Zafra Vine (Spain), 2015 Barbara Rae

Return Journey: Barbara Rae | Open Eye Gallery

Open Eye Gallery, 34 Abercromby Place, Edinburgh
Exhibition conitnues until August 31
Open Monday – Friday 10am-6pm,  Saturday 10am-4pm

“It is a painting, not a representation of a landscape or a boat. It is marks on a canvas and colour.” Barbara Rae

Taking over the entire Open Eye Gallery for their Festival exhibition, this is a major retrospective spanning Barbara Rae’s outstanding career over 50 years – a journey of travel, exploration and discovery in the development of her abstract expressionist art.

There is a distinctive Rae trademark with each brushstroke, a dramatic explosion of brash, bold colour and a vitality of movement.  Inspiration is taken from travels around the rugged outdoors of the Scottish Highlands and Ireland, and in the heat and dust of the Spanish Sierra and the vineyards of South Africa.

After studying at Edinburgh College of Art, 1961 – 65, (where one of her tutors was Sir Robin Philipson), she was awarded a travel scholarship which took her to France and Spain.

That trip to the Basque area of Spain was quite a revelation. The change of culture and light from what I was used to in Scotland was breathtaking and was the beginning of my relationship with Spain – I go there as often as I can. I don’t like being called a landscape painter.  It’s the culture and history that fascinates me”.

Early work from the 1970s show detailed, architectural studies – Edinburgh Castle looming above the craggy rock, and the grim grey stone of Culzean on the wild clifftop.  A life changing opportunity to visit Sante Fe, New Mexico in 1985,  brought a fresh and exciting challenge shifting from monochrome sketches to liberated, luminous experimentation in colour.

Observing and understanding the life and nature of the landscape is the starting-point before an intense creative process in the studio; paint, colour and collage emphasise and enhance the contours of terrain, light, shade and texture to imbue a topographical and poetic sense of place. A realistic, visual scene is transformed into a moody and masterly scenic expression such as illustrated here in Zafra Vine (Spain) with patchwork of sunparched and fertile green fields and shimmering pink horizon.

The exhibition takes us from Andalucia to the Scottish Borders, Ireland to France.  Several large scale, unframed canvases dominate the gallery walls with their sense of power and imagination.  “Inlet” is mesmerising in its pattern and palette, purple and pink blocks, streaks of shining gold, separating the sea and land.  A winter sun is depicted in jazzy, jagged shades of orange.  In contrast, here too are darker, subdued mauve tones to reflect the murky drizzle perhaps over empty fields, hills, trees around “Lammermuir Farm”.

Printmaking and work on paper has been an integral and crucial aspect in developing style and structure,  to create monoprints, screenprints and etchings to complement richly hued acrylic and mixed media paintings.

The accompanying catalogue for the Return Journey exhibition has an illuminating essay by Bill Hare as well as a fine selection of illustrations from student work to present day, to encapsulate Barbara Rae’s inspirational career.