2001 Simon Wallis text, ‘Hybrids: International Contemporary Painting’ (exhibition catalogue), Tate Liverpool, UK

Fiona Rae

Simon Wallis
Fiona Rae’s practice has inventively questioned, and played with the status of painting for over a decade. Rae indexes her work to a huge range of visual and cultural interests including electronic music, film, comics, cartoons, graphic design and the use of colour in designer fashion and interiors. Her hybridised painting language also references numerous art historical sources from Roy Lichtenstein and Philip Guston to Hieronymous Bosch and Jean Dubuffet, with myriad influences in between. Her work has consistently explored the possibilities of painting in relation to all her other concerns by restlessly and pragmatically reinventing itself. Rae doesn’t appear to be worried by the status of what influences her if it can help move the paintings into new territories. Her practice utilises a democracy of taste that is essentially non-hierarchical but always convincingly engaged with what is current and ‘out-there’ in the world beyond the studio.
Rae has invigorated the language and dictionary of painting and, like a magpie, picks and chooses from art history, popular culture and graphic vernaculars at will. Her works bear witness to themselves; they are somehow self-conscious in the game playing and posing they use to see what they can get away with in reconfiguring new hybrid forms. They suck all that’s new into their spaces, isolating the mark and the gesture as both highly contingent and open to possibility. Rae’s paintings have always looked of the moment because of her receptiveness to the subtle changes in visual culture. However, they also embody the values of the tradition of painting. This is evinced in their craftsmanship and degree of, at times, intriguingly unlikely resolution whereby every element argues for its place. These are not merely ‘fashion statements’ but rather ‘state of the art’. Her practice mutates, taking account of the accelerating pace of change.
Rae’s works operate as an index of her visual interests. Her latest paintings use a coloured ground in which various neon-style, typographic elements are embedded or seamlessly placed for our inspection. These are put into relationships with her familiar brushmark ‘samples’ that have a teasing presence that is less chaotically manic than her earlier works. The new paintings appear almost hermetically sealed; they are slick and funky, intelligent and sensuous. They have some of the browsing sensibility that shopping, television watching and using the internet has installed in us all. Rae’s paintings also have a science fiction quality to them that recognises that the future is never as distant as it once seemed. This compression of time is due largely to the continuing vast increases in computing power that enables so much of what we can now achieve and imagine. Rae’s work appears to be similarly driven and beguiled by the new spaces we are opening up to ourselves, serving to underline that there is never a moment of complete knowing: everything is always contingent.
Rae’s visual thinking is finely honed but also makes use of free play and improvisation. These traits are at the heart of hybrid works that want to create new paradigms for vision in dialogue with the widest possible array of visual cultures. She uses glitter, spray guns and a palette that reflects the all consuming vagaries of designer fashion in a liberated way that side-steps the conventions of good taste and seriousness that plague certain forms of painting practice embodying the interests of the pre-digital generation. Although these are hardly fearless paintings –  their anxiety is palpable – Rae takes many risks in her work. She cares to find things out and creates contingent solutions through the process of painting. Her works use a visual language familiar to those who browse music and clothes shops and who travel with their eyes open to the rapidly changing consumer landscape.