Jude Rae works in conversation with space and light, playing with the eye of the viewer as her works shift and coalesce between representation and abstraction. Methodical in her process, she works with a range of mediums from video to etchings to realise the composition of her impressive large scale paintings. In this variety of form and content, what remains consistent is the artist’s awareness of a painting and examining what its role is.
CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT YOUR UPBRINGING, AND how that has informed your artistic focus today?
My dad was a painter and he and my mum met at the Julian Ashton Art School. Mum was an amateur cellist and working as a life model. I went there on Saturdays when I was about 12, which was unusual, but my parents knew the Ashtons. We did not have much money but my sister and I grew up with art and music. I had to recalibrate my relationship to that culture as I got older.
Your earlier room details in the 1990s appear almost totally nonobjective. What appeals to you about the interplay between realism and non-objectivity?
Those paintings weren’t so early – I was in my mid 30s. They are quite literal depictions of wall details, explorations of the idea that there might be no distinction between abstraction and representation in painting – that all painting is abstract. I was very interested in the ambiguities of representation: rendering what I was seeing in paint as sharp and soft gradations of colour and tone. I was painting representationally and presenting it in the guise of abstraction much like photographers like Siskind or Tillmans. Even prior to that I was asking myself the question: why paint? The fabric paintings were as much about this doubt, obscuring the subject of painting or painting the canvas itself, as they were about feminist discourse, which is how they were interpreted at the time.
By painting onto the canvas you are disguising the canvas and turning it into something that it isn’t.
Representational painting is a cultural construct. To think of the canvas as a window is an abstract idea. Approaching paint as coloured mud being moved around on a flat surface is quite concrete. Consciously or not, representational painters do both.
You acknowledge Gunter Umberg and non-objective painters as your influences. Which other artists or styles do you refer to?
Cezanne, Morandi, Matisse, Mondrian, Albers (both Josef and Anni) to name but a few. The Bauhaus was splendid. I love textiles, Modernist design and architecture – Ando, Zumthor, Eames – it has a lot to do with function and materiality.
Does that feed into how you approach the surface of a painting?
Touch is very important in painting. It took me years to realise that, while my father was a painter, my mother was an upholsterer. She had a store of bits of nice old linen and brocades, and that heavy upholstery material with texture and physical presence.
From small still-lifes to your larger interiors, there is a focus upon light and space. Is scale of similar importance?
Scale is important because it affects how I make a painting. Working large is entirely different to working on smaller canvases – source material, paint application ... everything changes. A large painting is immersive, while there is more an object quality to a smaller work. Activating those large surface areas so they feel alive requires different solutions. I think I made progress in the Foyer works (370 and 371) that were in the (recently concluded) Drill Hall show in Canberra, A Space of Measured Light.
Alongside your oil paintings, you work with watercolour, etchings and lithographs. What attracts you to this variety of mediums?
Other mediums help me open up new ground but it always leads back to painting. Watercolour is incredibly scary for an oil painter – no second chances! With etching the delay is the thing. I had no idea I was so impatient. There is something about the way the relationship between the ink and paper is palpable and I love those velvety blacks. The metal etching plates have a powerful physical presence too, like sculpture in a way. I like soft ground etching because it is more atmospheric and offers more opportunities for a bit of foul biting and accident.
How often do you print?
I seem to have come around to it every 10 years but lately more consistently. It helps me work through things. The two Foyer Interiors in the show at FoxJensen in Paddington were earlier small versions of the big paintings I made for the Drill Hall in Canberra, but prior to
01 SL359, 2016, oil on linen, 153 x 122cm 02 SL374, 2017, oil on linen, 56 x 61cm
03 Interior 372 Foyer III, 2017, oil on linen, 159 x 256cm 03