Critics’ Picks

Fiona Rae, Abstract 6, 2019, oil and acrylic on canvas,  16 1/2 x 69".

Fiona Rae, Abstract 6, 2019, oil and acrylic on canvas, 16 1/2 x 69".


Fiona Rae

Galerie Nathalie Obadia | Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré
91, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré
January 10–March 7, 2020

For the first time since she participated in Damien Hirst’s legendary 1988 “Freeze” survey, Fiona Rae is painting on white grounds. She is categorical about this show’s large-scale works, which were made last year and executed with oil on pearly, luminous acrylic-primed canvases. Whereas Rae’s titles can sometimes wax lyrical, these pictures are all Abstract and numbered chronologically. Adopting a new process, Rae began on sheets of paper—Hahnemühle’s bright white, “the clearest starting point,” she told me—drawing in gouache and aquarelle (five are displayed here) to map out the composition and color for her canvas works. Like a writer leaning on her notes as she prepares a novel, her outlines leave room for invention.

Easing off of the pastels that defined her last series, Rae’s palette tends toward bold and deep: the yellow of farm-raised egg yolks, the magenta of crushed raspberries, the dark blue-green that the French call bleu canard—the color of a mallard’s crown. Her repertoire of distinct marks, light flourishes, feathery sweeps, thin arrows, small bleeds, and sharp zigzags never cluster into recognizable forms. Isolated, each brushstroke tests the possibilities of line and beauty. A drawing and its corresponding painting, Abstract 6, hang side by side. Although the canvas retains the explosive energy of its source, it’s clear that Rae has expanded the drawing’s scale with patience and care, maintaining the strong Uccelloesque sword of dark red paint, the arcing blues and greens of the middle ground and the radiant yellow rays of the upper left. Concentrating only on the brushstrokes’ rendering, the artist carves an imaginative space unconnected to the body, free.