Rae Perry is a young American born artist active in Dublin, Ireland. She studied drawing at the Angel Academy of Art, Florence and has developed through experimentation, her own way of painting “a kind of half Alla Prima.” Rae finishes most of the picture the first time, and when the paint is still tacky, she adds in, choosing to finish and detail some areas while leaving some areas in the Alla Prima state (wet on wet).
Her classical work has a restless sense of longing to it, atmospheric tension is created through the use of matte areas with crystalline shadow, and painted skin that seems to rise and fall with a sleeper’s breath.
One of the most interesting nudes is the work titled Lotus Eater, where the woman is quietly turned away from the viewer. The work’s intrigue rests in the intimacy that is depicted, that is not a violation, but rather there is peacefulness and eroticism all at once. The title comes from the Odyssey and refers to the indolent inhabitants of the island of the Lotus Eaters, “where the people would eat the Lotus plant, and fall completely indifferent to the outside world.”
The artist seems to be attracted to that darkly sleek light of Caravaggio, the figure at the centre, strangely and dramatically illuminated. Often the subject appears somewhat a hapless Victorian heroine. The work is not so simple, closer examination of the pictures show that Perry has added a cerebral and refined contemporary sensibility. Still further, there is the post-impressionist division of space, matte areas of black and indigo, unfinished areas even, and finally, the rich earthiness of a Courbet Nude. I do not mean these comparisons as examples of models or derivations, but rather as a way to show the rich complexity that characterizes her work. Rae describes her practice as a kind of embodiment of saudade, quoting A. F. G. Bell:
“a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness.” (In Portugal, 1912)
RB: How did you come to frame works with abstract areas of paint?
RP: The abstract area started as a compositionally and thematic contrast for my work, the strong colour playing against the soft tones of the flesh, the abstract and sometimes geometric lines in the background contrast with the curving and organic lines and shapes of the figures. It also represents a kind of visual depiction of changing emotional states. On the surface things may be perceived as serene, still, or apathetic, however, below is an undercurrent of fear, chaos, or passion.
RB: Are there any formative experiences that have molded your pictorial vision? Do you have any canonical models or artists you admire?
RP: A formative experience was seeing John William Waterhouse’s 1896 Hylas and the Nymphs I was mesmerized and decided that is what I would like to create, art that has an ability to pull your vision inwards. As well, I am heavily influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites, the, the French Naturalists, and the group — Ten American Painters.
No provisional painting here to quote Raphael Rubin’s article about technique and form. Rather than seeing unfinished surface as a reflection of artistic privilege to express as one wishes, Rae’s work has nothing to do with thumbing one’s nose at hierarchies of painting.
These are silently made aesthetic decisions, the stuff of that painterly secret of goings on in an artist’s studio, the toil, study, and quietude achieved by work, constant experimentation and self improvement. As such, Rae Perry’s work is not only classical in the formal sense, but also in the way she practices.