Fiona Rae, painting exhibition centre d'art Cannes, 2021-2022.

Fiona Rae at the Centre d'art La Malmaison, Cannes, France

The survey brings together 37 paintings and works on paper by the British artist from 2014 to 2021. Fiona Rae’s practice is rooted in a conceptual examination of the possibilities of abstract painting, using strategies to explore the artist’s notion of abstraction as a language. The exhibition presents works from the five most recent series. 

The exhibition begins with a gallery of Greyscale paintings, begun in 2014 when Fiona Rae moved away from the forms and colours which had previously characterised her work. Using only black, white and tones of grey, the gestural brushmarks conjure up elusive figures and portraits, whilst remaining decidedly abstract. The next gallery of Figure paintings sees the reintroduction of vibrant and effervescent colour to Rae’s brushmarks, seemingly straight from the world of the Candy Crush video game, in contrast to the stormy grounds of grey tones. These paintings summon the women of Willem de Kooning, and the musketeers of Pablo Picasso, whilst the size of the canvases refers to the life-size portraits of monarchs and generals found in museums throughout Europe.

The third gallery presents paintings from the Pastel series; black has completely disappeared from the artist’s palette, and the pastel hues create ethereal settings in which fairy tale characters and Shakespearean goddesses seem to emerge from the abstract gestural brushmarks, if only for an instant. The fourth gallery marks the artist’s decision to abandon all intentional reference to imagery; these Abstract paintings are composed of brushstrokes which only represent themselves. Any inadvertent evocation of a familiar form merely reveals the impossibility of conceiving a completely hermetic visual language.  

The final gallery introduces the new series of Word paintings begun in 2021. The brushstrokes in these canvases appear to form letters and words, merging the language of art with that of literature but resisting an immediate narrative interpretation. The titles, which are enacted as sentences on the canvas, are derived from both classical and popular culture. By referencing metaphysical poetry and Pixar animation, pop music and Shakespearean theatre in the same group of paintings, Fiona Rae challenges a rigid notion of cultural hierarchy whilst the myriad of influences that inform her work underline its profoundly contemporary dimension. 


A fully illustrated catalogue in both French and English, with texts by curator Hanna Baudet and Jean-Pierre Criqui, published by Snoeck, accompanies the exhibition.