Dan and Fiona
[Remarking upon Dan in the other thread, reminded me of this article. Although this piece is about his wife [thanked in Chris' liner notes], I've read a lot about Dan's cartoon-like graffiti art and perhaps wouldn't have minded seeing a sample of it in Christine's cd art]
SECTION: Features; Times Magazine 30, March 1, 2003
HEADLINE: The future's bright
BYLINE: Rose Aidin
With painting undergoing an unexpected renaissance in the art world, former YBA Fiona Rae is working to bring an age-old technique into the 21st century, with her dazzling use of computer-generated fonts, sci-fi imagery - and a lot of glitter
The art scene can be as flippant as the fashion world, and for months those in the know have joked that "painting is the new video". But as with most jokes, the throwaway line contains a kernel of truth. You might think that painting must be as integral to the art world as black is to the fashion conscious. Yet only two painters have won the Turner Prize since Malcolm Morley won the first award in 1984 - Howard Hodgkin in 1985 and Chris Ofili in 1998. Perhaps as a result, painters have tended to present themselves as apologetic, retrogressive or defensive in their approach. But painting is making a return, with a plethora of shows planned for this year. The first of these, Painting Pictures: Painting and Media in the Digital Age, at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg in Germany, shows digital art can have a revitalising effect on painting.
This major group show includes work by artists as diverse as Jeff Wall, Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami - who collaborated with Marc Jacobs to produce this season's "must-have" Vuitton bag - and British artist Fiona Rae. If this new-media-influenced approach can be dubbed "techno-painting", Fiona Rae is a prime practitioner.
Since 2000, Rae's paintings have been inspired by sources as diverse as Old Masters and graffiti artists, sci-fi and fantasy fiction, graphics and computer imagery. Her canvases are vast, most 8ft, with smoothly applied yet tangy colours, patches of glitter, amorphous shapes mingling with hard edges, clouds and swirls floating around letters in obscure computer-generated fonts.
Four of these paintings, recently seen at Rae's major solo retrospective at the Carre d'Art in Nimes, will travel to Wolfsburg. Lovesexy, a purple-hued painting named after a song by Prince, was the first painting that Rae made in this new style in early 2000. It has just been bought by fashion photographer Mario Testino, whose art collection is informed by his need to keep up with the moment. It's an urge that Rae understands. "I wanted to make paintings that reflect what's happening now. When I started I was trying to reflect the problems of making paintings. But I think things have moved on: making paintings is no longer such a problem."
Rae is part of the group of Young British Artists who found fame early in their careers. Rae studied at Goldsmiths College of Art with Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas, Sam Taylor-Wood et al, was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1991, and exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery and Sensation! in 1997. But then she retreated from the British art scene, leaving her London gallery, Waddington's, and preferring to show abroad.
Now the climate again seems right for Fiona Rae and her paintings. She's planning a solo show at the gallery of her new London dealer, Timothy Taylor, this autumn. She's working on a collaboration with Vogue. And the Tate is producing a range of merchandise based on her 10ft painting, Shadowland 2002, which is on indefinite display in the Level Seven restaurant at Tate Modern.
"I think it's fun if art filters out into different places and isn't always a grand moment on a gallery wall," Fiona Rae says of her Tate T-shirts, packing tape and badges. "I want to open things up, not be so exclusive as to what paintings can contain."
Tim Taylor comments, "Fiona has been a little quieter in the last few years, but I think the fact that she's not been shouting from the rooftops has strengthened interest in her work." Rae's work ranges in price from about Pounds 7,500 to Pounds 30,000. "There's a new audience for the work," Taylor argues. "People who admire painting are looking for something fresh and intelligent. She's developed this very bold and confident work that speaks for itself." Yet Fiona Rae herself seems far from bold or confident, and lacks the effortless assurance and sheer chutzpah of many of her YBA peers. Although polite and friendly, she is reserved, slightly inscrutable.
Rae's expat family moved around as she was growing up - she was born in Hong Kong in 1963 - and she went to many schools. She settled at a girls' country boarding school, Downe House, in the sixth form.
"There were two fantastic teachers running the art department," Rae recalls. "I used to love going there, and suddenly things really opened out for me. I started studying English at University College London, but it didn't work out and I realised I'd rather go straight to art school." She went to Croydon Art College, "And that's where my art education really kicked off. They told me to apply to Goldsmiths."
I suspect that Rae's foundation course at Goldsmiths felt like coming home.
She shared a studio for a time with the painter Gary Hume. "We'd encourage each other," she says. "I'd want to go in and see what he'd done, and vice versa. It was a lively atmosphere, you'd mix up years and groups."
At Goldsmiths from 1984 to 1987, success came swiftly. Selected for Damien Hirst's legendary Freeze show in 1988, by 1990 Rae was represented by Leslie Waddington, the dealer whose galleries dominated the then centre of the contemporary art world, Cork Street in Mayfair.
In 1991 she was selected for the Venice Biennale, and that same year, at the age of 27, nominated for the Turner Prize. Charles Saatchi started buying her work, and in 1997 gave her a joint show with Hume. Her work was painterly and abstract, untitled. "A kind of minimalism was in style," Rae explains. "Anything expressive, or making a brush stroke, was not in fashion. What I wanted to do for the last ten years was open it out and make pictures of something. But then it all had to be a bit detached."
In the late Nineties Rae detached herself - leaving Waddington and splitting up with her long-term partner, artist Richard Patterson. Their Barbican flat was sold. "I was out in Stratford in a studio building where I didn't really have any friends. Then I came further into town, to my present studio in Hackney. Suddenly other people were much more accessible.
That was a couple of years ago, when I started this group of paintings, and met Dan."
The aptly named Dan Perfect is an artist and musician whose work is currently on show at the Andrea Rosen Gallery in New York and who was working for Rae's studio building part-time. He and Rae married in December, and it is his sci-fi books and music that Rae raids for titles for her paintings. "I was making austere, bleak, threatening paintings, and I wanted to shift things. I started to play with the idea of the paint marks almost being object-like, with the shadows. Then these new, graphic-type shapes came in."
Rae's work incorporates symbols that can be interpreted, a little like dreamscapes. In Magic of 2000, which will be seen at Wolfsburg, Rae used glitter. "It seemed like an outrageous thing to do, but I like the idea that if there are painting rules it's good to ignore them.
"I found this font called Fufanu on the internet, and I started introducing it into the paintings. And spray paint. I wanted to open up what the imagery could be, to make a sense of place, or something a bit mysterious and romantic."
So the blossoming in Rae's personal circumstances was reflected in her work. And the boundaries of what was possible in painting were blurring, as the participation of more than 30 important contemporary artists in the Wolfsburg exhibition demonstrates.
Rae's most recent works travelling to Wolfsburg, Ringworld and Sweet Dreams, both of 2001, are her most explicitly descriptive. Sweet Dreams has patches of white glitter on its surface. "If there's a way of making a mark that serves my purpose I'll take it." Ringworld is constructed around clouds twisted like intestines, based on those in Duerer's work.
"The point of my paintings is to see how it's possible to construct things that are meaningful in new ways. That's why I'm interested in using different kinds of languages, different paint marks. Rather like a computer, I'm using my own code to break down symbols and reassemble them in my work; after that, it's all up to the viewer."