20.5 x 29 cm (image)
61 x 53 cm (sheet)
At its most serious and skilful, a still life painting is a vehicle for emptying-out of the restless consciousness. Regarded with attention, it conducts us into equilibrium. The graver poets might say that ultimately, still life speaks of the falling into dust of the ‘I’ who looks.
Through holistic seeing, intense thought and evolved skill, Jude Rae creates in each still life a refuge from narrative. Yet excitement remains. Rae materialises the space between painter and object, in which a current thrums as object becomes idea, idea becomes strokes of paint applied.
The content of Rae’s works is often so unassuming it’s a shock when she gives her brilliance a gallop. In her thrilling Interior 278 (Munich Airport 1) 2011, she’s painted many planes of transparent panels dotted with cautionary stickers, alerting travellers to the solid presence of doors and partitions ahead. To paint glass bearing signifiers of glass is the joke of a painter who’s read theory for enjoyment. Her lithographs of views through airport spaces are exquisitely observed and lusciously printed in suede black with glimmers of taupe and bone. For fans of Rae’s airport series, real airports will never be entirely boring again.
All existing writing on the artist attests to her intelligence. Yet gentleness, tact and spirit are expressed, too, in her still lifes and portraits, particularly in that of her mother Val, tender yet unsparing. Her High Court cleaner has the air of an actor who’s last to leave the silent set, covertly and respectfully observed. In contrast, the bravura Archibald portrait of her friend Sarah Peirse, drably costumed in performance, fairly pulsates.
Objects in Rae’s paintings seem almost to jiggle like electrons in an atom. There’s a feeling of imminence. Roots sprout indecently in her vessels, canisters are liable to blow. But lovers of her work look around the superbly rendered objects, noting a background of contrasting colours applied one over the other, or one with the texture of morning fog; reflections and refractions; the edge of the objects’ platform delineated, or absent altogether; a lower border of dribbles, or stripes. The recent SL404, while perfectly resolved, is essentially a sampler of most beautiful aspects of her body of work.
In the dark, all jugs are grey. Having found a piece in a pleasing colour, a painter’s first task is to mix paint to match. With the work of seeing comes the job of altering the tone to make the painted thing evoke a three-dimensional object in light. The colours of Rae’s paintings are dew on dry eyes. Bakelite yellow. Mustard cream. Spruce needles. Soot. Arterial blood. Beer bottle. Pigeon. Surgeon’s gown. Birch bark. Kumquat. Nan’s powderpuff. Praying mantis. Angel’s girdle. Milk.
Rae's living room is simply luxurious, because apart from a few chairs, one or two rugs and a big table, it's full of her paintings. The only room more elegant, soothing, liveable and galvanising than one with a Jude Rae on the wall is a room in which hang several.
Sarah Engledow, 2019