Fiona Rae : Centre d’art La Malmaison, Cannes, France

Centre d'art La Malmaison, Cannes, France Tuesday - Sunday : 10 am - 1 pm, 2pm - 6pm (closed on December 25th and January 1st)

In their gold coats
 spots you see;

Those be rubies,
fairy favours,

In those freckles
live their savours.

William Shakespeare
A Midsummer Night's Dream (II.i).

At the doors of sleep, when the border between dream and reality becomes blurred and our senses play tricks on us, our minds start to invent evanescent figures whose forms no longer resemble those of the earthly world. These phantasmagorical forms populate the paintings by Fiona Rae exhibited in Cannes. We think we see a crowned queen here, a knight with his sword there, or a fluttering fairy. Rae resurrects our inner child who has fun imagining shapes in a cloudy sky. Is it a woman walking with a bouquet of flowers in her hand that we think we can see in the painting Figure 2d or is it a warrior smoking with a grenade at the ready? The possibilities are many, and our imaginations lead us into multiple worlds. Who is hiding behind these fairy figures? Are they immemorial divinities such as Titania, Ceres and Juno, celestial Shakespearean fairies, as some titles suggest? Faerie gives delight and hurts not, Titania does her spriting gently and Chases the ebbing Neptune, the paintings in the Pastel series are decorated with quotations from The Tempest and A Midsummer Night's Dream. However, Rae does not use the quotation as an end in itself. She mixes influences, links them, combines them. A painting can thus have an atmosphere of classical theatre and cartoon, of delicacy and brutality. The artist likes to walk the line between sweetness and violence, laughter and tears, dreams and nightmares. She makes her chimerical characters inhabit radically different universes. From the darkness of the Greyscale works to the pastel tones of the 2017-19 paintings.

The fleeting feeling of being able to recognise a figure twirling on the canvas soon gives way to the materiality of the painting itself. With the works exhibited in Cannes, painted between 2014 and 2021, Rae examines the imaginative possibilities and extent of abstraction. She explores the boundary between abstraction and figuration, but her choice is perfectly clear: abstraction is the heart of her work. Although they may be momentarily deceived by her insistence on suggesting representation, it is indeed back to the painting itself that viewers are sent.

In these series, Rae also examines her relationship with colour. While the Côte d'Azur has been the cradle of great colourists, the painter has no need to envy them. In 2014, for the Greyscale series, she abandoned the colours that had permeated her paintings until then. The bright, almost fluorescent pigments gave way to three tones: black, white and grey. The canvas is no less lively, the painter succeeding in making the restricted palette vibrant. Figure 1i is thus incredibly luminous, Rae's use of the greyscale giving it a vivid strength. In 2015 she reintroduced touches of colour, bringing them face to face with stormy skies as in Figure 2a and Figure 2e. Finally, black disappeared completely, the artist having eliminated it from her palette.

Let's go back to the magic that emanates from Rae's paintings. Her mastery of pictorial gestures creates a mirage of easy fluency. Like the prima ballerina or acrobat whose apparent effortlessness is a result of their technical skill and virtuosity. Each of Rae's brushstrokes is conceived by and for itself with the aim to convey an emotion. The artist is meticulous, she understands painting and knows that the creation of a canvas can be coloured by the unexpected and the uncertain. Thus, although it may seem that the Abstract series leaves much to chance, this is not the case. Gouache and watercolour sketches are used to broadly prepare the compositions. In Rae's work, painting is a language, an eminently personal language, and it is through it and through each mark of colour on the canvas that the artist reveals her questions, exclamations and states of mind. In the Word series, which comprises the most recent works, letters and words seem to appear on the canvas, attesting to the existence of two distinct languages. By bringing these two communication techniques together, Rae highlights the importance of the expressive dimension of the work, the canvas becoming an intermediary between the artist and the viewer.

"I spend my life making paintings because I think it's a reasonable and optimistic response to the difficulty of being," says Fiona Rae. Her paintings link the inner and outer worlds. The fairy tales she invents encounter contemporary society and allow us, for a while, to escape the real world.


Hanna Baudet
Fiona Rae : the stuff of dreams