modest, domestic scale. In an image-saturated world which demands signs be easily and quickly digestible, Rae is an oddity. Her paintings force us to slow down and take a meditative approach. That she chooses to work in a strictly representational way is also striking in the context of contemporary art. I do not wish to sound patronising, but as with pre-contact Amazonian tribes and black rhinoceroses, it draws fans and makes them protective. It is accessible in a way that much contemporary art is not, but neither is it shallow, kitsch, or cliché. It both deserves respect, and is good (technically and poetically).
Rae’s New Paintings at the Jonathan Smart Gallery showcased her mastery of the genre, bringing it into the twenty-first century with water cooler bottles and other plastic paraphernalia, and some ceramics that would not be out of place in the kitchen of Mrs Rubens or Mrs Rembrandt. It also presented some intriguing departures; the painting SL#286, for example, reveals Rae trying to break up the cool perfection of her painterly surface with solvent dribbles. It’s as if she was trying to dissolve the fourth wall with turpentine. The effect will have to be more pronounced, however, if this alkahest is going to have a meaningful result on the viewer. It needs to literally break into something sculptural and enter the gallery space, or corrosively eat into the canvass to have any impact - otherwise it just seems a bit twee and noncommittal. This particular Rubicon has not yet been crossed.
The painting Interior 278 (Munich 1) is a completely new direction for Rae. It depicts the partitions and reflective surfaces of an airport departure lounge, curiously flattened into an interplay between grid and illusory perspectival space. Although it at first reminds me of Richard Estes’ photographically hyperrealist urban scenes rendered to an almost abstract aggregation of tour de force surface textures. Rae, however is more impressionistic than that (though not as impressionistic as her still lifes, admittedly), perhaps closer to Brian Alfred, Eberhard Havekost, and Carla Klein. I had a sense of déjà vu that I could not place until the label confirmed I had been there myself. Grüß Gott! I was once more waiting for my connecting flight from Heathrow to Hong Kong on my way back to New Zealand.
This is good old-fashioned painting, and Rae shows that it’s still got many kilometres worth of gas left in the tank. This work clearly shows an artist in transition and it will be particularly interesting to see where she shifts to on this connecting flight in her career.
Andrew Paul Wood