Review / Portraits of ‘painted poetry’

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Jude Rae SL309 2013, oil on linen, 137 x 122 cm. Private collection
AFTER many years of the Australian artist Jude Rae exhibiting, painting and winning prizes, this is the first large-scale survey of her artworks, although seven years ago an exhibition of her still life paintings was held at the Canberra Museum and Gallery.

With the well-thought-out title of “A Space of Measured Light”, this exhibition questions the nature of light, of realism and the validity of technique. A sombre palette has been chosen for all the artworks in this survey. Every piece is clearly defined, and most consist of industrial and domestic items, plus there are several portraits, but the outstanding works are the large-scale interiors that look out on to a landscape view.

There is a soft-focus to many of these paintings, even on the hard-edged items like glass jars, gas cylinders and fire extinguishers. Tied in with her comprehensive knowledge of oil painting, this soft-focus view follows the techniques of what some of the early masters developed and used, such as Vermeer.

One curious aspect of this exhibition is that most artworks are not titled. They have what I thought was a catalogue number on the label, such as SL123, but the SL stands for Still Life.

‘Sarah Peirse’, 2014, oil on linen, 710 x 660mm
There are several drawings, a video installation and a selection of sketches. The portrait of “Sarah Peirse”, highlights the outstanding quality of Rae’s painting and how her portraiture captures so much more than just the outer view of a person. To describe Rae’s portraits as painted poetry might be the best description of how she captures people.

While some of the objects in Rae’s works can be seen as everyday items and mundane, she breathes life into them through her technique and a love of line and beauty. Even in some of her drafts and sketches, the quality of a great artist comes through. Her attention to detail, the way she paints light, even the smallest thing is highly crafted.

Jude Rae (detail) Interior 257 (Heathrow T5), 2009, oil on linen. Collection of Pawel and Joanna Grochowicz
The large-scale works titled, “Interior”, are unique views of a small world. Painted from inside an office block or hotel or perhaps even an art space, they offer striking visions of the fabricated and the natural environment in this enthralling survey.

Rae who began painting at a young age took after her father who was a painter and sculptor and worked in the art department at the Australian Museum. Jude Rae started art school at 12, and along with her degrees and having a Master of Arts, she has had a long affiliation with the ANU.

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